1. Knowledge and credentials aren’t enough.
My theological knowledge positions me to make wise decisions and enables me to feed the flock with healthy grass, but the maturity needed to be a godly under-shepherd comes only through days, weeks, months, and years of labor in the vineyard of the Lord. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I am a man in the middle of his sanctification, just like the people who listen to me preach every Lord’s day.
2. What to do when my church is dying.
Much like parenting, spiritual growth and congregational renewal take time—a long time. There are a thousand consistent actions you hope and pray will yield fruit over the long haul. Old thinking patterns, habits, and traditions do not change easily; truth has to be applied multiple times in multiple ways before it becomes familiar and accepted. And people need time to see what health looks like. They didn’t get where they are overnight, and many changes take time.
Faithful, patient, consistent, and persevering leadership that thinks in decades instead of weeks is key. To help a dying church, take the long view.
3. How to shepherd my wife.
I did learn about shepherding my wife by doing expository preaching—by walking verse by verse through Ephesians, in particular, and coming to 5:25–33. From this classic text on what it means to be a Spirit-filled (don’t miss the prior context of 5:15–21, especially v. 18), Christlike husband, I learned truths that every husband should plant deep in his heart as he strives to care well for the gift from God that is his wife.
—Daniel L. Akin
4. How to pastor people who are different from me.
Be humble and discerning in the areas you expect the church to adjust to you and where you should adjust to them. Remember that whatever God calls you to, he will equip you for. If you’ve only lived in a small town and he calls you to an urban church, he will supply you with everything needful to thrive there.
5. How to follow my lead pastor when we disagree.
The first step in dealing with conflict with a lead pastor or another leader is to pray for humility and repentance. In most cases, it is wise to seek the input of other trusted counselors before you plan to resolve the disagreement. You must always be open to the possibility that you have misunderstood, that the other elder is in the right, and that your thinking needs to adjust.
6.How to lead my leaders.
Without a biblical understanding of leadership, we may be tempted either to surrender our authority through passivity and fear of man, thus harming those under our care, or to abuse our authority through manipulative or oppressive means, thus serving ourselves. This distortion of leadership was evident in the garden when Adam embraced passivity and failed to lead Eve away from temptation (Gen. 3:6). And it became a settled reality when Eve was cursed with the certainty that as a result of the fall, Adam would oppress her in response to her desire for his leadership (Gen. 3:16).
Scripture in its entirety depicts this ongoing struggle between godly leadership and distorted leadership. It’s true in the male-female marriage relationship, and it’s also true in the church, where we are called to reflect biblical patterns of leadership (1 Tim. 2:11–15).
7. How to raise my kids to love the church.
Our kids need to see us approach our work with joy and hope. They need to see us cultivate relationships in the church as genuine, mutual friendships—not as clients or as items on our to-do list. They need to see us engage problems in the church with empathy and loving commitment, never speaking as if the church were something other than all of us.
8. How to shepherd my congregation through seasons of suffering.
Some lessons can be learned in a classroom, but responding to suffering isn’t one of them. This lesson is learned and relearned in the crucible. One of the important things I’ve learned is that suffering doesn’t necessarily give you better words; it only makes you more generous with your tears. I hope that even the thought of leading your church through hard times would soften your heart and humble you. That’s the best preparation for leading your sheep through the valley of the shadow of death.
9. When to accept a call to leave my church.
Just as God’s work of salvation includes two calls—the external call of the proclaimed gospel and the internal effectual call of the Spirit—so too there is a similar twofold dynamic by which God calls men to ministry. If God has gifted a man to serve as a pastor or teaching elder, there will be a sense of that call internally by the Holy Spirit. God will also affirm that call externally through his church—reaffirming, refining, and directing his sense of calling.
—Harry L. Reeder
10. How to handle conflict.
The fundamental issue in all conflict is the heart. Whether the conflict seems more objective, like a ministry decision, or more subjective, like personal offenses, it all stems from hearts not totally satisfied in and yielded to Christ. This is probably the most important truth to raise when dealing with conflict. Conflict arises out of hearts that have not fully embraced the glories of the gospel.
11. The need to fight for my relationship with God.
We must fight for a relationship with God because it won’t happen automatically, even among pastors. May we never presume to be right with the Lord because of anything we are doing as pastors. Rather, let’s assume we need a fresh awakening of our hearts daily. Indeed, there are many enemies making war against us. There are many distractions, many challenges, many disappointments. All these factors and many more make the fight seem doubly hard. Thankfully, the Lord has already fought hard for a relationship with us—to the point of death on a cross. And mercifully, he won!
May we never presume to be right with the Lord because of anything we are doing as pastors. Rather, let’s assume we need a fresh awakening of our hearts daily.
12. The time it takes to become a shepherd.
Shepherding a congregation is a lot like dairy farming. It involves intimate knowledge, intense labor, occasional bruises, and constant feeding—all to produce “much fruit” to the glory of the Father (John 15:8). But shepherding—whether it be flocks, flights, or folks—has a secret, indispensable ingredient. Trust. They won’t let you into their space until they trust you.
—Dale Van Dyke
13. The temptation to make a name for myself.
What’s on the inside—whatever has always been there—will come out when we’re squeezed.
How about us? When our dreams and ambitions die, when we lose influence or reputation or a dream job, or when we experience injustice and betrayal, what will be revealed about our hearts? Will our hearts show themselves to be “right before God”? As Jesus said, “Will [the Son of Man] find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
14. The joy I can know over a long tenure.
Ladders work well for climbing immoveable structures, but they lose their passengers when winds blow and structures shake. Strong roots, however, withstand the wind and storms, remaining firm and steadfast. Pastoral ministry traffics in the storms. Only with strong roots in the congregation can pastors, by God’s grace, experience the immeasurable joy found in long ministry with a people.
—Phil A. Newton
15. What to do when no church hires me.
My gifting for service doesn’t change just because I’m paid to do it. If I’m a teacher, I’ll teach. I might not be preaching from the pulpit every week, but there are always new and young believers looking to learn. I’m not paid to set the church’s agenda, but I can still pray for the pastors and offer my support and even my counsel when they request it. I can always make my home a welcoming place for unbelievers to learn about Jesus and see him work in power.
This perspective on gifting and calling freed me to join a congregation and serve without regard for title, position, and pay. I never lacked for opportunity, because the church never lacks for need.
- How to Read the Bible in Seminary (David Mathis, Jonathan Parnell)
- What Dietrich Bonhoeffer Can Teach Us about Seminary Education (Paul R. House)
- The Doctrine of the Church in the Bible