This is the third installment of insights we gained when my students at Southeastern Seminary interviewed pastors who’ve served at least ten years. Beyond telling us their greatest joys and biggest frustrations, pastors also told us what they wish they knew when they started ministry. Here are some of those things:
- Opposition will come, even from within the church. These pastors said they weren’t ready for the conflicts that come with ministry. They were especially not prepared for conflict that comes from within the church.
- Opposition is not always personal. Just because church members express a different opinion or position doesn’t necessarily mean they’re opposed to you or your leadership. These pastors wish they’d known that truth when they started ministry.
- Spiritual warfare is real. It’s one thing to talk about warfare, but it’s another thing to experience it once you’re entered ministry. Not being ready for the enemy’s attacks made these pastors vulnerable.
- Counseling is a big part of ministry. Some of the pastors were surprised by how much counseling they would have to do, and most wished they’d had more counseling preparation.
- The pastor’s job really is to equip others. They knew Ephesians 4 when they started ministry, but it’s experience that showed them how important the task is. They’ve had to learn how to get over themselves and invest in others.
- Pastors have to work at taking care of their families. These pastors were surprised at times by the heaviness of the burden of pastoral work, and they realized that ministry can lead to neglecting their family if they’re not watchful and prayerful.
- It’s almost impossible to leave your work at the office. There’s no such thing as an 8am-5pm pastoral job. You carry the burdens of the entire church, and it’s tough to ignore them. Some of these pastors are still learning how to not allow these thoughts to be controlling.
My class also asked pastors what one class would they add to their seminary training if they were creating a new degree. Those classes included the following that were most commonly expressed:
- Budgeting. These pastors learned by experience what they should have learned in their graduate work at a seminary.
- Practical administration and leadership. Most of these leaders had no class addressing things like preparing budgets, paying taxes, leading meetings, etc.—and they now recognize the size of that void.
- Biblical counseling. See #4 above, and imagine the pastor’s thoughts if he had no training. That’s what many of these church leaders experienced.
- Internships. More than one pastor is longing to have a strong student who could walk beside and help them.
- Spiritual growth and discipleship. This void is much less a factor now in some seminaries, but most of us are working on trying to correct this issue in our own realities.
Pastors, any surprises here? How would you answer the question about what you wish you knew when you started ministry? What class (es) would you add to the curriculum now?