7 tips on starting out in ministry
March 5, 2018
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A few words of encouragement from a man who has seen many days go by. So, when Jim Sayers stops to give you a few tips on starting out in ministry then you had better take notes.
Here are seven of Jim’s fifteen tips for starting well as a pastor:
- Preach within your range. The Bible is like a mountain range, and some peaks are a lot higher than others, so don’t set out to preach beyond your capabilities. We grow into the task of preaching, so don’t set out to preach through revelation as your first series, or John 14-17 or 2 Cor. 10-13. (I tried the latter, and am still scarred by the experience.) Preach what your congregation needs to hear most, and what you can make clear and apply well. Your preaching will reach first class standard after about five years, and test match standard….maybe! meantime, know your limits. John Chapman says ‘Preaching’s not that hard. It’s just the first forty years that’s the worst!’ After twenty four years I am starting to appreciate that quip more and more.
- Make a preaching plan for your first few years that takes you to a different genre of Scripture in each ‘term’ of the year. I watched my pastor in Abingdon, Simon Hutton, do this in his early years in Abingdon, and it is a great plan (which had never occurred to me). So we had Exodus 1-15, Colossians, some of Mark, Job (the best early series), Amos and Micah, and so on. As he tackled each series, so he became used to handling that Scripture genre ready for whenever he handled a similar book in future. See your early years in preaching as developing your skills gradually.
- If you are a sole pastor, and preach both ends of the day on a Sunday, don’t do a mega series both ends of the day. The real challenge of such ministry is staying fresh at both ends of the day, and not letting one sermon become the poor relation, and typically it is the evening sermon that suffers. Sometimes it is good to do a doctrinal or evangelistic series in the morning that doesn’t tax all your prep time, leaving you free to work hard at an evening series in OT narrative, or a closer exposition of a NT letter. When you want to put your main effort into the morning series, preach from well within your range in your evening series.
- If you are a sole pastor, insist that someone else preaches at least one service a month. Do all you can to train men to do this from within the church, but also ask around other local churches and bring in their trainees to preach occasionally. If your members object to this, they are asking too much of you and see you as the answer to everything, which you aren’t.
- While you are keen to preach to impress students and young adults, and to gather bright young families with precocious kids, work out how to preach to old Mrs Smith who left school at 15 and likes her knitting. I know this is a stereotypical parody, but it is important for pastors to empathise with those who never got a great education, but who are endowed with lots of common sense. It will make you a better preacher if you can work at your illustrations and applications to connect with someone like old Mrs Smith. How many of your illustrations draw on your male interests? It is good to try and project yourself into their world, but that requires some effort and very good listening skills.
- Identify several people with potential, even if it is at an early stage, and invest time in making them leaders in their particular ministry. It costs in time to sit and mentor them, but it is time that will repay dividends. Give them room to fail, and room to improve. You presumably have existing elders to work with, but don’t assume that everything will stay the same and they will always all be there for you. Church leaderships are in constant movement, and if you fail to train potential leaders, you only have yourself to blame.
- Form a ‘band of brothers’ with three other people your own age and stage in ministry, and book out 48 hours each year to go away together. Hold yourselves accountable to each other, study God’s Word together, and pray together. It will give you a new perspective on ministry, and they will be a bulwark against the disasters that so easily destroy us in ministry.
Okay plus an extra one: Never forget that God has called you to the most solemn and wonderful task in the world – preaching the gospel and making disciples, sending people out into mission. Somewhere between a messiah complex and despair you will come to terms with your own mediocrity and the fact that this job is anything but mediocre. Whether it is sitting at the bedside of a dying Christian, taking a school assembly, preaching through Romans or preparing a couple for marriage, it’s a privilege brother! You are the little servant of an illustrious master, and you do all this for his glory.
Excerpt from Every Nation.