I, and many other pastors, did not have an easy time being a pastor. It was the most brutal stretch of my life.
Anyone who asks me whether they should enter pastoral ministry, I give the same answer my dad, who was a pastor, gave me, “Don’t do it, it’ll break your heart. But if you have to, you have to.” Know up front that pastoral ministry can be brutal, and nothing going on in our world makes me think it will get easier.
But avoiding hard things is no recipe for a life well lived. If you realize the potential brutality and still want to do it, then by all means, go for it.
If you have any skills or interests that could provide you a living outside of pastoral ministry, pursue that. One of the first tests will be whether you’ll take the more enjoyable job over ministry. I know many guys who were qualified to be well-paid employees who instead went into the ministry. The choice was clear and I think that helped them in their resolve to stick with ministry.
The Big Question is Why do you want to be a pastor? What’s your motivation? What’s your answer to that? Write it down somewhere, I’ll give you the right answer at the end of the article. You can see if you passed this test!
Being a pastor is not a switch you flip. Being a pastor should be an extension of who you are as a person. If you’re already not doing pastoral things, then don’t be a pastor. It’s not just a job, and we don’t need any more people doing it as a job. The church has enough hirelings.
So, here are six things you should already be doing in your life before you are a pastor. If you’re not doing these things, I’d suggest not being a pastor.
1. Reading the Bible. I mean, like, really reading it. Over and over. Not just as a checklist activity, but reading for comprehension. You can defend your doctrine with verses, and not just catechism type verses, but actual verses you’ve read in context and thought through. You are so familiar with God’s Word that you can recognize what someone says as consistent or not with the voice of God as revealed in the Scriptures. Are you in the Word, systematically reading and studying it?
2. Living the Bible. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. He is the revelation of the righteousness of God apart from the Law and the Prophets. Is the life of Christ manifest in your life? Reading the Bible is not for arguing theology and being good at Bible Trivia. Reading the Word correctly always leads to doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so the man of God is thoroughly equipped to do good works. Is your life increasingly a reflection of Jesus Christ and His Word?
3. Helping people. Are you bearing the burdens of others? Do you talk to old people, because you’ll be doing a lot of that! Do you attend funerals, visit old folks, attend church events, and generally are helpful to those around you? If you won’t help your mom do the dishes, will you really serve others who actually can’t stand you? Are you developing love, service, compassion, and burden bearing? Are these a part of your life right now?
4. Accepting responsibility. Do you make decisions and deal well with the consequences? Pastors make a lot of decisions that have big time implications. If you blame others or act like a victim already in life, good luck leading a group of people! You have to know what you’re doing and be responsible enough to admit when you messed up, to humbly ask for forgiveness, and even on the off chance you’re right, how to be right graciously. Do you make decisions and deal with the consequences with maturity?
5. Dealing with feedback. A pastor’s actions get judged by EVERYBODY. Very few people in your life will not judge your pastoral actions. How well do you handle criticism? Do you consider it long enough to examine whether it’s right, or do you just flip out a comeback and move on? How well do you handle praise? Do you get arrogant easily, gloating over others, and rubbing faces in their mistakes and your glory? You need to understand that cheers and boos mean nothing. They are two sides of the same coin. Do you over-value the opinions of people?
6. Handling money. Pastors need to watch out for money. Many pastors have gotten in trouble over money. If you are massively in debt when you are a pastor, you will be tempted to water down your messages to keep people happy. You will play with conforming to the world to make more money. Get out of debt. Learn to buy very little. The more you need money, the greater the temptations will be to destroy your ministry. Get a grip on money and the deceitfulness of riches. Money destroys people. It destroys pastors and churches. Jesus said if we can’t handle earthly treasure, why would He entrust to us spiritual treasure (Luke 16:11)? How are you with money?
If these six things are not things you are aware of and working on right now, if these things seem irrelevant to you, if they seem too hard, legalistic, or laborious, or if you think you already have them all nailed down at age 23, please, for the sake of the Body of Christ and God’s Church, do not become a pastor.
Paul’s guidelines for church leadership as given in the Pastoral Epistles, are strict and they are moral/spiritual in nature. The church today does not hire pastors according to these guidelines; it hires based on education or communication skills or past success. The church is suffering today because of this.
So, what was your answer to my earlier question: Why do you want to go into pastoral ministry? What’s your motivation? If your answer was anything other than something like: to make much of Christ, to edify people and grow them into Christ, to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to glorify Jesus Christ, please do not go into ministry. Paul said he came to do nothing except preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Don’t do the job for money, for fame, for some proof of your spiritual vitality, for respect, or for any other human means. Do it to grow people into the perfect man Christ Jesus. Read Ephesians 4. This chapter tells you what church is for. The pastor’s job is to help Ephesians 4 happen in a local church. If Ephesians 4 doesn’t sound like something you want to be part of, then please do not enter pastoral ministry. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. You’re not. If your answer did not include Jesus Christ, your motivation is suspect.
Pastoral ministry is brutal. The vast majority of people do not want truth, nor do they want to grow into Christ. They think they do, they tell you they do, but their actions and reactions will clearly demonstrate this is not the case. There has always been a remnant. You will reach a couple people, if that. You’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise.
Our world is increasingly hostile to Jesus Christ. If you truly represent Him, you will suffer for it. You will. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” It’s a brutal calling, but it also has eternal reward. Understand the responsibility. James says, “Let not many of you be teachers.” When you open your mouth before God’s people, you are bringing on yourself more judgment. Take the job seriously. Many pastors are not taking it seriously and they are getting away with it for the time being. They have their reward and they will also give an account before the Lord and receive His full judgment on what they did in His name.
If you desire to be a pastor, you desire a good thing, but it is also a brutal thing. Go into it with your eyes open and prepare yourself for what’s about to hit you. Start today. I wish you well. Fight the fight.