I've been a pastoral resident at The Avenue Church for three and a half months, which means I'm a bona fide rookie. What could I possibly know at this point about what it means to be a pastor? I can definitely tell you that there is still a lot I don't know, but I can also tell you that I've learned a fair amount of really great things during my short time in residency at The Avenue. You see, I walked into the program believing I knew a lot about ministry because I knew a good deal about doctrine and theology (or so I thought), only to quickly find out how arrogant I could really be. But thanks be to God, He has kindly and progressively shown me where I need to be humbled as I continue to learn in the midst of ministry. Here are a few things that I am starting to learn as I continue in The Avenue's two-year program.
Your residency is a privilege, not a right.
If you are a pastoral resident, you attained the position because God decided that it would be so, not because you're the best thing since sliced bread. Being someone who has been equally guilty of this mistake, young guys like myself who aspire to pastoral leadership eventually tend to make the error of starting to believe that it's our gifting that gets us to where we feel God's leading. The fact that God has gifted you and I with certain gifts is a tremendous blessing, but when they begin to be used for our own acclaim and self-promotion they may quickly turn detrimental. The elders that are caring for you, training you, and building a relationship with you see how God has gifted you. They want to see you grow in those gifts, not for your own benefit, but rather, for the fame of Jesus Christ and for the growth of the local church.
Don't be too proud to be the Gopher.
Take out the trash. Clean bathrooms. Vacuum the church lobby. Help your pastor pick up food for church functions. Volunteer to teach Sunday school. Park farther away so members and attendees can park closer to the building. I've learned that pastoral ministry is not about serving based off your own preference and where it is the least difficult, but where there is a need. The people in your church are encouraged when they see a leader serve willingly and humbly. The Spirit of God moves in you as you exalt the One who came to serve and not be served (Matthew 20:28). He moves through the people of God as your serve them and it turn kindles servanthood in their lives. When leaders serve out of genuine motives, the people in your church desire to do the same. 1 Peter 5:2-3 says, "Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
Be teachable and allow your elders to guide you.
Being a know-it-all is not helpful to you, your pastors, the people you congregate with, or the people you are discipling. I should know, because I've been that guy and you don't want to be him. Ask for advice from your elders as much as you can and humbly consider it. Let them place you where they want you to be. If you want to read a book on Pastoral Ministry for your residency and your pastor tells you to wait on reading it, trust him. He may instead tell you to read a book on what it means to lead well in general, not because your pastor is raining on your parade, but because he cares for you and wants to raise you up as a leader well (Hebrews 13:17). He's doing the very thing that you aspire to do––shepherd souls. Discussing the reasoning behind why your pastor made said decisions for your development is fine, and I would even submit that it's healthy. As aspiring pastors, submission is important. While your elders aren't infallible, there is a one-hundred percent chance that they've been around the block more times than you and I. How we submit to those in eldership will show how well we will lock arms with them, elders in a different congregation, as well as church members in the future. This something I have to keep telling myself constantly. I'm right there with you.
Don't come expecting to be handed a position as an elder.
Sounds crazy, right? Let's be honest, the desire is there. You and I want to be elders at the churches we are currently serving, and you know what? It's totally fine. We are learning what it means to serve as pastors because that's what we want to be, pastors. Honestly, it would be kind of weird if you and I didn't have that desire. The kicker is why the desire is there. A leader from one of our sister churches said this to me not long ago: "Younger guys often do internships and expect to be given a high position after they are finished. When they aren't handed a position, they become frustrated because they believe that they were entitled to one." Here's the deal, its not about me and its not about you. No one owes us anything. If we are in this for ourselves and not because we want to serve the Body of Christ, we're missing it. Our own sinful desires so easily distort what it means to pursue such a beautiful and noble calling. Such a position should be desired so we can serve God's people in a greater capacity, not bringing attention to ourselves (Philippians 2:3). I don't say this as someone who has it all figured out, or someone who hasn't had selfish thoughts, but as someone who is constantly needing his heart reformed by the living God (1 Peter 2:11).
With the above being said and as well as being the new kid, I'm starting to learn that ministry is an ordinary means of grace. Pastors are just as much in need of the righteousness of the Good Shepherd
as the flock they tend to, because like the other sheep, sin is still a daily reality for them. I leave with you the sobering words of Richard Baxter from his magnum opus, The Reformed Pastor.
“The ministerial work must be managed purely for God and the salvation of the people, and not for any private ends of our own.”
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