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.”

Twenty Years Have Passed

I recently connected with a number of friends I had lost touch with after high school.

It’s difficult to believe, but 20 years have passed since I lived in the Chattanooga area in a little neighborhood called Mill Run, nestled neatly in a partial of land located directly behind my Alma Mater.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, downtown city skyline.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, downtown city skyline.

I loved that neighborhood, the place we called home during my high school years, the covered bridge you had to cross to get to the school, and the rich memories I have of my childhood there.

I loved it, and I left it.

There’s a Darrell Scott song that says,

“It’s been fifteen years since I left home
Said good luck to every seed I’d sown
Gave it my best, then I left it alone
I hope they’re doing all right”

In my case, it’s been 20 years, but the words of the song ring true just the same. It was almost as if I took the first available train out of Chattanooga and, with my well-wishes, left it alone.

Perhaps that’s why this fall, when I had the privilege of helping coordinate our 20 year high school reunion, it was accompanied by a flood of emotions. It’s hard to describe the mixture of joy and regret, excitement and anxiety, and deep reflection that accompanies a 20 year reunion in your childhood town.

I know many who don’t like the idea of reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in 20 years. I get that. To varying degrees, we were all pretty foolish in high school. But I found this reunion very beneficial. My wife put it well, “It was very different from the 10 year… It seemed like everyone was very comfortable and not trying to impress each other.”

The fact is, there’s a lot of water under the bridge that leads back to our high school. Twenty years is a long time. Life has beat us all up a bit, and we’ve lived long enough to experience some major failures of our own. We’ve fallen on our faces many times, and we’re more aware of our need for grace (and hopefully more gracious as a result).

One of my friends from elementary school recently posted this on FaceBook:

“I am going to church today. My deepest prayer is that God will send wisdom and peace to me and bless my wife and children. I will pray, I will sing, and I will listen. May the Lord have mercy on me for all that I have done that is so wrong. Bless all of you.”

This note is one of my favorite notes that I’ve ever read on social media. I’m confident my friend will receive mercy from God.

Mercy is not getting what you deserve.

Grace is getting the favor you don’t deserve.

Both mercy and grace are available to everyone who calls on the Lord, even after 20 years of straying (or more).

As long as you have breath in your lungs, it’s never too late to turn to the LORD. “While you are among the living, you have hope!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

God’s self-revelation of Himself is as a merciful and gracious God: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

He is full of tenderness and compassion toward you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

If you come to Him, and pour our your heart to Him, He will hear your cry and respond with grace and mercy: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry” (Isaiah 30:19).

You have not outlived God’s mercy.

Twenty years may have passed, and that is a long time; but God can make everything new.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5)

If You’re Waiting on God, You’re Not Alone

Leaning against the tall, black signpost at the 5-point crosswalk on 5th and Main Street in downtown Franklin, my eyes move upward toward the walk-sign, my feet eagerly anticipating the indication that it is safe to cross the busy intersection.

Don't walk New York traffic sign

Even as the church bells ring softly in the background, an automated voice commands me through the warm summer air to wait.

“Wait”… “Wait”… “Wait”… “Wait”…

And finally,

“Walk sign is on”… “Walk sign is on”… “Walk sign is on”…

At the prompting of this sophisticated crosswalk, I amble along the street joyful but contemplative. I can’t help but wonder how much of my life has been spent waiting.

Waiting to get married. Waiting for children to come. Waiting for the doors to open for pastoral ministry. Waiting to plant a church. Waiting for a financial breakthrough. Waiting for progress in so many life-long prayers, dreams, and desires.

Waiting on the sign that says it’s safe to proceed.

It’s a brief part of every short jaunt from my office building to the local coffee shop just to snag a shot of espresso for the morning’s push. But it’s a major part of our lives as a whole. So much of life is spent in waiting.

And it’s easy to grow weary while you wait.

On This Side of Heaven, We Wait

The truth is, for the Christian, all of life is one big, steady wait.

There is a groaning and anticipation, an expectation, a longing, and a yearning that is natural for the believer on this side of eternity. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God”, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19; 23)

In this world, we will never outgrow our waiting. The pain of it is with us at the dawn of every new day even as the dew kisses the grass and the birds greet the morning with melodic singing.

Every day arrives holding some new measure of waiting. Yet, God’s mercies are also new every morning, which makes the waiting worthwhile. God upholds us with sustaining grace when He calls us to stand in line and wait.

As we manage our way through the fits and starts of our everyday lives, it’s helpful to know that waiting is a major part of God’s plan for us.

If you’re waiting on God, you are not alone. The Lord enrolls each of His children in this university. Abraham was promised a son at 75; God delivered on the promise when Abraham was 100. Joseph was given a dream and then sold into slavery; it was decades before his vision became reality. Moses wandered in the desert 40 years before seeing the Promised Land. David was anointed king of Israel and then spent years narrowly escaping death at the hand of Saul before the promised kingship was finally granted to him.

Even if you have your desires delivered, ultimately God has placed eternity into our hearts and we are in a constant craving for the future day when his glory will be fully revealed in us and through us.

One day, the complete realization of our inheritance in Christ will finally be ours. On that day we will be fully redeemed and there will be no more waiting. For now, we live with the reality that our best life is future, not present. Our best life is then, not now.

If you’re growing weary in your waiting, remember that you’re not alone. The LORD works on behalf of those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4).

And He, also, is waiting… to be gracious to you:

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.”
(Isaiah 30:18 ESV)

This post has been adapted from an excerpt in the book What Thirty-Somethings Need to Hear: When Age Meets Grace.