Young preachers begin the ministry with a lot of fervor and idealism. They go to their first church believing they are going to make a difference, that they are going to be able to do what others before them have not done.
For a time it may seem that they are succeeding in changing the church but then the honeymoon period ends and the preacher realizes that being a pastor is not what they thought it would be. Sometimes this is so devastating to the young preacher that they leave the ministry. The number of one and done pastors is quite high. Being a pastor over a long period of time requires a preacher to lose their idealism and forces them to temper their fervor.
There are several things that every young preacher must understand about every church:
People are people.
There is a power base in every church.
Problems in the church are rarely exposed to prospective pastors.
Moderate, incremental change is difficult.
Dramatic, instant change is almost always impossible (because people are people and the power base will resist any change that robs them of their power).
Here are a few suggestions that I hope will be a help to every young preacher that reads this post:
1. Don’t confuse your self-identity with the church. Far too many pastors allow themselves to be swallowed up by the church, losing their self-identity in the process.
2. Don’t sacrifice your children or spouse for the sake of the church. Trust me, 25 years later, the church will have long since forgotten you and your sacrifice will mean little.
3. Choose which battles are worth fighting. Not every hill is worth dying on and not every challenge to your authority of leadership is worthy of a fight. Remember, the church is not your church. You, along with people who likely have been there for many years, are simply caretakers of the church.
4. Be willing to say, I don’t know. I realize this puts you at great risk of being unemployed (since church members crave certainty) but speaking with certainty when you know there is none is lying and dishonest.
5. Be aware of the traps that can destroy your ministry, especially the big 2 – money and women. Never touch the money and never allow yourself to be put in a position where moral compromise is possible.
6. Insist that the church pay you well. Do not be a full-time worker for part-time pay. It is OK to pastor churches that cannot pay you a living wage, but the church must understand that you have an obligation to your family and you must work a job outside the church to properly provide for them.
7. Make sure there is an annual pay review procedure in place. You should not have to beg for a raise. Make sure you have an employment contract where the job requirements, pay level, benefits, pay review period, and termination procedure are clearly laid out. If a church is unwilling to put all of this in writing, what does that tell you?
8. If at all possible, own your own home. Someday you will not be a pastor. Someday you will be old and retired. Then what? Where will you live? Churches can rent out the parsonage and provide you with a housing allowance. Remember, most of the church members are building equity in their home and you should be able to do the same.