Last month marked five years since I was officially ordained into pastoral ministry, and last week was my second anniversary as a lead elder in the church. Pastoral ministry comes with a lot of unique challenges and joys; these challenges and joys become more peculiar the younger you are. I will share the challenges this week and hopefully share the joys next week. Let me state that this is a personal reflection, so I am in no way suggesting that all young pastors face these challenges.
Zeal is a blessing of youth. Young people are eager to have things done yesterday. When you add an aggressive personality to young zeal, it is often a deadly combination! The problem with this combination is that it is often accompanied by lack of know how. Even the Scriptures warn about the dangers of un-informed zeal (Prov. 19:2, Rom. 10:1-3).
As a young pastor, I often find that I have overemphasized what one sermon can do and what can be achieved in a year. Yet, at the same time, I have underestimated what the Lord can do with one sermon, and the work He can achieve in a year. Un-informed zeal often leads you to want to change people and then you get impatient when people are not getting it, forgetting that it is God’s work to change people. In my un-informed zeal, I have found that i often do not know when to pick my battles. I am eager to jump into every fight that comes my way, when it would be better for me to let some things go.
Struggle with sin
This is perhaps the biggest challenge of them all. There is a reason Paul urged Timothy to flee youthful passions. The battle with sin is a huge challenge. The hard part about it is that it is unrelenting. Because of my inclination to sin, I have to be daily on guard so that I do not fall into sin either in thought, word, attitude or deed. An even greater challenge is cultivating an attitude of confession and repentance of sin.
This challenge is often made worse by the busy nature of ministry such that if one is not careful they do not have time to take care of their souls. You can easily deceive yourself into thinking all is well, that it is possible to go on “doing ministry” while your heart is far from God and no one knows.
There is a real danger for young pastors to feel guilty for being young, largely because of the stigma and mockery that comes with young age. Interestingly this comes from both those who are older than you as well as your age mates. This can then cause a young pastor to disregard his youth. There have been times I have thought to myself; “I am too young to be doing this, and why can’t I just be a normal young man!” It is for this reason that Paul urged Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youthfulness. Instead Paul instructs him to be an example, and when you look at the passage, Timothy is to be an example of a righteous Christian. It is said churches want a 28 year old pastor with 35 years of experience!
Other people’s burdens
Nothing can prepare you for the emotional, mental, physical and psychological demands of shepherding people. From the highs of rejoicing with those who are rejoicing, to the lows of weeping with those who are weeping or being devastated by a member who falls into sin, to enduring attacks on you and your family (attacks on my wife are the hardest to bare), and still I need to joyfully pastor these people! From the betrayal of someone you have loved, to encouraging someone who is out of employment and struggling financially, the list really is endless, and the rollercoaster ride can take its toll on a young minister and if not checked can lead to depression.
Phillip Brooks sums it up perfectly when he says “to be a true minister to men is always to accept new happiness and new distress… the man who gives himself to other men can never be a wholly sad man but no more can he be a man of unclouded gladness. To him shall come every deeper consecration before untasted joy, but in the same cup shall be mixed a sorrow that it was beyond his power to feel before”. It makes one resonate with Paul’s cry: “who is sufficient for these things.”
The incipient desire for success
Just like everyone else, young pastors want to do well. That in and of itself is not wrong. It is in fact a healthy desire. However, the desire for success can become the driving force, which is often sacrificed on the altar of faithfulness. This desire, coupled with the church growth movement that is often devoid of biblical principles and full of pragmatic, man centered thinking, results in preoccupation with building reputations, getting numbers, self-promotion and massive investment in programs, which in turn reduces the pastorate to a program coordinator. Young ministers often face the temptation of getting success at all cost instead of pursuing godliness. The end result is often shipwreck.
Lest I discourage some young man somewhere about to answer the call, here are some encouraging words.
1. The Lord knows the weaknesses and limitations of those He calls, and yet he chooses to use them anyway. Remember you are an instrument in the hands of a sovereign Lord. Your ministry is not dependent on your know-how or ability but on your humility before the Lord as he uses you.
2. You are not all knowing. Shut up and learn! There is really no nice way of saying that. In His wisdom the Lord made the church a body so that there is inter-dependency. Do not try to be a jack of all trades.
3. Find joy in your limitations. You are a mere man; God will not judge you on your success but your faithfulness. The farmer sowed the seed and went to sleep because he understood that it is the Lord who gives the harvest.
4. Thankfully we do not have to come up with any tricks or schemes. Our primary task is simple and straightforward. Preach the Word!