Leading a church is a huge privilege. And behind that privilege lurks the danger of getting swept up in popularity, prestige and power.
As a pastor, you're as vulnerable to sin as any other human being. But God has bestowed a wonderful calling on you. If you look beyond your own limited abilities to God's unlimited power, He will give you all the grace you need to carry out your responsibilities well.
Here's how you can make a covenant of grace to help you serve well as a pastor:
Don't settle for spiritual shallowness. Constantly pursue a deeper faith. Ask God to use your everyday experiences on the job to grow your own personal faith even while you try to encourage others. Follow a regimen for spiritual fitness, applying to yourself the same suggestions you give others (such as regular prayer, Bible reading, devotional reading, and fasting). Seek fresh encounters with God on a regular basis, asking Him to empower your ministry through His Spirit. Beware of the hazards of ministry, such as pride, secret sins, dealing with distracted or dysfunctional people, encountering a consumer mentality, sexual temptation and infidelity, loneliness, leadership crises, relying on yourself instead of God, and superficial piety. Ask God to help you confront and overcome these hazards.
Find a trustworthy accountability partner who knows you well and is willing to listen to your struggles, affirm your strengths, and demand your authenticity. Meet with your accountability partner regularly and have him ask you questions like: "Do you really know Christ?," "Do you really believe that God will use you?," "Do you delight in your ministry?," "Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?," "Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?," "Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?," "Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?," "Have you given priority time to your family?," "Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?" and "Have you just lied to me?".
Love your church and realize that it's meant to be a family of friends, a community that helps people heal and grow into who God wants them to be, and a society of love where people affirm, encourage, and support each other in practical ways. Deal with difficult people in your congregation by loving them because God does, trying to understand where they're coming from, being honest with them and helping them change rather than enabling a continuing pattern of dysfunction, setting limits on how much they suck joy out of the church, and trusting God to deal with them. Define your ministry by the positive, not the negative.
Since so much of a church's effectiveness depends on healthy relationships between you and your congregation, let members know how much you love them and thank them for loving you. Strive for excellence in your ministry and live with integrity so you'll be worthy of honor. Teach your congregation that love for one another grows naturally out of God's love. Ask God to help you understand yourself well enough to know how best to depend on His unlimited strength rather than your own limited power. Don't neglect your family because you're too busy at church; make your family a higher priority than your work at the church. Talk with your wife so you each can clearly understand what each of you needs and wants for a healthy marriage. Invest significant time and energy into your relationships with your wife and each of your children. Count the blessings in your personal life and regularly thank God for them. Try to model to your congregation what a healthy family looks like.
A Servant-Shepherd's Heart:
Ask God to help you be humble, give you selfless courage and patient love, and motivate you to serve Him and others. Strive to provide the best pastoral care you can. Regularly contact members of your congregation via phone, e-mail, and handwritten notes. Make an effort to speak to as many people as you can personally before and after worship services. Cultivate your unique talents and spiritual gifts so you can use them well in God's service. Don't give any less than your best when serving. Acknowledge your weaknesses and depend on the Spirit's strength to fulfill your calling. Keep stretching yourself to take risks in your ministry as God leads you.
As you preach and teach spiritual lessons to others, be sure to learn them yourself. As you care for others, let your firsthand experience of God at work strengthen your own faith. Focus on Jesus above all else. Seek to learn leadership lessons from people you encounter from all walks of life. Empower your church's laypeople to serve, by reminding them at everyone has a place in the life of the church, everyone has a gift to use, and everyone has a God-given dream that can come true.
Flee from temptations such as sexual immorality; materialism; activities that turn into idols because they threaten to replace God as your top priority; and poisonous attitudes like bitterness, rage, anger, criticism, and jealousy. Run away from temptations as soon as fast as possible, and turn to God in prayer. Build your credibility and character by allowing Scripture to shape you, making ministry a way of life, viewing Christian service as a gift from God, regularly asking God to remind you what He wants you to accomplish in your assignments, trying to live above reproach, and recognizing your true sources of strength (prayer, the Bible, intimacy with God, a coach or mentor, and a healthy marriage and family).
Guard your heart by living by a code of integrity; being careful about the company you keep; monitor what media you read, watch, and listen to; asking God for self-control; and balancing your time in healthy ways to avoid burnout. Establish relationships with godly people who will be prepared to help you through difficult times.
Embrace God intimately:
Pursue God with a passion. Invite Him to transform you into the person He wants you to be. View yourself as a spiritual change agent in the world. Focus every aspect of your life on Jesus. Depend on Scripture's guidance in your daily life. Become aware of how near God is to you, as your constant companion. Believe that God will help you overcome any obstacle before you. Ask God to renew your energy so you can do your ministry work well. Look beyond the spectacular to find God at work just as powerfully in the midst of the ordinary. Try to live a life that advertises your faith well.
Ask God to help you develop contentment no matter what your circumstances. Resist distractions and schedule intentional periods of silence to listen carefully for God's voice speaking to you. Ask Jesus to help you see your life from His perspective and to respond to situations as He would. Share your hopes and dreams with a trusted, spiritually mature friend. Saturate every facet of your ministry with God's influence. Regularly seek to experience new adventures with Him. Intentionally look for Jesus in the people you serve. Expect God to help you make the ordinary significant.
Adapted from The Shepherd's Covenant for Pastors, copyright 2005 by H.B. London and Neil B. Wiseman. Published by Regal Books, from Gospel Light, Ventura, Ca., 1-800-4-GOSPEL or www.regalbooks.com.
H.B. London, Jr. is vice president of ministry outreach/pastoral ministries for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Co. A fourth generation minister, he was a pastor for 31 years before joining Focus on the Family.
Neil B. Wiseman serves churches as a consultant and preacher. He was a professor of pastoral development at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs, Co., for 15 years. He also served 20 years in the pastorate.