One of my favorite podcasts is The Calling produced by Christianity Today. Every episode the host, Richard Clark, ends the interview with one question, “if you could go back in a time machine and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?”
I have been thinking about this question lately.
I could go back four or five years ago before we had children and tell myself to get some more sleep. I could go back to my teenage years and tell myself to be better at building and keeping friendships. But, the place in my past I think I would go back to would be the period of my life where I was graduating from college and about to begin vocational ministry.
There are two lessons I have learned after twelve years I would want to tell myself entering into pastoral ministry.
Be Content Where God Plants You
First, you most likely will never pastor a mega-church and that is ok. The truth is 90% of all churches have 200 or less in attendance weekly. Pastoring a small church does not mean you are failing or missing out on the work of God in the world. Success in ministry is not about preaching to a big crowd. It is about being faithful with those God entrusts to you whether that be 2 or 2,000.
There is a danger in seeing ministry in small contexts as stepping-stones to something bigger. The quicker you realize God has called you here in this season for this moment and no longer look for greener grass in a bigger yard the more joy you will find in ministry and the better pastor you will be.
We need more pastors coming out of college and seminary willing to give their lives to the small places no one will ever hear about. Most of us will never be invited to speak at a pastors conference or asked to write a book on church growth, but we can be faithful to the place and the people God calls us. Our seminaries should do all they can to prepare their students to minister in these small churches and to instill in them a love for the small church.
It is one of the great joys of my life to pastor a small church. I know the people in the pews. I know their families. I know their struggles and their suffering. I know their faith in the midst of these trials and I know the joy they find in Jesus. I never dreamed I would spend nine years pastoring a church in a town of 450 people, but I thank God everyday He called me to this church and this community.
If I am honest when I graduated college a big part of me hoped to be famous. I would go back and tell myself to just seek to be faithful.
Be Content With Who God Has Gifted You To Be
The second piece of advice I would want to give myself is to be who God had called me to be. God has gifted me in a way He has not gifted anyone else.
I would read books, listen to sermons, and attend conferences and try to imitate the gifting of others.
Finally, about five or six years ago I realized God had called me to be the pastor to my church and He wanted to use my gifts and the ways He has wired me to love His church. I don’t have to fit into this box or try to be someone I’m not. God wants to use me. He has gifted me. He has called me and equipped me to pastor these people in this place.
I had to quit listening to podcast sermons. I didn’t want to preach with someone else’s voice. God wanted to use my voice.
There is unbelievable freedom in not trying to be like your favorite celebrity pastor. If God had wanted them to lead your people He would have called them. But, He has called you. Be yourself. Learn from others, but don’t try to copy their gifts or their ministry. God wants to use you with your gifts, your personality, and your voice. Find freedom in being who God has called you to be.
I can’t go back in a time machine and tell myself these lessons I have learned. But, I am thankful to have learned them, even if it has taken me twelve years. Maybe, some of you are getting ready to go out and lead local churches. Learn from my experiences.
Be who God calls you to be in the place God calls you to plant your life. Churches are not meant to be rungs on a ladder. They are the body of Christ. Love the local church no matter the size and use the gifts God gives you to build her up.