Counsel for the new seminary graduate

My son Jonathan is graduating from seminary Saturday, May 21. We’re proud of his accomplishment and anxious to see where God opens a door of service.   

I remember my seminary graduation, the wait for my first position, and the excitement of going to my first pastorate. Seminary equipped me to lead Bible studies, prepare sermons, preside over weddings and funerals, but I had no clue about the inner workings of church life. I quickly learned that some of the most critical survival skills are not gained in the seminary classroom.  

Fresh out of seminary, I followed the founding pastor of a church that turned ten years old early in my tenure. Nothing prepared me for the dynamics of following the founding pastor.

Our interim pastor was a layman hoping for the fulltime post, but instead they called this novice. He stayed in the church for awhile, and, though he was very gracious, it was a somewhat awkward situation.

We began to attract new families, and some established families who had brought the church this far felt threatened. No one told me how to deal with the stresses that growth caused. I learned in the trenches, made lots of mistakes, and persevered. God blessed in spite of my inexperience.

Here is some counsel that I and other pastor friends pass along to the new seminary graduate.

Cling to your call. God’s call keeps you going in tough times. Randal Whitten said, “Ministry is not a profession, career, job, or income source. It’s a holy calling!”

Don’t be surprised at anger. Often the anger people bring to church and dump on you has nothing to do with you, but with some other issue in their life.

Never talk to a church member about a church member.

Set physical and emotional boundaries with women.

Work hard, but strive to strike a balance between the demands of ministry and giving time to your family. Your kids are only young once.

Show humility, but don’t be a doormat. Be firm when necessary.

Walk slowly among the people, taking time to greet. Always exhibit a non-anxious presence.

Stan Jordan said, “Focus on pleasing the Lord, not pleasing people. Always put your personal time with the Lord ahead of anything else, even study time.”

Craig Bowers emphasized, “Study the Bible for yourself before you study it for a sermon. Also, few people understand the demands on a minister’s time. The work is never done and there are more demands than can be fulfilled. Set your schedule or someone else will.”

Joel Southerland said, “Love people to lead people. I thought because I was elected ‘pastor’ everyone would be dying to follow me. I was wrong. Earn the right to lead by loving them.”

He added, “Continually invest in your leadership growth.”

David Smith echoed, “This may be the end of your formal education, but never stop learning. Always be teachable ... make some good friends in your church or community who will love you as a person.”

Bowers added, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. When people criticize you, just remember that people would have better material if they knew you better. Keep a sense of humor!”

Paul Allen wrote, “Surround yourself with a few older, wiser mentors. Develop strong accountability with a few trusted friends. Work hard, but know when to retreat and refresh.”

Jim Thomas said, “Be intentional about doing things you don’t like or aren’t gifted in doing. Stretch yourself. Grow as a follower of Jesus and pastor every day.”

Robert Jolly said, “Pray. I mean really pray. Pray alone, pray with your wife, pray with your prayer partners, pray with your friends. Put a priority on prayer.

“Also, I would immediately find a mentor in a church that was a leading church, and would go to conferences on leadership that included non-pastor presenters as well as pastors.”

Todd Gaddis added, “Fellowship with other pastors, and take care of your earthly temple through proper diet and exercise.”

Joey Rodgers said, “Make sure your objectives line up with God’s commission to make disciples. Disciples are made one at a time and not in bulk.

“Above all else, ministry is about people, not about events, programs or politics. Ministry is messy, dirty and personal. Ministry requires moving from behind a pulpit and into a person’s life.”