Advice from a Pastor who Pastored before Seminary.
By Jonathan David Faulkner
Let me be clear: I am not writing this article because I think I have any answers to questions. I am writing this with one year of experience before heading here to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where I am today. My reasoning for writing this to pass along some things that you might find helpful; some things I learned in my first year of Pastoral Ministry that you should start doing in Seminary that will help make you effective ministers of the Gospel upon Graduation. These are things that I, myself, wish I had known going into my first Pastorate.
- Learn Time Management Now.
- Develop a Strong Devotional Life
- Learn to Get Out of the Way.
I know, I know, if you are at GCTS orientation and reading this you are thinking; “They have been telling us those first two on repeat since we arrived.” And they have, for good reason, they are pastors and professionals in ministry. But why are they so important? Why not let them roll your eyes at this advice? You should not, and here is why. They are extremely important to learn for you and your congregation.
So let’s continue.
1: Learn Time Management Now.
One of the best questions posed to me so far about what my time as a Pastor is; “How did you manage working a full time job and pastoring a church at the same time?” I gave the person the only answer I could… “I did not.” I turned into the most stressed out and unpleasant person I could have been. The stress played a big role in splitting up my relationship at the time and causing the lack of sleep that lead to the fall that put me off work of two months in February.
Believe it or not, that fall probably saved my pastoral ministry. During that time the only two things that were able to give me relief from the pain were preaching and playing music. The time also served to remind me why I had been so strict on time management my last two years of college. I treated college like an 8-5 job, I did not do that with the pastoral job. In the period of a month I went from working 40 hours a week to close to 100. No one should ever have to do that, adding sixty hours even though I was hired to do about twenty.
It is important to develop a good pattern of time management now because outside of school life gets about one hundred times crazier. Add a wife and kids and bills to pay (As some of my seminarian friends have) and suddenly you cannot spend 100 hours a week doing ministry or work of any kind. It would destroy your marriage. I like the example of my pastor in Lyons, who refuses to answer cell phone calls once he is home with the family. This is certainly a model I will be adopting when I have a family.
It also might help you to sit down and write out a list of what is “Urgent” and what is “Important” and then do your best to work through those “Important” tasks before you even address the “Urgent” ones. Remember, there is absolutely no shame in saying no, something I had to learn in my second six months of pastoring. Remember also that family and your spiritual life are one that list of “Important” things and sometimes, though this is the exception, not the rule, that paper that is due in two weeks is “Urgent.” Which brings me to Number Two.
2: Develop a Strong Devotional Life.
I cannot stress the importance of this particular point. Though I kept my devotional practices during my first three months, I lost a lot of the depth that had been there before. There is a difference between devotional practice and a devotional life. Devotional practice is simply the daily task of reading the bible and praying. The Devotional Life seeks to expand upon the tasks of a devotional practice into a deep and transforming relationship with God.
Cultivating this kind of devotional life takes time, it takes work, it takes dedication. But you are not alone in this journey. Starting by learning to allow the Holy Spirit to direct you into that deeper walk, guiding you into whatever disciplines you find the Holy Spirit uses to draw you in. Past the life of religious ceremony to the depths of the transformative relationship we have in Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, as I was frustrated by a number of things throughout the day I decided to have what in Denver we called an “Artist Date.” I went back to my room and played my guitar and watched a comedy. This is part of my devotional life because it gives my soul a break from the demands of everyday life. This was part of my day, along with silent prayer and listening to God and study of scripture in the morning.
One of the benefits of my time after the fall in February and the closing of 10:31 Life Ministries in April was that I was able to refocus myself on God and rebuilding my devotional life. I even took a week off social media, something I had not done since the inception of 10:31 in 2009.
3: Learn to Get Out of the Way.
I was reading in the Gospel of John this morning about what I have dubbed the “Passing of the Torch” between the way maker (John) and the one for whom he prepared it (Jesus). I was struck by John’s willingness to step out of the way and allow the Son of God to do the work He had come to do. He finishes the passage with “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
As a believer whose greatest struggle is pride John’s humility struck me. John did not say; “Come, let us go baptize elsewhere, since Jesus has taken our crowds, let us go collect more.” Instead he acknowledges that his work is coming to a close. John has done what he was called to do, he had prepared the way. His ministry culminated in his baptism of his cousin Jesus. Now he was to point people to Jesus and indeed he has already encouraged his own disciples to follow Jesus (See John 1:35-40). Now he would go and preach to Herod until his death in the next few years.
So often, as Pastors, we can be so easily deceived (by pride of the father of lies) to think that we are something special. We tout our righteousness and deny any thought of weakness because we are called to preach the Gospel. We can think “the Gospel needs me; God needs me.” While it is true that God has given you a calling and a mission, you are disposable. God can raise up another to take your place if your focus is far from him- on yourself and your accomplishments. Like the Casting Crowns song says “sometimes the best thing for us to do, is just get out of the way.” Just as John understood his role must decrease now that Christ had come, so must our flesh. We must seek to be totally kingdom minded and allow the Gospel to advance by the power of the Holy Spirit alone working through us as Vessels. As they have told us here in Orientation; “Do not take yourself so seriously, it will not get you anywhere.”
So what did all of this do for me? I quickly found that my relationships with my congregation improved, my sermon writing improved, the gospel advanced. I was able to laugh it off when things went horribly wrong and admit when I had made a mistake. And you will make them and things will go wrong. The Important thing to remember is why you are doing this job. “Not for our own glory but for the glory of the One who calls” (John 8:50)