I’ve been on staff at LifePoint for over three years now. And I’m slowly getting the hang of this whole “being a worship pastor” thing. And when I say that I’m getting the hang of it, I mean that I’m coming to grips with the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing.
Yet the funny thing is, I came into full-time ministry with the impression that a lot of the pastors I’d known were doing it all wrong. And secretly, I thought I was going to do everything the right way—“Move out of the way, guys. Let me show you how it’s done.” (Hello misguided, youthful arrogance!)
But the longer I serve the local church, the more I come to treasure the wisdom of the seasoned pastors I’ve known. Learning from these men has been invaluable for me, even when I failed to realize it. As a result, I’ve begun to meditate often on the counsel I received from them—counsel I dismissed at worst, and didn’t yet understand at best. So allow me to share what was passed on to me—wisdom that can only be gained from years spent in the trenches of everyday pastoral ministry.
- “People are not your source; God is your source.” When my dad first articulated that he felt called to pastoral ministry, my grandfather—who is now deceased, but was a pastor himself for many years—took dad to lunch. He looked across the table and said these words to my father who was just a teenager at the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my dad fondly recount that story. When you’re young and your parents tell the same stories you’ve heard a million times, you tend to think, “Yeah, yeah, we know that one, dad. We’ve heard it before.” But, now that I’m a little older, I’m glad my dad told me that story so many times; because, when I’m tempted to place impossible-to-bear burdens on my team, I can hear those words ringing in my head. They remind me that people make really lousy saviors. When my heart is in tune with that reality, I can simply enjoy the people I lead for who they are in Christ instead of sinfully using them to assuage my fear of inconsequentiality. The leader who holds fast to the true Source of life loves others well.
- “Always lead from overflow.” My wife’s grandfather just retired after thirty years of pastoring. A few years before he retired, I asked him what advice he would give to a young guy aspiring to ministry. Without any hesitation, he said these four words. In response, I thought, “Okay, that seems like good advice.” But now I know it isn’t just “good” advice; it’s life-or-death advice. It’s the difference between joyfully persevering in ministry and being crushed by the pressures of ministry. Pastoral leaders ought to be worshiping God regularly in private long before they lead in public. Faithful ministry stems from the reality that God is powerfully at work in the ruthlessly prayerful, Bible-devouring lives we live behind closed doors. If that isn’t true of us, we are doomed to fail; for “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
- “Your biggest challenge will be learning to lead from your character, not your gifting.” This was my pastor’s warning to me when I signed on to be the worship leader at LifePoint. And when he said it, I had no idea what he meant by it. But as years have gone by, I’ve realized just how profound it is. Too often, we assume that those with charisma and skill are the ones in the church who are fit to lead. So we put the talented people up front without giving any consideration to the patterns of their life. And then we’re shocked when their character fails. But the truth is, we should’ve understood all along that without godly character, a person’s gifting is not an asset; it’s a liability. For better or worse, the trajectory of a man’s leadership will always be determined by the quality of his heart; and his poor character is tragically fortified as he places more and more confidence in his own ability. On the other hand, charisma and talent are used by God to bear Gospel fruit when stewarded from personal holiness, ministerial integrity, and devotion to Jesus. Natural ability and Christlike character, when combined, create effective pastoral competency.
So there you have it, priceless words of counsel from seasoned pastors that have made all the difference in my life. I keep coming back to their wisdom to fan into flame the gift of God that is in me (2 Tim. 1:6). And every time I do, I become more and more grateful to God that my generation of church leaders is standing on the shoulders of giants such as these.