The Best Advice I’ve Received In Pastoral Ministry

I’ve had the privilege of serving in various forms of pastoral ministry for over 10 years.

Old photo of happy senior peasant after hard work in the field

I’ve been involved in campus ministry, youth ministry, worship ministry, small group ministry, family-life ministry (marriage/parenting), preaching/teaching, counseling, and now church-planting. I’ve attended countless seminars and conferences, benefitted from wonderful biblical teaching and counsel, and have had the joy of reading numerous books and articles.

Even a quick scan of the resources that sit neatly on the shelves in the office from which I am writing reminds me that I have been richly blessed by the teaching of so many. Part of that awareness fills me with gratitude for the goodness of God. The other part, quite honestly, terrifies me. I think of Jesus’ statement: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

I know I’ve been entrusted with much. So faithfulness, for me, will require a great deal.

Sometimes, I confess, I tremble at that thought. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). In and of myself, I am most certainly not sufficient, but my sufficiency comes from God:

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

When you are working in pastoral ministry, you are working, as Charles Spurgeon puts it, “in a sphere where nothing but the supernatural will ever avail.”

Only God can bring the dead to life (Ephesians 2:1-10). Only God can bring conviction of sins (John 16:8-11). Only God can change hearts (Jeremiah 13:23). Only God can save people (Jonah 2:9). Pastoral ministry, by its very nature, is dealing with spiritual realities, things that only God can do. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).

Spurgeon wrote,

“Unless the Holy Ghost blesses the Word, we who preach the gospel are of all men most miserable, for we have attempted a task that is impossible. We have entered on a sphere where nothing but the supernatural will ever avail. If the Holy Spirit does not renew the hearts of our hearers, we cannot do it. If the Holy Ghost does not regenerate them, we cannot. If He does not send the truth home into their souls, we might as well speak into the ear of a corpse.”

That’s why the best advice I’ve received in pastoral ministry has been simple, straight-forward, humble counsel regarding dependence on God through prayer: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.”

Six words. So simple. Yet, so incredibly powerful and profound.

This is what a fellow pastor (and friend) in Knoxville told me one day when we were discussing a significant ministry opportunity before us. We both had a specific desire for a certain ministry opportunity, and we were in full agreement, but the funding was not available to make that desire a present reality. So, his counsel was simple: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.” And that’s exactly what we did. We poured our hearts out to God in prayer, both together and privately over a period of time, and then we watched Him provide. The door swung wide for the ministry opportunity, and we walked through it with thankfulness in our hearts knowing that God had answered our prayers.

I’ve come back to this counsel so often throughout the years.

I wouldn’t consider myself a naturally confident person. I think I’m much better at encouraging others than I am at encouraging myself (though I am trying to grow in this area (1 Samuel 30:6).). I personally struggle with anxiety and can regularly be concerned about the future. I have some friends who don’t ever seem to worry about anything. I’m genuinely happy for them — and they’re a joy to be with — but I can’t relate to that type of temperament. Often, I am anxious. I will say this, though. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly grateful for anything that drives me to prayer, including my own anxiety. I’m convinced that God lovingly allows challenges at times so that we will come to Him in prayerful communion.

Troubles have a way of driving us back to the Father, whereas when there are few challenges, there is often little prayer. Now, when a challenge presents itself, the Lord reminds me of the wise counsel of this faithful pastor and friend: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.” When I heed this counsel, I walk outside, get somewhere alone, and tell the Lord all my troubles. I’ve watched Him deliver me from so many dangers and provide for so many needs (and desires). I’m convinced that God loves to hear our voices. He loves to meet our needs. He loves to grant our desires, and He loves to answer specific prayers. It brings Him glory to answer our prayers (John 14:13-14).

Whatever you’re going through, let me encourage you: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.”

5 Books Every Pastor Should Read, Outside of the Bible

Here’s a list of 5 books I would encourage every pastor to read, outside of the Bible:

classic library

1. The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes

2. A Call to Prayer, JC Ryle

3. When I Don’t Desire God, John Piper

4. The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges

5. The Holiness of God, RC Sproul

Question: Pastors, what other books would you encourage fellow-pastors to read?

5 Encouragements for Bi-Vocational Pastors

I’m a bi-vocational pastor.

In my particular case, this basically means that I’m an associate pastor who doesn’t receive his compensation from the local church, but by another means. I have two vocations: pastoral ministry is one, and Healthcare / IT recruiting is the other.

Bible & BriefCase

I’m very blessed to love my job and love the work of ministry. Monday through Friday, the majority of my day is spent working at Provisions Group, a Nashville-based Healthcare / IT staffing and consulting firm. A large portion of my weekends, then, and several evenings a month, are devoted to ministry.

The Bible and The Briefcase

I haven’t always been bi-vocational. In Knoxville, for nearly 8 years I was a full-time pastor with a local church in the area. In the fall of 2012, I re-entered the business world, moved back into my previous profession of healthcare recruiting, and relocated to the greater Nashville area in order to help plant Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, TN.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve reflected a great deal on the beauty and benefits of bi-vocational ministry (I’m also aware of many of the challenges that exist).

I know I’m not the only one. On our particular pastoral team, 2 of the 3 pastors are bi-vocational. I’ve also interacted with a number of pastors in recent years who are serving their local churches while working full-time jobs, and I’m always encouraged to hear their stories of God’s provision and enabling grace.

With that said, I feel a strong call to bi-vocational pastoral ministry, and I have a growing heart for encouraging my fellow bi-vocational pastors.

Here are a five encouragements I would share with my fellow bi-vocational pastors:

1. God has uniquely positioned you for service in the community and in the church

Don’t forget that there are so many benefits to being bi-vocational. For one, you have the built-in platform of constantly living and working with people in the world, and this holds wonderful opportunities for the gospel. You also have the joy and privilege of contributing to the building of your local church both in terms of your time and your personal finances (Not receiving compensation for the work of ministry is a gift to your local church, and every financial contribution you make through your tithes and offerings is a gift, as well). God is using your service to build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

2. Do whatever it takes to get your soul happy in God, consistently

At every turn, you are likely pouring out your soul in service to others. Because you can only give what you have stored up in your heart to give, you need the continual replenishment that only comes by the Holy Spirit through communion with God, feasting on the Word, and pouring out your heart to God in prayer and faith. It’s not selfish to take time for your own soul to be replenished and nourished. It’s essential for effectiveness in bi-vocational pastoral ministry. So, do whatever it takes to get your own soul happy in God. Your family, your employer, and the church you love will all be grateful and will benefit from you as you receive fresh grace from God.

3. Make sure to take care of your family first

No amount of influence in others’ lives is worth sacrificing those closest and dearest to you. If you are married, God has blessed you with a gift in your wife and He has called you to love her as Christ loves the church – to nourish and cherish her and lay down your life for her good (Ephesians 5:25). Sometimes this love will involve saying “No” to the endless needs, desires, or demands of others. Again, that is not a selfish thing; instead, it’s a right ordering of priorities. (To be sure, some seasons will involve greater sacrifice from the family, but if the family begins to feel like they are receiving nothing but left-overs, something is askew). Love, enjoy, and care for the family God has blessed you with.

4. Wherever you are, be all there

This is a helpful phrase for me to remember. Road signs instruct us not to text-message others while we drive, because statistics have shown that it can lead to serious accidents. When we drive, we need to be fully-engaged. In the same way, to serve effectively in this calling, we need to be fully-engaged in whatever it is we are doing at the moment. Multi-tasking is very hard for a bi-vocational pastor. When we’re at work, we should work hard for our employer. When we’re at the dinner table, seek to be fully-engaged with the family. The same goes for doing the work of ministry. Ultimately, it can be an expression of trust in the Lord when we give ourselves to what is immediately in front of us and entrust the rest to God, knowing that He works on behalf of those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4).

5. Enjoy the grace of God

Finally, my encouragement to bi-vocational pastors is to enjoy the grace of God. You are on an amazing ride and a wild adventure. God knows your limitations. He knows when you’re weary. He knows when you feel weak – And He still delights to use you, even you, for the advancement of His wondrous gospel and the glory of His Name. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain. “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Hebrews 6:10). Be strengthened and be encouraged. Thank you for what you do.

Question: If you are a bi-vocational pastor, what encouragement would you have for other bi-vocational pastors? If you are not a bi-vocational pastor, is there a bi-vocational pastor that you know who may benefit from this discussion? (Please feel free to leave a comment below, or forward this post along).