Six Words of Wisdom for New (Especially Younger) Pastors

"The problem is that we hired a student pastor to do a senior pastor's job. All things considered, you're not doing half bad."

These words were spoken to me by a church member about 8-9 months into my first senior pastorate. We were alone. He was teaching me how to bass fish on Lake Murray in the heart of South Carolina, but the real purpose was to talk about my leadership.

That statement made an impact. On one hand, I was encouraged. I wasn't doing "half bad." On the other hand, I felt insulted. Apparently, my youth and inexperience were a problem for some in the church.

I was not the first to be in this situation. A young new pastor named Timothy had similar issues pastoring several small congregation throughout the region of Ephesus. Some people were jealous, resenting his rapid ascension to pastoral leadership. Others simply despised him for his youth. As John Stott points out, it is a problem that reverberates across all generations. "Older people have always found it difficult to accept young people as responsible adults in their own right, let alone as leaders. And young people are understandably irritated when their elders keep reminding them of their immaturity and inexperience, and treat them with contempt."

Faced with this reality, Paul offered young Timothy ... and pastors today ... six points of wisdom to guide them through such challenging times.

First, set a comprehensive example (1 Timothy 4:12). Whenever someone boats us out to the middle of nowhere on our day off to talk about our failing leadership, the temptation is to assert our leadership all the more strongly. But pastors are servant leaders, not high and mighty lords. We lead by example, not force.

Second, submit to the Scriptures (1 Timothy 4:13). One of the best pieces of advice I ever got before heading into a senior pastorate was this: “Your job is to drop Bible everywhere you go.” If a pastor isn't reading his Bible, he will eventually fail to submit to his Bible, and that’s the first step in becoming a false teacher.

Third, exercise your gifts (1 Timothy 4:14). Just because a pastor has the position does not mean that he has the fully developed gifts and skills needed to execute his duties well. It doesn't take long for a lack of experience to show itself, and how one reacts then speaks volumes about his faith. Will he, like Timothy, recall God's calling on his life and remember that God did, indeed, gift him for the role, or will he panic and cower away?

Fourth, make visible progress (1 Timothy 4:15). Every pastor should breathe a sigh of relief here because Paul did not mean to infer that "being a comprehensive example" meant "be perfect." Oh, the temptation pastors face to be perfect, and often because members expect it of them! But it is hypocritical to ever think one could be, and who wants to be with a pastor who pretends to actually pull it off? Rather, the mandate is to make visible progress, knowing full well he'll never arrive.

Fifth, be consistent (1 Timothy 4:16). By this I mean take care of yourself and the church equally. John Stott says is it so much better: "He is to be neither so engrossed in teaching others that he neglects himself, nor so concerned with the culture of his own soul that he neglects his ministry to others. Instead, he is to be consistent, applying himself with equal attention and perseverance to himself and to others."

Finally, treat everybody like family (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Far too often, relationships between pastors and church members are professionalized. It does not line up with the biblical vision of relationships in the household of faith (1 Timothy 3:15). Familial relationships are authentic and defined by one's place or role in the family. So should a pastor be with his flock.

I could have used this advice several years ago, but I am at least grateful for the conversation that got me thinking in these terms.

I also enjoyed the fresh bass.