What Makes Pastoral Ministry Enjoyable?

The Many Joys of Pastoral Ministry

When considering what makes pastoral ministry enjoyable, I have to chose from among several things. I loved preaching every week. I preached lectio continua—one sermon after another out of a book of the Bible—so it was always an adventure for me; it was always exciting to do that. I also loved dedicating and baptizing children over the years, doing weddings, and fulfilling many joyful pastoral responsibilities.

A Particular Joy of Ministry

However, the thing that probably gave me the greatest overall joy in pastoral ministry was investment in my colleagues. When I was at College Church, we had the opportunity to have a number of staff members, and I did a few important things with them.

The thing that probably gave me the greatest overall joy in pastoral ministry was investment in my colleagues.

When the elders and I would hire someone, we always tried to invite someone to come and serve that I considered to be better than me. We hired people with really great capabilities, and then I would give them a lot of freedom to do their work creatively in their particular area of ministry. That philosophy ended up working very well for us.

Then I invested in these fellow workers. For staff meetings every week, we would gather for an hour at a staff member’s house for prayer. Whoever was hosting would then choose a restaurant and we’d go there for an hour and a half to read the paper, talk about sports and politics—not much church business. Then we would come to the church and have a more formal agenda. We’d go through all of our business, each person reporting on their area of ministry and everyone interacting. We’d have minutes taken, and then given to each one by lunch. So I had a lot of time invested in my colleagues that day, from about 7:00 in the morning until 10:30 or 11:00 at night. I also asked all of them to attend elders meetings to help them participate in the life of the church.

The Value of Staff Retreats

One of the fun things that we did together were our biannual staff retreats. They would be scheduled from a Sunday night after church until Thursday at noon. We had a big house available to us up at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin—a ten bedroom Victorian home. Babies in arms were welcome, but for any other children, we’d pay for babysitting or childcare so that the staff members and their spouses could come.

We also had some rules. The men made breakfast every morning and cleaned up. At lunchtime, the women put out something to eat. It had to be sandwiches and soup, because we didn't want them to work. Then, we'd either go out or order in for dinner.

We had an inductive Bible study in the morning. We’d come together and have a discussion. When you have people that really know their Bibles well, the discussion is just scintillating. So we’d have a great time talking together about a book or section of Scripture. Then I would ask one spouse to share what they wanted prayer for, and we’d gather around and lay our hands on them and pray over them.

The afternoons were completely free to do whatever you wanted: play basketball, go shopping, walk around the lake, go boating, read, or sleep. We always tried to schedule these things during World Series time so we’d have something to watch at night.

My staff grew to love these retreats. They happened twice a year and they’d say they were just living for the next staff retreat. We developed the greatest relationships.

The Fruit of Pastoral Labors

Last night, I met with a bunch of them at a pub here in town and we reminisced over our work together. They are all over the country, many of them pastoring or leading significant ministries. I keep track of and pray for these brothers all the time.

When people ask me what gives me the greatest satisfaction from my years of pastoral ministry, it’s thinking about this former staff member who is now in Tulsa, and that one in Raleigh, and the ones in Chicago or down in Indiana. I pray for them. That is probably my greatest ongoing joy in ministry.

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