Many times this year, I’ve been in the car on my way to the office, when it suddnely dawns on me: “I can’t believe I get to do this full time!” It’s an incredible privilege to be in full-time ministry, and it's something I hope I never take for granted. I’ve learned so much in my first year as a senior pastor, and I hope these lessons that I’m still learning will be a blessing to you as well. I’m jotting down them down in no particular order and I fully expect I could list even more than just these.
Surround yourself with mentors and listen to wise counselors
It’s been such a blessing to have a father, a mentor pastor (Pastor Rick Arrowood, Crosspointe Baptist Church in Indianapolis), a seasoned Bible professor (Dr. Bruce McAllister, Gospel Fellowship Association), and so many others with whom I know I can pick up the phone and talk. There have been many times during my first year as pastor when I’ve been unsure what to do. And each time, I’ve called one or more of these men and they’ve been careful to offer good, godly counsel.
I like what H. B. Charles once admonished pastors to do. He said, “I pity the congregation that only hears one preacher. And I pity the preacher who only listens to one preacher, especially if he is that one preacher!” It has been a blessing to realize that I’m not as good a preacher as I thought I was. Being willing to admit that and to welcome feedback has been a game-changer.
Be a self-starter and go-getter
Things don’t just automatically happen. Although the congregation is rightly going to expect many things to happen, they’re not going to direct you on how to do those things day-to-day. You need to be the one who makes the phone calls. You need to be the one who meets with people. You need to be the one who organizes things. No one is going to hold your hand.
Work with your team
My church has been blessed with some wonderful men and women. I’ve grown to love praying with these dear folks. We’ve been vulnerable and transparent with each other. We’ve wrestled through difficult decisions. We’ve rejoiced as God’s been at work. I know of some pastors who have the unfortunate circumstance of dreading their deacon’s meetings. I’ve never had that experience and I pray I never will. I love the men who serve here. Ultimately, I can say I couldn’t have survived one day as a senior pastor (let alone one year) without so many of the men and women that serve as leaders here. I’m blessed to be serving with them.
Love your family and enjoy ministering with them
I’m not sure who first said this, but I’ve heard it often: “You can lose you ministry and keep your marriage, but you cannot lose your marriage and keep your ministry.” I’m blessed to be the son of a pastor and have a grandpa who was a pastor. My wife is blessed to be the daughter of a pastor. As PK’s, we both know what it’s like to be in a ministry home and we both love building a ministry home of our own. My wife and daughter are not obstacles that keep me from my work as a pastor—they are assets that allow me to be a more affective pastor. Without them by my side I wouldn’t be here.
Take your pulpit ministry seriously
I’m so thankful for the counsel I received, even while serving as a youth pastor, to never cut corners on sermon prep. Martin Luther famously quipped, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”
The Word still does it all! If I’m going to be an effective minister, I need to devote myself to the ministry of the Word. Right now I have the distinct privilege of preparing 3 full sermons a week and I wouldn’t change any of that for the world. Does it require a lot of study? Absolutely. But, is it worth it? Eternally yes! There is perhaps no greater challenge during my first year as pastor than guarding sufficient preparation time to get these sermons ready. But, whereas preaching seems increasingly foolish and ineffective in today’s results-based ministry culture, the fact remains that the Spirit-empowered, faithful proclamation of the Word is God’s primary means provided to pastors to lovingly shepherd the flock.
Be an encourager
One thing I’ve learned from working in the ministry, not just as a senior pastor but also as a youth pastor and an evangelist, is that it can be easy to focus on the negative. It’s always easy to spend time talking about issues rather than taking the time to talk about encouraging things you see in the church. There’s a part of our sin nature that constantly wants us to pull up the bad stuff, focus on who wasn’t there, or meditate on some personnel turmoil. If I’m leading as “Mr. Negative,” I’ll be discouraging people rather than encouraging them. Taking the time as a pastor to speak uplifting words, think uplifting thoughts, and choose to focus on the positive rather than the negatives not only pleases Christ, but it also causes others in your church to look forward to serving with you at church.
Sin is tragic, but God is greater
As a preacher, it is my duty to labor to present this church as a safe place for sinners to come to Jesus who forgives their sins (1 John 1:9). However, as I preach in this way, sinners will come and I’d best be prepared for that. I’d best be prepared to face the shocking presence of sin both in the world around me and in the church in front of me. I’ve seen the remnants and effects of the Fall in ways that cause me to weep at times, but my God is greater than sin! My God has made a way to rescue sinners!
Pray, pray, pray
Sermon prep takes a lot of time. Meeting with people takes a lot of time. Doing hospital visits takes a lot of time. What terrifies me the most as a pastor is just how much I could “accomplish” without prayer. My resolution must be to pray just as our Lord taught us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). I want my ministry to reflect Paul’s and be characterized by prayer (Colossians 1:3,9). While lots of things take time nothing should take away from time to pray.
I’m certain I still haven’t figured all this out. I’m young and inexperienced. Ultimately, I have no choice but to trust in the Gospel of Jesus for the ability to perform in this task.
One year down. Praying for many more to come …
Caleb Phelps was born and raised in New Hampshire and is an avid fan of all things New England sports. He grew up in a pastors home and was saved at the age of 12. As a young junior higher he sensed God's call on his life to go into full time Christian service. Caleb graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb served as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. In September 2018 the Lord moved Caleb and his family to Palm Bay, FL where he now serves as senior pastor at Faith Baptist Church.
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