Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Keller on First Pastorates

Tim Keller has some good thoughts that echo some of my own experience, namely, the value of actually doing things rather than having someone tell you about doing them. He suggests that pastoral wisdom and experience are often better gained as the solo pastor of a small church than a staff member at a large church.

You can't teach a younger pastor much about things they aren't actually doing. And in a large church they aren't a) bearing the burden of being the main leader, b) leading a board of elders, c) fund-raising and bearing the final responsibility of having enough money to do ministry, d) and doing the gamut of counseling, shepherding, teaching, preaching. In a smaller church as a solo pastor you and only you visit the elderly, do all the weddings and funerals, sit by the bedside of every dying parishioner, do all the marriage counseling, suspend and excommunicate, work with musicians, craft and lead worship, speak at every men's retreat, women's retreat, and youth retreat, write all the Bible studies and often Sunday School curriculum, train all the small group leaders, speak at the nursing home, work with your diaconate as they try to help families out of poverty, evangelize and welcome new visitors to the church, train volunteers to do some (but not all) of all of the above tasks, and deal with the once-a-month relational or financial crisis in the church.  No amount of mentoring can teach you what you learn from doing all those things.

While, as Keller says, there is no “one right way” his thoughts are certainly insightful. Having been the solo pastor of a small church for almost eleven years, I have learned by doing. It hasn’t always been pretty, and I have often longed for a mentor, but by God’s grace I have been able to do things that many others have only watched or listened to someone else tell about.

And it isn’t the same.

So if you are a seminary student or graduate considering the pastorate, don’t despise small things.


Dan Lee said...

Thanks for these comments. They are thought-provoking as I consider what God would have me do after seminary.

Jon from Bucksport said...

Interesting. Yet, I would ask in counter-point: "How do you know how to do those things if you have never seen them done?" The danger seems to be a young guy who has never related to elderly people outside of his own family; never counseled a family in crisis; never comforted strangers in their affliction. Larry, my thought would be that in your upbringing you had a lot of advantages going into a small pastorate that most newly-minted seminary graduates will never have. Right now a lot of young guys want to go out and plant a church. They have a lot of ideas about how it should be done. Yet, they have never had any practice in doing it and so the results are a mixed bag.
I forget who it was now, but someone pointed out on a blog the strength of young seminary grads going out and spending a couple of years in bivocational ministry: supporting themselves financially while assisting a seasoned pastor and learning from him. Most ministries would love to have a young seminary trained guy come in and cut his teeth in their ministry and I believe most seminary grads could use taking some rough edges off!
Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts!