I belong to a Facebook group of some 4000 small church pastors, and recently someone asked what “What would be your advice to a new pastor?”
The first thought that came to my mind was “Study, study, study.” Then as I thought it over further, a slew of things came to mind, so here they are…
• Study God’s Word, memorize God’s promises, and make your preferred Bible your personal friend by marking it up from your study. You will recall what side of the page a particular verse is, but as you study and mark your Bible you will find that you can locate verses easily and impromptu as you need it in your preaching.
• You will likely follow a homiletic preaching style and favor a topical or expository approach. I would strongly suggest doing expository sermons through the books of the Bible. It is easier for preparing, especially if your holding down a full-time job outside of the church. Expository preaching will also hit on the problems of life that your congregation need answers on. If you begin your ministry by preaching to solve problems and fitting the Bible to those problems, you will teach your people that the Bible can not be understand verse upon verse. You will also teach them that it takes a trained seminarian to properly extract the meaning of Scripture.
• Don’t be afraid to add a conversational element to your preaching, especially if your congregation is under 50 people. There is nothing wrong with allowing your people to ask questions in real-time. It will require a bit of facilitation skills on your part, but interchange will move your people into discipleship rather than just listening.
• Love the people God has given you. Do not lord over the people God has given you. They don’t have to fellowship with you at your church. Parishioners want to support their pastor, they want him to succeed not the ones you think you should be loving. A church is a family
• Don’t seek a crowd, seek souls one at a time. Crowds can’t be saved, but a soul can. You can lead a soul, but you can only inspire a crowd and inspiration is not the same as the gospel. A pagan can inspire a crowd to be better or do better, but your calling is to present the gospel.
• Teach the whole counsel of God. Teach the Bible, not your ideas, theories, or philosophy on life. Teach the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. When you teach through the Bible you will hit on the problems your fellowship is facing. If you teach on problems you are only presenting your opinions and they are of no value to the soul suffering before you.
• You are a Shepherd, not an executive. If you want to be an executive start a business, not a church. Shepherds smell like their sheep because they spend time with their sheep.
• Don’t forget that sheep will be sheep. Sheep get scared and fall over. Sheep forget. Sheep get angry and suddenly headbutt their Shepherd.
• Pick a translation that you like, while I prefer a more literal translation, use one that you have chosen and stick to it. You will become familiar with it. Have a set study time. Have a place of study time. As you study the Spirit of God will expand your intellect and give you endless recall to Bible truth that you can draw from to share with your sheep as they need it.
• Wolves will come into your ministry that will frustrate you and you will want to push them away and out. They may need that, but first wait on the Lord to see if there is a lesson in it for you or your church. If you have regular and open conversations with your flock, they will sense a wolf in their midst and help you push them out with peer pressure and prayer.
• There will be a few who will come into your ministry that will cause you alarm. They may be a minister, they may come from a different church tradition, and you may feel uncomfortable by their personality or education or background. Don’t assume that they are going to usurp your authority. Pray about that uncomfortableness and wait on the Lord to see if they genuinely want to fit in or not. God may move upon the heart of someone in your fellowship to befriend them. Maybe God sent them to support you in ways that others can not. Not everyone that seems to dislike you is going to hurt you, and not everyone that seems to like you is going to help you.
• If you are starting a new church try to find employment for your family’s financial responsibility. Taking a salary from your church will cause some to see you as their employee and will they will scrutinize your productivity. If you do not take a salary from our church, you find your people to have a greater appreciation for your ministry and they will have a sense of indebtedness toward you, which will help when days come that you want to take off. If your church is able to pay you some salary but not enough to live on, call it for what it is, call it a stipend. When people hear “stipend” they know that it is not a living wage.