Saturday, June 30, 2012

What I've learned this first year of ministry

July marks the first year I have been full time in ministry serving at Cornerstone Baptist in Orange City Iowa.  As I look back at the year and reflect on what I have learned, there would be one piece of advice I have come away with for young pastors: Beware of giving much advice in the ministry right now, instead, seek out seasoned pastors and learn from them.

There is a temptation in seminary to formulate opinions about everything and think of how you will lead a church and do it better than most guys out there.  I confess that was my thinking at times and it probably came out in my conversation. I also find this true with the atmosphere of blogging among younger pastors, and have probably contributed to it at some point.  We young guys have it figured out.  If only people would listen then the church would have a lot more health right?  Probably wrong. 

Just think, who was it that wrote the pastoral letters in the New Testament: Timothy, Titus or Paul?  God used Paul, a man seasoned in ministry to do the talking.  Or how about the disciples in the Gospels?  Usually when they are speaking it is not all that good and they need corrected by Jesus (I’m preaching on this tomorrow).  So the biblical example seems to be that young and inexperienced men should keep their mouths shut for some time when it comes to ministry advice.

So again, my advice is: young pastors need to beware of giving much advice in ministry right now, instead, seek out seasoned pastors and learn from them.  Just to clarify, I do not mean that young pastors should not give advice at all.  Many in the congregation may come for counsel and it is a pastor’s job to counsel from the Word. But what I have often seen in myself and other young men in the ministry is having too many opinions with too little experience.

So how does this practically look? (Yes, please forbear with me while I break my own rule and give some advice) I would say try to find a local pastor who has about 20 years of ministry experience, and meet for lunch one a month where you can ask him many questions.  Do be careful in choosing this—be sure he is not a pastor who is cynical and bitter in the ministry.  Sadly I have met a few of them and your time will not be an encouragement at all.  You may even find yourself questioning you call.

God has been kind to place a pastor in my town who has been this seasoned man.  He has listened to my ups and downs, encouraged me those days I wanted to quit, gave hope when others said there was none, and centered it all on the firm foundation of God’s Word. I know that he was able to do this because he has weathered these same storms of ministry in his life over the past 20 years. If you can find a man like that you have found a treasure.  Thank God and him.

I also think that having a seasoned pastor with a larger ministry platform who you don’t know personally but can learn from is also helpful.  My “larger platform” pastor is Tim Keller.  I love what he has to say and love his writings. The nice thing is that I can access him anytime through his books (remember this is how Paul mentored Timothy and Titus at times) But I come to him as a learner—my goal is not to try to model my ministry after his, but simply to learn some pastoral gems along the way.  

And that is how I see it: young pastors are to collect as many gems as they can now, store them up for some time.  There will be the day when you and I will be sitting on the other side of the booth at the Chinese restaurant, encouraging that young pastor not to give up just yet and giving him the seasoned counsel he needs in Christ.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Do I Want For Father's Day?

As Father’s Day approaches, this question will typically get asked of me.  The reply is usually, “Oh, nothing really except maybe a new set of golf clubs, or a full-size Chevy pickup with an extended cab.”  Dad’s usually want big-ticket items when they get something and I’m no exception—so I usually settle for going out to get pizza or a burger or maybe a new shirt if I’m lucky.

Actually, Father’s Day can be counterproductive for most men.  Most dads (I’m top of the list) really don’t need a day set aside to be more self-indulgent, spend more money or treat themselves to something.  So what do I want, or should I say, what do I need for Father’s Day?  Probably to be reminded of my calling and responsibility as a father.  Paul had to remind dads of this in the early church:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

As I look at this command, I realize how far short I fall  when left to myself.  This is why I desperately need to be filled with the Spirit.  The promise of what this looks like is seen in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”   

I would say that patience tops my list.  So often I sense a lack of patience toward my children.  They are slow, procrastinate and for some reason don’t listen the first time. I find myself usually responding in an impatient way.   

Joy comes next.  My kids are kids, and kids have one main objective each day (at least mine do): to have as much fun as possible.  But I often find myself correcting them for every little infraction, warning them of how much stuff they can break (or how many bones my son can break).  Deep down though, it often reflects a lack of joy.  God has blessed me with three precious kids and I need more joy as a dad.

How about gentleness? Gentleness is tied to the meekness that describes Christ (Matt 11:29).  Do my kids see me in this way—approachable and gentle towards them?  It is interesting how often they go to my wife and ask her when they want something.  Do I lack the gentleness that they can confide in and rest in?

So what I want this Father’s Day is what I need—for the Spirit to work in my heart and produce more fruit so that I can honor Christ more as a dad.  The golf clubs eventually rust; the pickup depreciates and eventually breaks down, but the Spirit’s work has an eternal impact on my family.