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About Expectations

He was between jobs, and as he sat across from me in my office he was pondering his future. “I wish I could be a pastor so that I could study the Bible all day.”

It wasn’t the first time someone said that. Hey, I might have thought that way myself when I was in Bible College (back in the antediluvian period). I don’t recall what my expectations were. But I learned fast that pastors did more than “study the Bible all day.” So I told my friend something that has often been true. I said, “To be honest, I often have to fight for the time to study.”

Has that been true for you? While preaching and teaching is likely the primary responsibility of most of us, it’s not our only responsibility. I’m sure you know that already. But has that knowledge affected the way you plan your time? And has it affected your availability to people? Because people are probably the biggest “interruption” we face in our preparation. Let me encourage you to welcome those interruptions.

When I first started in ministry, a church near us had called a new pastor. Shortly after he came, a young woman in the church went through a very painful broken engagement. Her dad, wanting to get her some pastoral counsel, took her to see the pastor. Instead of welcoming the opportunity to minister, the new pastor said, “I did not come here to wipe your noses.”

News of that encounter quickly got around the area. He didn’t last long. No surprise there.

It can be frustrating to have a drop-in visitor or take a phone call when you’re deep in study. But spending time with people is rarely a waste of time. In fact, how we handle people’s interruptions can enhance or diminish our effectiveness as preachers and teachers.

Let me offer some suggestions:

First, if you work in an office environment, keep your office door open as often as you can. People will stop into the church office for a variety of reasons and often they will pop in. Sometimes it’s just to say hello. Other times those visits will lead to spiritual discussions and opportunities to pray with and for our people. Those are good times. Christ is present in those moments.

Second, recruit your secretary to help you. I was blessed with three different secretaries who were great at this. Generally, I wanted to be available if any of our church people dropped by. When I closed my office door, they knew what I was doing, so they knew if they could interrupt me or not. Occasionally a missionary would stop by to drop off literature as they sought support. In most cases, our budget prohibited us from taking on more missions commitments. But support raising can discourage, and I wanted to hear about them and pray with them whenever I could.

On other occasions someone would stop by to see me wanting to sell me something. My secretaries handled those drop-ins so well. They would take literature and promise that I would call the salesman if I was interested in the latest video that would double our church attendance and/or turn people into mature believers in 12 weeks. My sarcasm may reveal the fact that I rarely, if ever, returned those kinds of calls.

Third, don’t cram so much into your weekly plan that you have no time for people. If your church members see you rushing around, it will communicate that you are too busy for them. Slow down. Not every project has to be finished in a day. Spread your sermon prep over a couple of days so that if a day goes haywire, you aren’t up all night on Saturday night trying to cobble a sermon together.

Finally, consider taking your study off premises. I’m going to write about this at some other time, but if you find the office environment to be too full of interruptions – or even a source of temptation to draw you away from your work – get out of there!

When you spend time with your people, you are letting them know that you care for them. You are telling them you are interested in their lives, even in what might seem mundane. And you are telling them you are glad to be their pastor.

If your expectation was that you came to preach and teach, you’re right. But you also came to “wipe noses.” Ministry is about people. Expect them to “interrupt” your day and welcome the opportunities those interruptions provide.

Is ministry what you expected? How have you done at adjusting your expectations? Leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

A Minister’s Preaching, Part 1

(This is the first “real” post on For Younger Pastors. My plan is to post at least three times each week, with the post closest to the weekend speaking to the subject of Sunday ministry in general and preaching in particular. However, since this first post also coincides with the end of the week, we’ll go right to the topic of preaching. So here we go!)

Let me recommend a book to you. The Valley of Vision is a compilation of prayers written by the Puritans. It is edited by Arthur Bennett, published by Banner of Truth, and available at Amazon or Westminster Seminary’s bookstore.

I often used some of these prayers in public worship. While the language may be somewhat antiquated and needed to be adjusted, there were several that were perfect for preparing our hearts and minds for the Lord’s Table. But there were two in particular that came to have great meaning to me. In fact, I copied them onto half sheets and tucked them inside my Bible. One of them is called The Minister’s Prayer. I found myself turned to that often before I went up to preach. It expressed my desires and hopes far better than I could, so I would often pray this prayer:

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

It’s been awhile since I preached, but man those words still move me. May I work through this prayer with you in my end-of-the-week posts?

“My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;” 

Preaching has never come easy to me. In fact, when I was serving as an Associate Pastor, I preached only one time in a 23-year period. I taught classes, led groups, but I was perfectly content to let others on staff do the preaching.

That all changed in 2003. To make a long story short, our Senior Pastor had resigned and I asked our Elders if they would allow me to preach for a couple of weeks to see how it went. That was in early March. Those couple weeks turned into a couple of months and in November of that year I became the Senior Pastor. I spent the last fourteen years of my ministry preaching nearly every Sunday.

For many of us, public speaking doesn’t come easy.  In addition, preaching can be discouraging (Does my preaching matter? Does it make any difference? Is anyone growing?). Preaching can also be challenging (How do I best communicate this passage?). I had days when I wished I could ask my people, “Could you guys come back after lunch and I’ll try to get this right?” But I also had days when I sensed God’s hand in a special way.

I resonate with the words of the Puritan brother who wrote the words I quoted above. I believed that God wanted me to preach. But perhaps because it didn’t come easy, I was grateful for each Sunday that God gave me the opportunity to share His Word. Yet if someone asked me if I felt competent to preach, I would have said, “I’m prepared, but I’m a long way from feeling like this is a walk in the park.”

Of course, preaching should never be a walk in the park. But I suspect that it is possible to be so comfortable in preaching that doing it becomes almost second nature. And as a result, hardly a thought is given to the magnitude of the task or the consequences in the lives of people. Pray that will not happen in your life. Guard your heart against that way of thinking.

Whether you are preaching or teaching this weekend, you come “weak and needy to your task.” Whether you know it or not. Whether you believe it or not. If we fail to grasp this, I fear that our sermon becomes little more than public speaking.  We can do that without God.  But we can’t minister to the hearts of our people without God’s strength.

So before you get into the pulpit or stand in the classroom this Sunday, remind yourself that you are weak and needy, and ask God to give you strength.  

What makes you feel “weak and needy?”  I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Welcome to “For Younger Pastors!”

Maybe you’re in seminary, contemplating ministry. Or you’re new to the role of pastor. Have you been a pastor for a while? Then this site has been designed with you in mind. Welcome! Thanks for stopping by!

Let’s face it – there’s a lot that they don’t teach you in seminary. I spent over forty years in ministry and without question the entire time was a learning experience.

I want to say up front that I am not a ministry expert.  I haven’t pastored a mega church.  I haven’t written any books (but man, could I!).  I was an ordinary pastor in an ordinary church.

There were good times and hard times. But in both good times and bad times ministry is a challenge. I hope to share some of what I learned over my years.

I have a concern for young guys just starting out and those who have been pastors for a few years.  Some of you have no one to talk to. Some of you are facing challenges and you don’t know how to handle them. Some of you face opposition.  How do you keep from getting crushed?   Ministry isn’t easy.

Before I start posting, let me introduce myself. My name is Peter Bogert. I graduated from Northeastern Bible College in 1976. My wife and I served for about three years in a Baptist church in northern New Jersey. In 1980 we moved to suburban Philadelphia. Initially I worked as the Education Pastor.  In 1987 I added oversight of our elementary school to my list of responsibilities.  In 1996 our school closed, and I resumed my role as Education Pastor, focusing on adult education. In 2003 the church called me to be the Senior Pastor. I held that position until I retired in June of 2017.

Again, I am not an expert. But I am a listening ear and have a bunch of things I want to share in this blog. My goal is to post about 3 times a week. Some posts will be on dealing with “stuff.” Other posts will focus on being challenging and encouraging. If I don’t answer a question that you have, use the contact button and let me know how I can help. I’ll do the best I can.

Thanks again for stopping by! May God bless you as you serve him.