Lessons I Wish I Knew as a Young Pastor

On April 1, 1981, I began my ministry as a full-time pastor. Here are some lessons I wish I had known then:   

  1. Few things are worth losing sleep. I tend to dwell on conflict, often letting concerns become an idol in my mind. What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that I usually worry more than anyone does about the same thing.
  2. People are usually forgiving. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in ministry, including wrongly getting engaged while serving as a pastor. Even that congregation still loved me through my mess, though.
  3. Undiscipled leaders often came to their positions honestly. That is, somebody gave them that authority without seriously evaluating their spiritual walk. Many undiscipled leaders don’t even recognize their need to grow.
  4. Most believers want God to use them. I’m convinced that most people sit idly in church not because they don’t care, but because no one has intentionally and personally challenged them to get involved.
  5. The person in the pulpit really does set the direction for the church. The heartbeat of the pastor becomes the heartbeat of the congregation. Ideally (but certainly not always), that heartbeat is a Great Commission one. 
  6. Doing ministry alone is not smart. I don’t argue that the Bible demands a plurality of elders, but the teamwork of ministry is clearly the wisest approach. Aloneness is trouble.
  7. It’s easy to ignore your physical well-being. No pastor I know set out to be out of shape, but it happens to many of us. Ignoring our body is, however, not a good witness for the gospel.
  8. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” In fact, that’s the wisest thing to say if you don’t know. Nobody expects a pastor to know everything.  
  9. The church will go on without you. You’re the undershepherd – not the Shepherd. Remembering that truth will help you lead humbly. 
  10. How you leave a church is more important than how you arrive. That’s what people will remember. A bad departure can erase years of good ministry.

Pastors, what do you wish you had known as a young pastor?


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