The Top 10 Things To Learn in Pastoral Ministry

by Tom Hoehner

10. It is easy for the gospel to get lost in church.

Someone said the main thing in a church is to keep the main thing — the gospel — the main thing. And yet, between programming, administrative needs, and the personal needs of the congregation, the gospel can get lost.

People want to hear sermons that will make them feel good. The message of repentance and faith that leads to eternal life can find itself on the shelf. You will struggle your whole ministry to keep the main thing the main thing.

9. You define your ministry by what you refuse to do.

If you try and do everything, a congregation can become lazy. Because they are paying your salary, you will end up doing as much as you will do, until you learn to say no. Ephesians 4:12 says our job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Acts 6:4 says we are to give ourselves continually to the Word and prayer.

The demands of a congregation will increase until you establish your role as a pastor. You will only establish it when you say, “I will not do that.” It is best in the interview process to get as much of this on the table as possible, so you and the church have the same expectations.

8. People are going to do what they want to do.

The Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (KJV). People will start a project with vision and zest, only to find out their heart was really not into it. It is hard to know our own hearts. We must continue to love people who will disappoint us.

7. You will have as much authority as people give you.

We can scream, holler, and call down fire from heaven, but in the end those you serve limit your authority in a church. Authority is like soap, the more you use it the less you have, so use it wisely. Time and trust add to your authority, so build trust before you exercise too much authority.

6. You will be heard with authority to the precise degree you are willing to lay your life on the line.

When growing a church to the next level, you must deal with issues that are uncomfortable. It is difficult to tell a church your ministry is over unless certain conditions are met. But you will face that day, knowing you have a clear view of God’s direction for the church, but also knowing that the congregation may not be ready to hear it. God tests every ministry with: Do we want to please men, or do we want to please God?

Power structures exist that would rather replace you than do what God is calling the church to do. You need to be willing to lay your life on the line for what you know is truly right.

5. You will never do the will of God in a church if you allow money people to control you.

Every church needs to change, and change usually costs money. Therefore, money people in a church are usually the first to resist change. And yet, without change, old things will not pass away, all things will never become new, and you will stay in a rut. I make it my practice not to know how much people give. I tell my congregation that I choose not to relate to people on that basis. Then, I can judge all new ideas in a church on merit alone.

4. You must play with the team that you have.

The best motif for ministry is not a rancher, who rounds up strays, and not a general who barks out orders, but a coach, who encourages everyone to get in the game. You cannot produce 10 talents from a five-talent church. You will face this challenge many times; do I start a ministry with leadership that is unable to do a good job? Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no. A coach who takes a 0-10 win/loss team to 2-8 has done a good job. When Jesus hands out rewards, the criteria are good and faithful(Matthew 25:21).

When it comes to heavenly rewards, God does grade on the curve. The servant with the 10 talents, and the one with the five talents both received the same reward because they were both faithful. Jesus also called them both good. Play with the team that you have, and manifest love with them, not frustration, even if you are frustrated.

3. You can never take a church faster or farther than they are willing to go.

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “I will build my church.” Building a church is in God’s hands. This makes prayer the most important ministry in your church. You can have all the programs in place, and all the organizations in line, but if God’s Spirit does not touch the work, it will stagnate.

A sincere, intentional prayer focus will involve the Spirit of God in His church. Any foundation in a church other than prayer is faulty. Regardless of where your church goes, you need to pray, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).

2. Satan has people in every church who wait for God to begin to move so they may oppose the move of God.

These may be good, well-meaning people, but people who do not want to see the church move ahead. When there is not much going on in a church, these people blend into the apathy. But the minute new veins of life emerge, they are there to monitor and try to control things. In Mark 8:33, Peter does not want Jesus to go to the cross and tries to talk him out of it. Jesus’ response is less than cordial, “Get thee behind me Satan” (KJV).

Pastors must oppose people who oppose the move of God. The result — you will probably lose these people. Jesus said, “every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2, KJV). We are often afraid to let God purge or prune His church. If He does, however, the promise is more fruit. How can we be a loving pastor and facilitate the purging of God’s church? It is not easy, but it has to be done.

And the No. 1 thing that must be learned in pastoral ministry, if you have not learned it already is:

1. Never take too much credit for your successes and never too much blame for your failures.

If the atmosphere is right in a church, it will grow and good things will happen. God will show up, and the church will be blessed. If things are not right in a church, many times there is very little you can do to change it. Prayer becomes the key.

Because Paul said we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities, and because Jesus said whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, we need to pray against the spiritual forces that keep God at bay in a church. If the church is stagnant, we need to ask God to show us what is keeping the church from moving ahead, and gear our prayer in that specific direction.

Despite the frustrations of ministry, it is a high calling. I leave you with 1 Timothy 1:12, “I thank Jesus Christ our Lord, who has enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (KJV). Jesus is our Great Enabler.

Tom Hoehner, pastor, Covington United Methodist Church, Covington, Indiana.