What I”ve Learned in Pastoral Ministry

The special report in the October issue of the TEXAN is on pastoral ministry. In a land far away I was once a pastor. Actually that land faraway was Louisiana. All of my pastoral experience came in my home state. Watching the TV shows Duck Dynasty or Swamp People reminds me of relatives or church members. With that said, I really do love my home state.

After answering God’s call on my life to the preaching ministry, I began as a youth evangelist and served on staff as a youth director (now known as student pastor). I planted a church and served several churches as pastor. Later I became a Director of Missions for a local association. For the last 18 years, I have had the privilege to serve you through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, but being a pastor was the most challenging for me.

All of the churches I pastored would be considered small except for one. I pastored a 100-year-old church located 20 miles from town, and I served another church that was surrounded by cotton fields. The largest church I pastored was in a paper mill town. My last pastorate was in a metro area, but we didn’t see the kind of growth I thought we should have. Although many factors have changed, the realities of pastoral life haven’t. I have a Ph.D. in the school of hard knocks. God had me repeat a few courses. I’m still learning, but here are few lessons I learned as a pastor.

Every decision in the church is not a hill on which to die. The inerrancy of Scripture, exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ, and other basic Christian doctrines cannot be compromised. Even if you lose your church, you can’t abandon sound doctrine. There are too many street corners in America where you can preach instead of trading truth for a pulpit. Baptist doctrine is vital—the security of the believer, believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership are just a few that make us Baptists. However, tertiary doctrines are not places to sacrifice your ministry.

Let God change the hearts of people. Learn to be patient. God can do his work in people when we can’t. Timing is everything. Don’t force an issue that can wait. Individually, extend grace to those you serve because you need grace extended to you.

Work through key lay leaders to accomplish God’s work. There are decision makers in an established church that can assist you in carrying out God’s plan. Don’t try to be the point man on every issue. Let laypersons advocate for you.

Be a model for evangelism, missions and discipleship. If you never intentionally witness to people, neither will your congregation. If you want your families to deepen spiritually, you need to have a family worship time. Whatever you desire to see in your church members, you need to live it. Practical ministry is more caught than taught. 

Realize you will have your critics; never get bitter or retaliate. You will never win in the long run even if you win a battle with your critics. Your calling should be enough to keep you from quitting, but when discouragement comes, let God’s Word and God’s people be your strength. Reach out to a friend or contact the SBTC Pastor-Church Relations Ministry. They are a wonderful resource when you need encouragement.

Find a support system to help you through the tough times. I had pastor friends with whom I met on a regular basis. It is not enough to have internet fellowship. You need someone you can play golf with, fish with or go to a game with. Touch from our pastor brethren can get us through the difficult days. Local pastors’ fellowships are great. Your SBTC Annual Meeting is a wonderful time to hang out with others on the same journey.

I don’t think I ever became a good pastor. Maybe God will allow me one more time before he calls me home to pastor in an obscure or tough place. Even in those places you can experience God’s favor. My prayer is that he will say at the end of my journey and yours, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Executive Director Emeritus
Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
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