Advice for New Pastors Early in Their Career
Nothing can fully prepare you for starting your first role as a pastor. Regardless of your education or proximity to church leadership throughout your life, juggling the various tasks involved in pastorship while also nurturing your personal faith and relationships takes time to figure out.
In this post, we’ve gathered relevant and applicable advice for pastors just entering their career, including how to manage common anxieties and general tips for success and well being.
Top 5 Things That Keep New Pastors Up at Night (and How to Rest Easy)
By Jayson Bradley
Here are five things that keep pastors up at night—and some thoughts on how to alleviate them.
1. SUNDAY’S SERMON
On top of all our other expectations, pastors are basically writing a thesis a week. As soon as we finish preaching on Sunday morning, we start looking at that next mountain we have to climb.
But the thing that makes it even more difficult is knowing that there’s no way to preach powerful, significant messages without ruffling feathers. There’s always someone that’s going to have a problem with what’s been said. This means that not only is next Sunday keeping pastors awake, but last Sunday is, too.
HOW TO REST EASY
The key here is in coming to grips with the pastoral calling. The act of preaching is closely linked to the work of the prophets, and it’s always going to cause some friction—guaranteed. There is always a temptation to pursue a pastoral vocation as a way to get love and respect, but it doesn’t work that way.
As is the case in many areas, relationships are the key here. The better the relationships a pastor builds with members of the church, the more leeway they have to say hard things. A wise pastor is constantly pouring energy into relationship building.
Another key part of the sermon sphere of pastoral duty is the mandate to successfully engage with congregants. That’s why we designed The Definitive Guide to Successful Church Engagement. We’ve worked with some of the fastest-growing churches across America to find out what they’re doing to effectively engage their congregations—and now you can learn from their successes (and their mistakes). Click the image below to download your free copy today.
2. CHURCH FINANCES AND TITHING
On top of preaching, counseling, and leading ministry teams, a pastor is running a nonprofit. When the church budget grows, so do the demands upon it. Because the budget is always being stretched, there’s always a need for more funds.
It isn’t easy knowing that church members are often so resistant to any discussions about giving. When clergy do address generosity, it’s easy for churchgoers to assume that somehow the staff benefits personally by any increase in charitable giving.
HOW TO REST EASY
Transitioning a church to recurring giving can help pastors deal with a lot of church finance worries. Once people are signed up to automatically give, we are no longer fighting to keep a stable baseline. They’re now free to focus on those who give very infrequently or not at all.
Recurring giving has worked wonders for churches like Sojourn Heights in Houston, TX. This 200-member church was able to increase their giving by $30,000 a month, based in large part on a boost from recurring giving. In a world where only 20 percent of average churchgoers give anything, 90 percent of the members at Sojourn Heights are giving—primarily through their Pushpay app, where they’ve set up recurring giving.
3. HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Sometimes people gravitate to ministry because they like the idea of being put on a pedestal—that is until they find themselves on one. It can be a big surprise to a pastor to discover the expectations that people place on them. People are closely watching what is said, what is done, and what they find funny—but pastors generally don’t realize it until someone is disappointed.
On some level, people should expect more out of clergy, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
HOW TO REST EASY
This is a struggle that all clergy will deal with, but it doesn’t need to consume us. When you think about it, Jesus was perfect and people still had problems with His choices. There’s no way imperfect ministers are going to avoid disappointing others. Once a pastor accepts that this is an unavoidable part of the job, it becomes a lot less surprising and difficult.
4. BALANCING FAMILY AND MINISTRY
What can a pastor do when there’s so much that needs to get done, and all of it is a priority? The mix of pressing professional tasks and personal family needs will definitely keep a pastor pacing the floor.
What can make it seem even more difficult is that working on these duties inevitably creates new needs. And if that’s not enough, we are always waiting for that incoming tragedy or event that’s going to require that they drop all the other plates we have spinning.
HOW TO REST EASY
Leaders are only as good as their teams—it’s the same for us pastors. When ministers learn to prioritize creating more leaders that can share the weight of responsibility, we are setting ourselves up to win. The more we think that it’s all up to us, the higher our chances of failure.
As counterintuitive as it seems, every pastor needs to learn to slow down and regroup. It’s the only way we’ll be able to do more. If a logger doesn’t stop occasionally to make sure his axe his sharp, he’ll end up being half as effective, even if he’s doing twice as much work.
5. KEEPING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
When you’re running a church, relationships can get tricky. After all, the church is a pastor’s community, too—but politics can make that difficult. When they do get close to someone in the church, it can look like favoritism or preference.
It can make clergy very lonely.
On the other side, there are needy people who, if given a chance, will suck up all of a pastor’s bandwidth. And even though the pastor may know that they need to put up boundaries around the relationship, they’ll feel incredibly guilty about doing so.
HOW TO REST EASY
There’s simply no way around it: You need to develop friendships outside of your congregation, especially with other clergy. The sooner you build close relationships with peers that understand you and your struggles, the sooner you can get sage advice and realize you’re not alone.
WORRY KILLS A CHURCH
Anxiety creates paralysis. If you don’t learn to take control of these worries, your worries will take control of you. And even though they don’t feel like a big deal, your worries can eventually grind your church growth to a halt. As we tend to forget, it’s often the little foxes that spoil the vines.
10 Lessons and Tips for New Pastors From Chuck Lawless
Dr. Lawless, Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice-President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, accepted his first pastorate at a small church in Ohio when he had just turned 20 years old. He was still working on his undergraduate degree, and this was the first full-time job of his life. Now almost 35 years later, he can reflect on the lessons he learned as a new pastor.
LESSON 1: WE ARE NEVER AS SMART AS WE THINK WE ARE
Back then, I thought I knew it all—after all, I was the youngest pastor in our city. Aware of what I thought were my many gifts as a speaker and leader, I was sure God was going to use me well. Predictably, It didn’t take long for me to mess up ferociously. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how much I needed God’s help then. I know much better now, though I’m still learning.
LESSON 2: WE CAN TRUST THE POWER OF THE WORD OF GOD
The one thing I did know back then was that God called me to proclaim His Word. Period. That’s all I knew to do…and God blessed the effort. Non-believers turned toward Christ. Marriages were healed. Young people accepted God’s call in their own lives. God’s Word is still “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
LESSON 3: GOD’S PEOPLE ARE BOTH BEAUTIFUL AND MESSY
I will never forget the deacon who could barely read, but who loved the Lord and me. Nor can I forget another church member who confronted me with an attitude that was hardly godly. God’s church is people—and people can be a blessing one day and a heartache the next. Nevertheless, they are all God’s people, and they deserve our love.
LESSON 4: GOD’S PEOPLE WILL MAKE SACRIFICES TO SEE HIM WORK
That first Sunday, 19 people (most related to one another) attended. Those simple folks just loved the Lord, and they sacrificed for His work. They gave their dollars, ministered to each other, and told the good news of Jesus to their friends and neighbors. God honored their sacrificial commitment, and that little church saw more than 100 new believers in just two years’ time.
LESSON 5: EVANGELISM CAN BE AS SIMPLE AS TELLING OUR STORY
As I said early on, I was unprepared to lead that little church. I hadn’t learned the Four Spiritual Laws. I knew no evangelism strategies. All I knew to do was tell people what Jesus meant to me, and I challenged our new believers to do the same. They did so with zeal—so much that others found it difficult not to be intrigued with the gospel.
LESSON 6: DISCIPLESHIP NEEDS TO BE DEVELOPED
Our small church did evangelism well but lacked a strategy for developing the new believers God gave us. We were a growing church populated by a bunch of baby believers, some even in leadership positions. At times these untrained, unproven leaders became problematic. It’s important to have a strong discipleship strategy to complement effective evangelistic efforts.
LESSON 7: THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MEMBERS WHO AREN’T SUPPORTIVE
As a young pastor, I took personal responsibility for any church member who did not grow in Christ. When members were frustrated with me or with each other, I carried it as my burden. If a member left the church, I saw the departure as my failure. Maturity has taught me that some folks simply will never get on board with all the church is doing. I should have remembered that Jesus called 12 apostles, one of whom was an imposter from the beginning. I doubt we will do better than Jesus did when we call our church together.
LESSON 8: A GOOD LEADER MUST BE GROWING IN CHRIST
I confess that I haven’t always done this myself. I did my job well in that first pastorate, and God blessed our efforts – but I was not growing in Christ as I should have been. I’d base my Bible study around sermon preparation, and my prayer was more sporadic than regular. I had much room to grow, but I was unwilling to ask for help because I was the leader. It took me a while to learn that we must be willing to admit our need and ask for help in our Christian walk, even as leaders.
LESSON 9: MUCH CAN BE GAINED WHEN CHURCHES COOPERATE
Our church didn’t have a baptistery, so a sister church in the community allowed us to use theirs. Another congregation purchased a bus that allowed our church to begin a local bus ministry (I’m dating myself there, I know). A local denominational leader from yet another church taught me about clergy taxes and personal finances. All of our churches were stronger because we knew we had the support of each other.
LESSON 10: GOD’S WORK GOES ON WITHOUT US
God eventually called me from that church. When they called their next pastor and quickly moved forward, I learned—painfully, frankly—that I had never been the center of that church. God was, and His work is bigger than any of us. We get to play a role simply because of His grace.
DON’T FORGET WHY YOU’VE CHOSEN THIS PATH
A common theme among the advice laid out in this post is staying grounded as you begin managing multiple aspects of a church, from nurturing its congregation to its finances. Learning to navigate these new tasks and relationships will prove easier if you stay in touch with why you’ve chosen this path to begin with—to be a shepherd of the Lord. Hold on to that, and you can handle any situation or challenge that comes your way.
For more on best engaging with your new congregants and nurturing a deeper sense of belonging within your community, click here to download the free ebook, Definitive Guide to Successful Church Engagement, today.