I work with a lot of young pastors and I’m really passionate about helping them thrive in their first years of ministry.
If I could sit down with each of them and give 12 brief words of encouragement and direction, it would look like this.
1. You can try to “do everything,” but you will fail
The biggest and most prevalent mistake I see in young pastors is their tendency to over-commit, overwork, and over-estimate how long they can push themselves to physical and emotional limits. If this is you, I admire your passion, and want to support the continued development of that passion by urging you to slow down, delegate tasks, and not to stretch yourself too thin in the beginning.
I’ve watched too many young pastors crash and burn.
2. Your ministry starts at home
If you have a family, this means before you are a pastor, you are a husband and a father. If you are not leading your family well, there is no way you will be able to lead a congregation, a creative team, or anyone outside of your immediate circle. It starts at home, and grows from there.
If you’re still single, ministry “at home” involves preparing yourself spiritually to be a leader. Are you reading and studying and spending daily time in prayer?
3. Jesus doesn’t need you
I don’t mean for this to sound too harsh. I just mean it to say, you are not the center of attention here. I say this for your good. If you see yourself as the center of attention, you will put way too much pressure on yourself to perform perfectly. You aren’t perfect, and you don’t need to be.
Instead, give yourself permission to fail and learn from your failures. Be humble.
4. Relationships are everything
The best thing you can do for yourself, and for the Kingdom, is to build positive relationship wherever you go. You may change ministry positions or locations, but learn what it looks like to build bridges, rather than burn them.
Be like-able. Be kind. Be like Jesus. And always focus on people over projects.
5. A little respect goes a long way
If you learn to treat people like they matter, they will treat you like you matter. What you say becomes more important. You win the attention and affection of those around you. Leadership is earned when you learn to treat everyone—from the janitor, to the senior pastor—with the utmost respect and dignity.
Isn’t that what Jesus would do?
6. If people aren’t “following” your leadership, ask yourself: why?
The answer probably isn’t, “because they’re all jerks.” So many young leaders want people to follow their leadership, but they don’t see the connection between their actions and the response of those following.
Notice how people respond to you and use it as your real-life classroom. What can you do to motivate, inspire, encourage, lift up and influence?
7. Give yourself time and space to grow
You don’t have to have it all figure out right away. Truly. Be humble and teachable, and you will go a long way.
8. Seek mentorship
Speaking of being teachable, always seek to mentor and be mentored. If you don’t have a mentor, don’t wait for someone you respect or admire to offer. Instead, go seek them out. Ask, and you shall receive. Knock, and I bet the door will open.
In the same way, if you aren’t mentoring someone younger than you, be open to the idea. Look for opportunities. Invite someone to lunch or coffee. Pour out what you know.
9. Your Bible should be your lifeline
One sure-fire sign you’re coming up against burn-out is that you’ve lost the joy of reading the scripture and spending time alone with God. Stay in the word. This will be your lifeline in your most difficult, and most exciting, years of ministry.
10. Don’t get too caught up in numbers
It’s hard (and maybe impossible) to ignore them altogether, but Jesus warned his disciples not to rejoice in their accomplishments (Luke 10:20) in light of their salvation in Christ. The most important thing is that lives are being saved and the Kingdom of heaven is brought to earth.
Everything else is secondary.
11.Stay young, but grow in wisdom
Don’t every stop learning. Grow in wisdom. But keep your childlike sense of faith and wonder. Ask questions always. When we stop growing, we start dying.
12. Great character trumps great ability
I save this for last because I think it’s most important. I want you to know that it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, what school you’ve been to, what you’ve read or haven’t read. Skill and ability are useful. But more powerful is a man or woman who follows after the character traits of Jesus. Focus on your character.
When it comes to greatness, character trumps ability every time.
photo: Victor1558, Creative Commons