I have been a senior pastor for nine months, so I am not the one to write a book or tell you how it’s supposed to be done. One thing I can tell you is what I am learning. I can’t tell all pastors what to do, but I can tell you what God has been teaching me through the wise and experienced people He has placed around me early in my ministry. Pastors make mistakes, especially young pastors. We can’t avoid our shortcomings, but we can humbly accept rebuke for them and lead through our repentance. Especially during seasons of intense stupidity, this seems like the primary way I have to lead! So, I might as well get good at it. The following are 5 criticisms from Godly church members that are really helping me to be a better pastor:
1. “You are not a good listener.” A very Godly leader who cared about me and wanted to see me succeed said that to my face as a warning of what could kill the ministry. When I think I know something, it is very hard for me to see through anything other than the lens of that preconception. I won’t even notice when people are trying to correct me. I will just filter it through my own presumption. Since then, I have noticed when I slow down, I listen better. The fewer decisions I make in a corner, the less errors I make and the less likely I am to hurt people.
2. “Be careful of your words.” An old engineer told me this after a Sunday when carelessness and negligence led me to make a grievous error from the pulpit. I called out a local prosperity gospel preacher and named his book. Then, I named his church. Not only is it controversial to name bad churches, but I said the wrong church name! That led to a conversation with my transition team and my pastoral staff, which led to a much needed apology from the pulpit and edited sermon footage. There’s a reason the first thing Paul tells young Timothy to do is watch his speech (1 Timothy 4:12). I wish that was the only time in the past nine months I had to be informed of a shortcoming in a sermon.
3. "You’re chasing too many rabbits." I remember feeling horrible about the sermon preparation all week. It didn’t feel like it was coming together. I didn’t feel like I was doing the text justice. After the sermon, I asked a staff pastor far older than I what he thought. He didn’t seem to want to tell me, so I pressed him. He kindly said, “It definitely wasn't your best sermon. Your main point was wonderful, but you chased too many rabbits. You’re too good a preacher to be doing that.” Praise the Lord, He still uses "average sermons," but that was a good warning.
4. “When you say [blank], they hear [blank].” This isn’t necessarily an example of error or shortcoming because I can’t read people’s minds, but it is an example of healthy feedback which I must have in order to shepherd my people well. As a young pastor of a church with many older members, there are times the intended meaning of my words is perceived as something totally different by the hearers because of different generations, different experiences, or even different ethnicities. This is why my transition team of three old (they’re going to chide me for that, haha), wise men is so valuable to me for protection from preventable errors.
5. “Be careful what you apologize for.” Great word of advice from an Apollo leader. I can’t apologize every time someone disagrees with a sermon point or decision. I can’t apologize for the Word of God. I can’t apologize for doing what it says. I need to own up to the shortcomings of my flesh, but that doesn’t mean the authority the Bible has given me to lead God’s church should not be used. Like all Christians, God gives pastors the grace they need to do whatever it is He has called them to do. We do not have permission from the Holy Spirit to wallow in our mistakes. The sin of man must never be victorious within the family of God. Stand firm in the presence of worldly criticism. Repent in the face of Godly rebuke.
I have said it before and I will say it again. I have a great job. Don't mistake the presence of criticism for an unloving church. I really do have the most supportive, loving, and respectful congregation a pastor can ask for. They are also not doormats. Pastoring isn't always fun. It is never easy. But, it is good and sanctifying. As a young pastor, there are already many things I look back on and cringe. And there will be many more! However, God will always win through my failure, even if my ego doesn’t.
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