Three Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

Three Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

Note: Today I have Ian Macleod as my guest contributor. Born and raised in Scotland, Ian is a Th.M. graduate of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. In 2015 he was ordained to the ministry at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church where he continues to serve as a pastor and teacher. Here are his three reflections, reflecting on almost three (quick) years of his pastoral ministry:

1. Privilege

I count it an enormous privilege to minister to God’s people as a pastor and teacher in my local congregation here in Grand Rapids. Because we serve in a seminary community, our congregation is blessed with a steady flow of students and families that come to us and go from us from all over the world. It’s really a little foretaste of heaven. And yet for all the enriching diversity we have, the basic need of each person, and the great answer to that need, is the same – the Savior who was dead and is alive forever (Rev. 1:18)! There’s not a different gospel for the American, the Egyptian, the Dutchman, the Malawian, the South Korean, the Scot, or anyone else. “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Rom. 10:12). It’s the greatest wonder and at the same time the greatest privilege to me that the Lord has called me to preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

2. Personal Holiness

Alongside the great privilege of pastoring and preaching, there is also the sense of great responsibility. I must give an account for the souls of my people (Heb. 13:17), I must rightly divide the word and preach the word (2 Tim. 2:15), I must “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” and I must do this “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). It’s no wonder Paul said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). And yet, behind all these things, there is the greatest and most convicting need – my own personal holiness. John Owen said, “If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.” Along similar lines, Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.” This is very convicting.

I remember, as I contemplated a call to the ministry, telling my minister back in Scotland that one of my great concerns was this: “What do I do if I am spiritually cold?” There are so many great and glorious texts in Scripture – “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25) – but how do I enter a pulpit and preach from these texts if I am spiritually cold? My late minister knew what I was speaking about: “Often I feel that the earthenness of the vessel will take away from the excellence of the treasure, but it is often in these moments when we feel we have nothing that the Lord comes in a special way with His grace.” I’ve often found that to be true. But equally true is this: the gospel ministry does not allow for spiritual coasting. The most important way I watch out for the souls of others is to watch out for my own.

3. Priorities

In working through a series on Philippians, it has struck me again how Paul’s priorities are Christ- and gospel- and church-centered. Some have used the acronym JOY to describe these priorities: Jesus first, Others second, You last. Of course, Paul is pointing us to Christ Jesus himself, the one who prioritized the interests of others before his own, and though “being in the form of God,” humbled himself to the very death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). The searching question I have often been confronted with, as I have walked beside Paul in these verses, is this: Do I have the same priorities he does? I want them. “Lord, the beautiful, mutual, Christian love between Paul and the Philippians, give that love more and more to me and my congregation.” “Lord, the love and zeal Paul has for the gospel, even while maligned in a Roman prison, give that love and zeal to me.” “Lord, give me, and give the precious people I serve, the same Jesus-first, Others-second, Me-last priorities more and more and more.”

Sometimes I have felt that with our busy, hustle-bustle world, our priorities have become somewhat skewed. We all have a tendency to think that activity is good, and more activity is better, and relentless activity is best. Activity is certainly good. However, my own increasing conviction is that our activity needs some realignment (which will probably require some decluttering of our schedules). There is a beautiful simplicity to what the apostolic church prioritized. They were certainly active, but after decades of observation, Luke could sum up their activity in the following simple way. Literally, he says in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to (i.e., they gave priority to) the apostles’ doctrine and to the fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). “Lord, give us these priorities too.”

John Owen

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Ministry Pastor

15 Reflections from My 15 Years of Experience as a Pastor

Since April of 2001 I have been a minister of the gospel and throughout my fifteen years of life as a pastor, I have collected thoughts that I would like to share with my fellow pastors and with those who desire to be pastors someday. Of course, there are more than fifteen reflections that I have gathered; but, for the sake of brevity, let me share only fifteen.

  1. Pastoring is a calling from God. Having a degree from a seminary is not a guarantee that you have this ministerial calling. Some graduate from the seminary but are not in the ministry, or do not stay long in the ministry, because they do not have this pastoral calling.
  1. The God who has called you to the ministry will also provide for you. He will prepare you for the ministry. He will give you a congregation to serve. And he will sustain you throughout your life in the ministry.
  1. Don’t accept a call to pastor a congregation unless you are really convinced that the Lord is calling you to serve that church. Why? Because when problems arise from that congregation, your strong conviction of God’s calling will encourage you to continue serving that church amidst difficulties. You can say, “Lord, You have called me to serve You in this church and I know You will sustain me.”
  1. God resists the proud in the ministry. Thus, expect God to humble you. Sometimes He humbles His servants through infirmity. All accomplished pastors that I know have a form of affliction that keeps them humble before God. At the end of the day, God will use the ministry to sanctify you. God’s main goal in your life is to conform you to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.
  1. Your wife can be a great help to you in the ministry. If you are a pastor and not yet married and desire to get married, look prayerfully for a godly woman who will serve with you, not hinder you. If you were already married when you became a minister, help your wife understand the nature of the ministry. You may want to consider buying her the book Letters to Pastors’ Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins (2013).
  1. Your family is your priority over your ministry. As Paul indicates in 1 Timothy 3:4–5, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” If you neglect your family, your congregation will suffer eventually.
  1. God has called you primarily to preach His Word and pray. Therefore, learn to delegate your other responsibilities to others so that you can focus on your primary work. As Christ’s disciples say in Acts 6:2–4, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
  1. Don’t stop learning about your vocation. In the midst of your busy schedule, set aside time regularly to read books or articles that will help you become a better servant of the Lord. Attend pastors’ conferences where you can fellowship with and learn from like-minded ministers about the ministry.
  1. Don’t underestimate the wisdom of experienced ministers. Seek their advice and listen to them. They can save you from committing mistakes or making wrong decisions. Find an older pastor who can mentor and encourage you in the ministry. A young pastor has the tendency to think that he knows a lot, but the longer you stay in the ministry, the more you will realize how little your knowledge is.
  1. No matter how hard you try to serve your congregation, you will always have a member who will complain about your service. Remember that you cannot please everyone in the church, and you are not to please people but God. Don’t let your critics stop you from doing the Lord’s work. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
  1. When necessary, don’t be afraid to confront a member of your congregation who has offended you (Matt. 18:15). When the offense is not dealt with, it can become worse. Keeping your resentment to yourself is not good for your heart both physically and spiritually. So, don’t avoid confrontation, but deal with it in a Christlike manner, trusting that God will bring reconciliation.
  1. Don’t think that God needs you in the ministry. The truth is you need Him more than He needs you. His work can continue without your help. So be thankful to God if He is using you in the building up of His church. To be a minister is a great privilege from the Lord. Think about this: you are serving the Maker of heaven and earth.
  1. The condition of your body can affect the life of your congregation. If you are not healthy, you cannot function well in the ministry. Hence, don’t neglect your body. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. At times ministry can be stressful. Learn to rest and relax, or else you will burnout and cannot continue in the ministry.
  1. Pay careful attention to yourself. Realize your tendency to commit sins that can disqualify you from the ministry. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). As you shepherd your congregation, shepherd your own soul. Don’t be too busy about the ministry that you neglect the One who has called you to the ministry.
  1. When you feel discouraged and about to quit, remember that what you do for the Lord is not in vain in Him. When you don’t see the fruit of your hard work in preaching, keep in mind that God’s Word will not return to Him void. His Word will always accomplish the purpose for which God has sent it (Isa. 55:11).

Therefore, my fellow pastors, let me encourage you with the words of the Apostle Paul, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:18).

Ministry Pastor

13 Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

Throughout my thirteen years of life as a minister of the gospel, I have collected thoughts that I would like to share with my fellow pastors. Of course, there are more than thirteen reflections that I have gathered, but, for the sake of time, let me share only thirteen:have-i-been-called-to-minis

 

  1. Pastoring is a calling from God. Having a degree from a seminary is not a guarantee that you have this ministerial calling. You will not stay long in the ministry if you don’t have this calling.

  2. The God who has called you to the ministry will also provide for you. He will help you in your preparation for the ministry. He will give you a congregation to serve. He will supply you with His grace to persevere until the end.

  3. Don’t accept a call to pastor a congregation unless you are really convinced that the Lord is calling you to serve that church. Why? Because when problems arise from that congregation, your conviction of God’s calling will encourage you to continue serving that church amidst difficulties. You can say, “Lord, you have called me to serve you in this church and I know you will sustain me.”

  4. God resists the proud. Thus, expect God to humble you. Sometimes He humbles His servants through infirmity. Every accomplished pastor that I know has a form of affliction that keeps them humble before God.

  5. Your wife can be a great help to you in the ministry. If you are a pastor and not yet married and desire to get married, look prayerfully for a godly woman who will serve with you, not hinder you. If you were already married when you became a minister, help your wife understand the nature of the ministry. Consider buying her this book Letters to Pastors’ Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins (2013).

  6. Your family is your priority over your ministry. As Paul indicates in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” If you neglect your family, your congregation will suffer eventually.

  7. God has called you primarily to preach His Word and pray. Therefore, learn to delegate your other responsibilities to others so that you can focus on your primary work. As Christ’s disciples say in Acts 6:2-4, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

  8. Don’t stop learning about your vocation. In the midst of your busy schedule, set aside time regularly to read books or articles that will help you become a better servant of the Lord. Attend pastors’ conferences where you can fellowship with and learn from like-minded ministers about the ministry.

  9. Don’t underestimate the wisdom of experienced ministers. Seek their advice and listen to them. They can save you from committing mistakes or making wrong decisions. Find an older pastor who can mentor and encourage you in the ministry.

  10. No matter how hard you try to serve your congregation, you will always have a member who will complain about your service. Remember that you cannot please everyone in the church, and you are not to please people but God. Don’t let your critics stop you from doing the Lord’s work. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

  11. Don’t think that God needs you in the ministry. The truth is you need Him more than He needs you. His work can continue without your help. So be thankful to God if He is using you in the building up of His Church. To be a minister is a great privilege from the Lord. Think about this: you are serving the maker of heaven and earth.

  12. The condition of your body can affect the life of your congregation. If you are not healthy, you cannot function well in the ministry. Hence, don’t neglect your body. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. At times ministry can be stressful. So learn to rest and relax, or else you will get burnout and be out of the ministry.

  13. Pay careful attention to yourself. Realize your tendency to commit sins that can disqualify you from the ministry. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). As you shepherd your congregation, shepherd your own soul. Don’t be too busy about the ministry that you neglect the One who has called you to the ministry.

 

 

 

Ministry Pastor

An Interview with Brian Croft about his book The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, 171 pp., paperback.

It was a joy to meet you at the 2013 Puritan Reformed Conference. I enjoyed reading your practical and gospel-centered book. I especially appreciated its humble and honest tone.

Here are some of my questions for you about your book:9780310495093_30

1. How would you respond to a pastor who says that his ministry is his priority over his family? You may also want to comment on William Carey’s conviction that ministry work must come first before family responsibility.

I would tell him that he is disobeying the Word of God and the biblical calling of a pastor.  A pastor’s calling in 1 Timothy 3 is to first manage his household before the church.  I would also say that a pastor will give an account for souls (Heb. 13:17) not just in the church, but those in his family.  I would argue the account will be given first to those in his household.  A pastor’s first ministry is to his family, then the church.  Lose your family, you will lose your ministry.  

2. On page 41 you state, “Being a pastor and the wife of a pastor can indeed be a very lonely position.” Can you please elaborate your thoughts on this statement?

Most think the pastor and his wife would be the ones with the most friends in the church.  The opposite is usually the case.  Because of the position of the pastor in a church, it is hard to be transparent and open with certain folks not knowing what might later be used against him.  Many relationships are based upon those wanting to get close to the pastor for personal gain, not simply friendship.  This makes it hard for the pastor and his wife to find meaningful friendships and most pastors do not make the effort to find them outside their church.

3. What do you think is a pastor’s main problem as far as balancing his family and ministry responsibility is concerned?

The pastor’s main problem is not what he thinks it is.  It is not the demands and pressures put upon him.  The pastor’s main problem that causes an imbalance is his own sinful heart.  It is his heart that makes him desire things that would cause the ministry to become an idol to him, thus neglecting his family.  The pastor has to apply the power of the gospel to his heart struggles in the ministry to prevent family neglect.

4. What is the biblical solution to the problem mentioned in question # 3?

The power of the gospel not only saves us from our sins, but it also empowers us to overcome the sins of our hearts that affect our daily lives.  The pastor must identify the sinful struggles in his heart that pull him away from his family, and repent.  Then, he must turn to the Scriptures as the guide to how a pastor must conduct his life.  Scripture gives us the blueprint to the calling of a pastor (1 Timothy 3:4-5), what the pastor should be doing with his time (Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4), and how essential it is for a pastor to care for his wife (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and shepherd his children (Eph. 6:1-4) in the midst of his life and ministry.  As the pastor ministers God’s Word, he must himself walk in it to counter the sinful temptations that lead to neglect of the family.

5. This question is for your wife Cara: In what way can a pastor’s wife best help her husband in the ministry?  

Each ministry is different, therefore what each husband needs will be different.  I can not give you a specific answer except this, ask them.  If you really want to know what your husband needs for you to do, ask him, and then be willing to hear whatever his answer may be.  I know it sounds simple, but we as women tend to think we know what our husbands need and how they need us to serve.  The truth is there may be a way that they are desiring for us to serve and we have never taken the time to ask them.

The second answer I would give is to pray for husbands.  Our husbands need our prayers.  And we need to not only pray for them but we need to tell them we are praying for them and ask in what specific ways we can pray for them better.  This does two things.  First it encourages our husbands by letting them know that we are thinking and interceding on their behalf.  Second, it allows us to see into our husbands’ hearts a bit deeper and to know more of the burdens they are carrying.  We need to be lifting them before God daily and seeking ways to encourage them as they labor both for the church and for our families.  Notice I said “we”.  That is because this is a lesson I am still learning.

6. What projects are you currently working on?

I have several books I am working on.  There is a companion with the Pastor’s Family that will be about, “The Pastor’s Ministry” which will be focused on the top 10 biblical priorities of every pastor’s ministry.  Then I am writing, co-writing, and editing 6 more books for our Practical Shepherding series, all to be published in the next two years.  Practical books on administration, caring for widows, planning and leading worship, praying for the flock, and how to comfort the grieving are some of the topics of these books.  We are very excited about all the Lord is doing with Practical Shepherding and the books that will be the foundation for our ministry for year to come, Lord willing.

Note: You can buy the book here.

Family Interview Ministry Pastor

8 Pressures in Pastoral Ministry

In their book, Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans, Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter enumerate eight pressures in pastoral ministry that can weaken our passion for ministry. We must not allow these pressures to stop us from serving our Lord Jesus Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast our profession” (Hebrews 4:14).

 

Here are the eight pressures:

  1. Some of us find ourselves in denominations where the standards of doctrine are being downgraded. We find ourselves in situations in which we must decide when and where to make a stand.
  2. Some of us face opposition, perhaps from peers within our own denomination or from members in the pew who want us to join them in abandoning the historic doctrines of Reformation Christianity or downplay the necessity to experience those doctrines in a personal and spiritual way.
  3. Some of us are confronted with a cult of man-made traditions or a demand for trendy innovations in church life and worship.
  4. Some of us labor in situations where little growth is evident, numerical or spiritual.
  5. Some of us are crippled by debilitating loneliness—perhaps having no congenial or like-minded colleagues in our locality.
  6. Some of us labor in the midst of strife and disunity within our own flocks. A minority of vocal members spreads foolish accusations and slanderous gossip that wound our fellow Christians.
  7. Some of us are discouraged because we feel the withdrawing of the presence of God in our soul’s consciousness for no apparent reason.
  8. Some of us are discouraged on account of our own weak spiritual condition.

 

Ministry Pastor Puritan