One of the high school students in my church is taking a class in which they were to interview someone they thought was successful, so they chose me. Stop laughing.
Seriously, I was glad to help out and the little exercise, which consisted of five questions sent to me, which I then filled out on Pages, turned out to be fun, interesting, and (I hope for you) beneficial. This is an edited version of what I sent. I’ve even made a couple of additions. Let me know what you think.
1. What made you decide to become a pastor?
Well, I could tell you that I heard the still small voice of God in my head “calling” me to do this, but that’s not really how it works. [Added note: That really isn’t how it works. Show me the biblical precedent for being “called” as a pastor and it’ll be a first. Read more about this here.]
In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul writes, “If any man desires to be an overseer [a pastor], it is a fine work he desires to do.” I decided to do it because I wanted to. I desired it. The reason for that begins in the summer between ninth and tenth grade. Being a child of divorce, my youth minister had a great impact on my life. I looked up to him, I loved the Lord, I wanted to serve Him with my life, so I wanted to do what my youth minister did — have the kind of impact of others he had on me.
Fast forward a few years and I had not done anything in quite some time to act upon what I knew in my heart I was meant by God to do. I moved to a new town, started going to a new church, and the pastor there preached the word of God in such a way that things I had never even thought about in the past started making sense. “Of course that’s what the Bible is saying there… Of course that’s what it means” is what I’d say over and over again.
Going back to 1 Timothy 3:1, I desired to do this job because I wanted to have an impact on peoples’ live the way my youth minister affected me, and I wanted to open the word of God to people the way that pastor did for me as well. It all boils down to what the Bible says a pastor is to do — preach the word and shepherd (lead/care/guide/feed) the sheep. That’s what those men did for me. That’s the desire God gave me for others. I only pray, by God’s grace, I do that and will continue to do that.
2. Do you view yourself as being successful?
Yes and no. By the world’s standard of success, definitely not. I pastor a small, rural church that is aging [and not easy to find] and, if one was judging from the outside, doesn’t have great prospects for significant growth.
But the success of a pastor isn’t based upon the world’s standards of success. And truth be told it’s not even based upon what the people in the church think. It’s whether or not I’m, to steal a phrase from the U.S. Constitution, faithfully executing the office of a pastor in Jesus’ church, according to what is found in His word, the Bible.
On that basis I sure hope I am successful. I think I am in most ways. I say this with all humility, but I feel I’m a pretty good preacher. That doesn’t mean I tell the funniest stories or have the greatest power of oratory, but I feel I faithfully explain what the Bible says, how it affects you as someone the Bible says is a sinner and is need of the glory of God, what you need to do about it, and I feel I glorify God in that — however imperfectly.
I’m not perfect, though. My church’s constitution calls for an annual evaluation to be done by the members. It’s there chance basically to give feedback, to acknowledge strengths and suggest potential weakness and ways to improve. The feedback on the evaluation was for the most part very positive, but only 62% thought I was easy to talk to, and only 47% thought I was doing a good enough job visiting people. Those numbers might be off a little because I’m not typing with this in front of me, but it’s close to that. Anyway, the second number didn’t bother me because I already know I need to do more visiting. I’ve talked to my wife and others about that. The first number did. I feel I’m very easy to talk to. It bothers me that several in my church would feel differently. So am I successful in that respect? Right now I’d have to acknowledge, “Not right now.”
[Added: Now we have had some successes in our church this past almost-year-and-a-half. New members. Baptisms. People showing interest in what the Scriptures say. People being challenged with previous ways of thinking. People acknowledging their need to follow Christ closer. New means of making disciples. Those are successes.]
Ultimately the Lord Himself will be the judge of how successful I am. Billy Graham once said it’s not “fruitfulness” that pleases God, but “faithfulness.” That coming from a man whose ministry affected millions, bearing much fruit. But I think he’s on to something Jesus Himself said. I’m to be faithful with what God has given me. He’s given me the office of Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. I’m thankful to Him for that. I love Him. I love my church. I want to pastor here for decades, not years. I want to be faithful in what God has given and be successful on His terms.
So that’s the long way of saying, for the most part, yes I think I’m successful. But ultimately it’s not up to me. It’s up to God.
3. When you decided to become a pastor, how did you go about it. Schooling, etc
A few years after I met that pastor I spoke of in question one, our two families along with one along planted a new church, and I became one of the pastors. I didn’t do most of the preaching. He did. But I was still one of the pastors.
After a couple of years, though, I realized that I wanted to pastor full time, and to do that I needed to go back to school. So with my church’s full support, at the age of 29 my family moved from Wilmington, NC, to Louisville, KY, so I could attend Boyce College, a Southern Baptist school. While doing that I was a part-time pastor of a very small church. That helped me develop as a better communicator (preacher).
I’d say the theological education (especially Greek) and the on the job training of that little church was some of the best preparation I could have ever gotten.
4. How do you decide what to preach on each Sunday?
I’m a firm believer in what is commonly called expository preaching. By that I mean I pick a book and preach line by line, verse by verse through that book. For example, on Sunday mornings at Bethlehem we’ve been going through the Gospel of Luke ever since I got there sixteen months ago. And on Wednesday nights we are just about to finish Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians.
So in that respect picking what to preach is very easy most weeks because I just preach what comes next in the text. That way I don’t get to avoid tough subjects, the church isn’t just exposed to my favorite texts. We get what Paul called in Acts 20 “the whole counsel of God.” Over the duration of my ministry I hope to be able to preach through many whole books of the Bible.
I do build in occasional breaks. In the spring I did five weeks in Isaiah 53 which was really good. I’ll also do a Sunday here and there of something different, maybe even a short series. Actually, right now, while still going through Luke technically, I’m actually in the middle of a miniseries focusing on the twelve apostles one by one. So that’s actually a miniseries within our larger series through Luke. By and large, though, I stick to preaching through books. It’s what my favorite preachers model, and I think the advantages to the church as a whole, especially in a ministry that spans a solid amount of time (as I pray mine does), are overwhelming.
5. Do you have any advice for people who may be thinking about joining the ministry?
Yes. First, be active in your own local church — which I hope is a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church focused on exalting Christ and making disciples (Matt 28:18-20). You won’t love God’s people as a minister if you don’t love His church. And by active I mean more than mere faithful attendance, but true involvement. Be seeking to minister where you are first.
Second, come under the guidance of someone doing it faithfully already. Hopefully this can happen within your own church, with one of your own pastors. But just as Timothy and Titus had Paul, learning from those already doing it faithfully is invaluable. I wish I had had more of this.
Third, don’t look at the Billy Grahams or your favorite high profile preacher and think that could be you. More likely than not, if you do become a pastor you’ll be in a church like the one I’m in (and praise God if that happens!). Being a pastor isn’t supposed to be glamorous. You don’t get in it for the money, for sure. It’s diligent labor (1 Thess 5:12). There’s a lot of heartache involved. Sometimes you’ll go through very rough times. You’ll be wronged and betrayed. And you’ll have to remember through it all that we’re all sinners and we all fall short of the glory of God. And you have to love God, love others, and be faithful regardless.
Fourth (and this really should be first), remember that you are a follower of Christ first. You are a husband second (if you’re married). You’re a father third (if you have children). Then, and only then, you’re a pastor/minister. If you don’t have the first three things in order, you’re already disqualified from ministry as far as the Bible is concerned (1 Tim 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-9).
There is more I could say, but those four things are a good start.
I could’ve said a lot more, but felt I was saying too much already. On question three, I’d add ways my youth minister prepared me, and also my experience at my last church, which was a trial worse than any I’ve ever faced (including two miscarriages). That trial, in particular, was in part preparation from God for being a better pastor where I am now.
What do you think? What would you say? Do you have any more questions for me?