Thursday, May 11, 2006

Some Things I Would Like To Say To Young Preachers

A friend of mine, Scott Phillips, fired off a very productive missile in my busy life this morning. He wrote an article that basically was forcing our minds to think about “transitioning” moments in the life of a church. We are now facing a generation of aging pastors who will be passing the mantle of the pastoral office to a younger man. Since time waits for no one, that mantle will either be passed with a blessing or it will be forcefully snatched from the hands of these aged elders. It is my thinking that the elder who is prepared for the transition will serve not only the church well but the Kingdom of God well.

In the last four months, I have been involved in the continuing education process called life. During this time, I have chalked up several “units” to add to my profile and it has been quite advantageous for me. I hope for those who are closest to me it has also been beneficial. More and more, I realize that I have to be incredibly grateful for what has been placed into my life. This whole week has been one of those weeks that I have felt a lot of gratitude toward God for the direction that He has put my life on.

As you are aware from some previous posts on this blog (see Thursday, March 2, 2006 in archives), I personally have been in transition from the role of co-pastor to now that of pastor. This process has actually been ongoing now for several years and I will not be-labor the point here. It has been a very good process for which I am thankful.

I will leave with you some points that I have found to be very helpful to me over the last 14 years of being in the role of the “second” man. I will comment greatly on some and others will be simply be a point to ponder.

1. Be Patient.

You must understand that ministry is a marathon and not a sprint. James said it best when he recalled that life was nothing more than a vapor. How quickly that this life passes! I can remember vividly all of the high points of ministry “accreditation.” I can remember the public acknowledgement of the call. I remember the first sermon I preached. I recall the move to Bible College and the graduation night. I remember the nervousness of facing a District Board for my general license. I can remember the promotion to associate pastor. I can remember the promotion and business meeting from associate to co-pastor. I can remember the process of preparation for ordination. I remember meeting the District Board for my ordination approval. I can remember the charge that was read to me last summer in Montgomery, Alabama. I can remember the installation service lead by Rev. Michael Harrell, our presbyter, as pastor. In one paragraph, I have summed up 14 years! Life is a vapor!

In the early days, I thought that it would never open up and that I would never get to the place that I am currently residing. This place now is not the end, this is merely the beginning of the rest of my life. The problem is that youth is often bumping it’s head with the process. Patience in the process is crucial.

David was anointed by Samuel and then he was promptly sent back into the pasture. How unfair! Anointed as king but no throne, scepter, or kingdom. Always be patient with the process of pasture. Leading sheep is a lot like leading people. You cannot drive them or herd them, you must lead them.

Let go of your need for immediate gratification. Promotion will come it just takes time. Do your best not to let your current situation simply be turned into a “stepping” stone for bigger and greater things. Impatience will lead to frustration, anger, a feeling of being overlooked, misunderstanding, and resentful. All of these emotions are ministry killers. They will sap your life of productive spiritual growth.

2. You Are Involved in “Real” Ministry.

One of the biggest difficulties that young ministers have is being made to feel as if they are not really accomplishing much in their position as youth pastor, assistant pastor, or other roles. Bro. Patterson never made me feel like a second-rate citizen in my role as “second man.” However, there were ministers whom I begin to avoid like a plague.

The reason that I avoided them was because that every instance that they were around me it was always seemingly to ask the obtuse question, “When are you going to do something for God? When are you going to get a “real” ministry?” I have come to understand that one of the reasons that they asked me this was because when they sat in the role as a second man, they did nothing. So they immediately equate that their own past experience is just like yours. I came to realize that nothing further from the truth could be true. The face of this thought is changing (thank God!) but a lot of older men feel that assistants, associates, and youth pastors are unnecessary and unneeded. I would hate to try to do what we are doing here in Dothan without some help of some good men.

I was always doing “real” ministry here. Whether it was preaching (every other week), involved in teaching home Bible studies, helping other unlicensed ministers improve their own skills, etc., etc. I was involved in “real” ministry.

Very early in my ministry, I can remember how that these very ignorant comments were sent in my direction and they would create a sense of depression and uselessness in my own personal life. After many, many prayer times trying to keep my heart right, I was prompted one day by the voice of God to evaluate where I was spending my time. Wherever one is spending his time this is where he is spending his life. Through a personal journal, I allowed God to help me to see what my life was being spent on. Guess what? It was being spent on “real” ministry.

3. Ignore the Dingbats.

See the preceding number. Some people are not happy with themselves and therefore they are not happy with the world around them. Their mission, perhaps even their “spiritual” gift is to create the same sense of misery in your life that is in theirs. It pays to figure out who these people are and then avoid them and ignore them.

4. Develop Your Family.

Realize that in the role of a second man you will have time to develop your family and your marriage. I can distinctly remember several years ago, that Teresa and I were on the way with our kids to St. Simon’s Island (perhaps my most favorite place in the world) and we were made aware of a situation in the church that needed immediate attention (a funeral). Bro. Patterson called me and told me to keep going toward my vacation and that he would take care of it. Had I been in the role of a pastor at that time, that would not have happened, I would have had to turn around and come back to Dothan.

While you are in the role as a second man, the responsibilities of ministry do not rest entirely on your shoulders and you can do things that pastors cannot ordinarily do. Take advantage of this because there will be a day when you will have to fulfill the responsibility of your calling. Enjoy your freedom now!

5. Sleep Well.

As a second man, there were situations that did not require all of my time or attention simply because I was not the pastor. There were pressures that I was never aware of and I could sleep well because I was not the pastor. You should be thankful that you are not entirely responsible for trying to patch up families, help others walk through financial struggles, or simply said doing the ministry of “the daily care of the churches.”

6. Love the Word.

Be concerned with preaching and teaching the Word. Constantly give yourself to the reading of books that are going to stimulate your thinking. Stimulated thinking leads to stimulated meditation which leads to stimulating preaching. Make sure that you love the Word and let it put some principles in your life to help you make decisions that will be not so much popular as they are lasting. I even read things that I do not personally or theologically agree with but I find that they stretch my thinking and actually shore up my views on my own beliefs.

I have made much of this thought in other posts on this blog.

7. Keep a journal of ideas.

If you don’t think a certain program or a certain method works, don’t make a lot of racket. . . just journal it. This program or method has probably worked for the pastor you are serving with for all of his ministry and it is what he is comfortable with. Change it when you get the opportunity to do so but don’t create a fight over methods and mechanics.


Your ideas over time will add up and then when you become the pastor you can implement them as you feel the direction of the Spirit. Remember that we are all unique individuals and we all have preferences and you need to make room for other people’s preferences.

I might also caution that rapid change is rarely beneficial. If rapid change creates chaos in educational halls, in industries, and everywhere else, it will do so in a church. You owe it to yourself to wisely select the changes that you want to make. Then I personally believe that those changes need to be slow and with the approval of some elder. We are not running businesses, we are trying to build churches which simply speaking means lives.

8. Thank God for your “job.”

I spent twenty years working in a hospital as an RN. It was a very good job. It was very challenging and I can see what it has created in my life as far as discipline and hunger for personal and professional growth. It is not a sin to have to be bi-vocational. Paul made his tents, I worked with stents.

In fact, there were times that problems were going on in the church and I could go to work and “zone” out while I put someone to sleep. We could put an iliac artery stent or renal artery stent in. Because of the pressure of my secular job, the church problems did not consume me with anxiety, worry, fear, or doubt.

My secular jobs in the medical field put me in contact with some of the most brilliant minds in Dothan, AL and Houston, TX on a daily basis. The professional excellence of the physicians and other staff members stimulated a hunger for spiritual excellence for me. I was always under the belief that if they were doing so much development for a corruptible crown then my pursuits for the development of an uncorruptible crown should not be lazy, haphazard, or shoddy.

9. See Your Elder as An Elijah.

The longer I live, the bigger the footprints of Joe Patterson become. It is amazing what this man has accomplished just by day-in and day-out pouring himself into the Kingdom of God. I can see him as an Elijah who flung his mantle on me very early in my life. When I was much younger, I cannot say that I entirely perceived what was occurring but now with the passage of time, I am acutely aware of what God has developed in my life through his efforts and assistance.

Work with your Elijah. Sometimes before you can build your own church, you have to help another man build his. Paul placed much into Timothy and Titus. Your elder can put much into your life. Make wise choices about what you do.

10. Remember that God is Sovereign.

Of all of the attributes of God, this one has become the one that I lean on the most. It has freed me from huge burdens and huge expectations both real and perceived. The sovereignty of God means that God called me and he has positioned my life and I am exactly where God means for me to be.

11. Listen To Your Wife!!!

My wife had a line that she periodically would give me: It is not your church! I would then realize that it was indeed not my church. Teresa also helped me to see the fact that there were generally some more details or pieces of the puzzle that I did not see.

In conclusion, I realize that these are not "pat" answers for every situation. However, I do know that God honors his servants and that sometimes the disputed passage brings the most spiritual and personal growth to our lives.

On a future post, I will give you some things that I would like to say to "old" preachers coming from the view of a "second" man.

3 comments:

Don Ryan said...

Great thoughts, Bro. I enjoy your writing immensely.

Anonymous said...

Very Good, I wish I would have read this earlier... I might go insert this in the Letter for those that will surely follow.

Mike Faulk said...

Bro. Harrelson,

Your writings always inspire me. Thanks once again.