I’ve been listening to an audiobook about the battle for Okinawa that took place in the Pacific theater near the end of World War II. A large percentage of our men were between 18-21, some having come right out of high school. It is incredible to read about what the soldiers and marines were up against and what they went through.
Boot camp certainly prepared these men for some of what they would encounter. But it took getting into combat to find out what it was really like. Boot camp was essential. But it was incomplete.
Like members of our military, pastors go through training. Our formal eduction in Bible College or seminary is an important part of our training. Like boot camp, it is essential, but it is also incomplete. For example, you may have had a course on preaching, but you don’t really know how to preach until you’ve done it several times. There’s much that our schooling can give us, but there’s also much that it can’t. Which is why you’ll probably find yourself occasionally saying, “They didn’t teach us this in school.”
So how does a young man in his 20’s or early 30’s (or even older) effectively shepherd people who are older and more experienced? The Bible is a faithful and inerrant guide, and younger pastors are able to share its counsel. But ministry involves more than giving information. It’s helpful to be able to relate in some way to what people experience. But how can you understand what your people are going through when you haven’t lived all that long?
It occurred to me recently that the majority of the pastors that I know have had incidents in their lives early on that have helped prepare them for dealing with those who hurt. We may not know it at the time, but I wonder if God takes us through times of trouble when we are younger so that we can minister more effectively inspire of our youth?
For example, some guys have gone through a relationship breakup. You had plans and those plans fell through. And now you’re sitting with a man whose wife just walked out on him. You can’t relate fully, but you can in part. Younger pastors and their wives sometimes have experienced the tragedy of miscarriage. And now you have to talk to the couple who have lost a child. It’s similar, to be sure, but it’s might not be quite the same thing. But your experience allows you to relate to them. Your first ministry experience may have been a disaster. You may have served in a really tough church, or worked under a heavy-handed and demanding senior pastor. Or you may have experienced failure in some way that has made you question your calling. But you got back in the saddle and God provided another opportunity. Can you see how that experience may have prepared you to talk to those who have gone through struggles and disappointments?
I want to encourage you in two ways.
First, as you look at your life, what experiences have you gone through that may have prepared you to help others with more life experience than you? How did you feel when you went through times of trouble? How can you better connect with others because of what you went through? How did God minister to you? Answering those questions will help you have some connection in many situations, even if your experience and theirs does not parallel.
Second, be careful that you don’t convey the idea that you know what other people are going through or that your experience was worse than theirs. We often say, “I know what you’re feeling.” But we don’t. At least not always.
When I was in college I worked in a machine shop. I was the epitome of the term “unskilled labor.” But I was working for my girlfriend’s father and was being paid over twice what I would have made in most jobs. One of the guys I worked with was in his early 60’s. He was a fellow-believer and we got along really well. John was a great guy, but he had one annoying habit that was known to most of the other guys in the shop: If something happened to you, he could top it.
One day I reached behind a high-speed drill press and got my sleeve caught in the drill bit. Within seconds my shirt was twisted so tight that it actually cut into my arm. One of the other guys ran over and turned off the press, and I was taken to the emergency clinic. As I was walking out, John walked with me saying, “Kid (he always said that), I remember the time when . . .” He was telling me about an injury that he had that was worse than mine.
You don’t want to inadvertently become what comedian Brian Regan calls a “Me Monster.” That doesn’t play well with others, especially when they are hurting.
You may have thought that your education was the equivalent of boot camp. But often the first couple of years of ministry provides training that you need, not just in experience, but in living life. What is preparing you for the battles that may lie ahead?