We start out in ministry with expectations and a generally raw skill set. Those expectations need to be refined, and our skills need to be developed.
We are under construction. This is true of all pastors, but especially true of younger men in ministry.
How can a young man tell if he is making progress in ministry? How can he tell if he is becoming a better pastor? Here are five points of measurement. They are hardly exhaustive, but they allow us the opportunity for self-examination.
You have quickly learned that seminary or Bible college did not prepare you fully for ministry.
If you graduated from school, found a ministry position, and hit the ground running, you may have felt prepared for the work God has called you to do. But while your training provided you with tools, it could not prepare you for the variety of situations you will encounter. A favorite mantra of many pastors is “They didn’t teach us this in seminary/Bible College.” In no way has your training been a waste of time. But you should be learning more about ministry from doing it than you did in a classroom. Can you identify ways in which you have learned from your experience?
You have a deeper commitment to God’s Word as the only lasting agent of change.
Pastors are surrounded by seminars, books, videos, and articles that make claims to change people. I used to get calls from salespersons telling of the latest and greatest and promising that their program would revolutionize my church. There are helpful tools that we can take advantage of, but if you think a special video series will take your church to the next level, you will be very disappointed. The regular preaching and teaching of God’s Word is the only thing God promises to bring change. Are you satisfied with that, or are you constantly looking for the next big thing?
You are attempting to know and love the whole church, not just the segment you minister to.
I’m directing this primarily at those of you who serve in associate positions where your focus is on a particular age group or type of ministry. If you are a pastor in a church, you are a pastor to the church. You may not share the same shepherding responsibilities as other men on staff, but if you only care about the people in your focus area, the rest of the church will conclude that you don’t really care about them. What are you doing to get to know the church at large?
Your are finding your own place as a preacher or teacher.
Let me explain. Some guys start out having been heavily influenced by the way someone else preaches and they try to emulate that person. Others have spent or are still spending time in the seminary classroom and their preaching leans toward the academic. All of us have to find our comfort zone with how we use notes: full manuscript, outline, no notes (not recommended). When you first began preaching or teaching, you may have sounded stiff and ill-at-ease. As you look back, do you feel that your preaching and teaching is more natural, more down to earth? Have you come to feel comfortable in your own skin?
You are increasing in your dependence upon God.
Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” (2 Cor. 3:4-5, ESV).
Preaching and teaching, leading, dealing with people and their problems, facing opposition, and the host of other experiences that make up ministry can be overwhelming. And sometimes we will get discouraged. But if we are growing as pastors, we will have a growing dependence on God to be both our help and the one who brings about the change in our people. How have you seen your dependence on God grow?
How do you measure up? Young pastor, can you see progress? Veteran pastor, are you continuing to grow in these areas too?
God gifts us differently. Some men will be people of great influence. Most of us will be perfectly ordinary. But God has equipped all of us to do the work he has called us to. So from the first day we set foot in the first church God calls us to, until the last day we are involved in ministry, we are under construction. If we recognize that, and with God’s help work to be the best we can be, I believe that God will prosper our ministry.