By: Brian Croft
Yesterday, I celebrated ten years as Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. The entire weekend that was planned by our church was so encouraging and a wonderful time to reflect on all the Lord has done. Although I have been in pastoral ministry for over eighteen years, these last ten as a Senior Pastor have been particularly difficult and yet very special. The first five years were very difficult, while these last five were a great blessing. Here are a few of the lessons I learned these last ten years that I pray will encourage you in whatever season of pastoral ministry you find yourself.
1) God’s Word is sufficient to build Christ’s church. I remember my first Sunday ten years ago, I sat alone in the sanctuary wondering if the doors of this church would be open a year later. I realized in all my cleverness or worldly wisdom I could not save this church. I believed then that God, by his Spirit and through his Word, was sufficient to build his church and revitalize it. Ten years later, I have watched God do that very thing. The Word of God is what changes people and builds the church. If we as pastors truly believe this, it will show in our preaching, counseling, discipleship, decisions, and the way we lead the church.
2) The Gospel is powerful enough to change lives. I realized that programs, gimmicks, or personality does not change people and was not going to give life to this church that had been in decline for over thirty years. For the last 10 years I have watched the gospel free people from the bondage of sin and give hope to the hopeless. I have watched the gospel unite old and young, black and white, rich and poor and give life to this church. The gospel of Jesus Christ is enough to change lives and revitalize any local church.
3) Hang on to your family. I was once told, “You can always have another ministry. You only get one wife.” I would add your children also grow up so fast and they need their dad. Make sure you balance ministry and family life in such a way that your wife and children still feel like they come first, even in the midst of the grind of ministry. These last ten years I learned to take all my vacation time. I learned not to answer the phone during dinner, devotions, and my day off. Don’t forget, if you lose your family, you lose the right to serve in ministry (1 Tim. 3:4-5).
4) Don’t underestimate the value of older members. Because it is hard for existing members of a dying and declining church to accept a young pastor and a different direction, it is easy to blame them. I know at the beginning I did. Yet, the longer I stayed, the longer both myself and these long time members battled to love each other and work together. I thought I was the one being very patient with them in the early years. As time went one, I realized how patient they were actually being with me as a young pastor trying to grow. Yesterday, one of the most meaningful moments was some of the elderly members who once struggled with me for years, came to hug me and tell me how grateful they were I stayed. God does a special work in both older members and a younger pastor as we try to understand the other and love one another. We grow differently when we are forced to love someone harder to love.
5) Pursue to be wanted, but not needed. For the first several years, I was told that I would probably be the last pastor of this church. When I left for my sabbatical this summer, my hope was to come back and realize how much I had truly become unneeded. That is what I experienced and expendability never felt so good. Yet, I feel more wanted than ever. That should be the goal for us as pastors, that we build leadership around us so the church is not so dependent on one person, yet fruitful enough that we are still wanted by our church. Not the best formula for job security, but a wonderful plan for a healthy church.
6) Don’t neglect your own soul. Paul told the Ephesian elders to, “Take heed to yourselves and your flock.” (Acts 20:28) Pastors know to take heed to their flock, but often forget the call to take heed to themselves. The moments these last ten years where I was not at my best, or was batting with sin more could always be traced back to some kind of neglect towards my own soul. Pastors, cut something out and do what you must to care for your own soul. If you are not refreshed by the Lord’s grace and Spirit daily, you will not be at the right place to minister that grace to others.
7) Faithfulness is worth the harshest of criticisms. Throughout the last ten years, there have been hard decisions made. The first members disciplined out of the church happened. Men who just completed seminary were counseled not to pursue ministry. Some attenders were not allowed to become members. Other members were removed out of neglect. Unpopular decisions to defend the gospel in the community were mocked. People left the church over a greater desire to continue tradition instead of doing what God’s Word says. I have endured many harsh words because of decisions made seeking to obey Scripture. There was a year my name was so slandered that people knew me only through those painful words spoken when I would walk into a store or coffee shop. The harshest words are worth enduring with the hope that when I stand before Christ He will count me faithful.
8) Training men for ministry is an unspeakable joy. Other than seeing conversions to Christ, one of the greatest joys of these last ten years was training men for ministry, sending them out, then watching them flourish in that new ministry. Although it is hard and painful to send some of your best, most gifted from you, it is worth it and a great personal joy.
9) The burden to care for souls is too great for one man. I came to a church that had a single pastor model and the task to care for souls was overwhelming doing it alone. This is why the New Testament clearly teaches that the care of souls in the local church comes not through one man, but a plurality of pastors/elders to share that load together. Maybe the most significant decision made in the last ten years was when we moved to a plurality of pastors.
10) Pastors will give an account for all souls under our care. Pastors often forget we will give an account to the Lord Christ for not just the souls of those who love and support us, but those who do not. When I struggled to love certain difficult people (which was often), “it was the piercing words that I will, give an account for every soul (Heb. 13:17) to Jesus” that kept me from dismissing my responsibly before the Chief Shepherd.
There they are. I promise you I failed miserably in many different ways that led to these lessons learned. Be encouraged dear brothers and fellow pastors. The Lord often teaches us through our sins, failings, disappointments, and weaknesses. By the Lord’s grace, he allowed me to learn them as He continued to allow me to serve him. May you learn your lessons, yet keep serving in the same way.