Sam, the joy I have as you begin your ministry at First Southern Baptist Church in Floyds Knobs, Ind., is beyond description. You are on a great and exciting journey, and I am praying for God's hand to be upon your life and ministry. I hope you don't mind your old man sharing with you a few words of advice. I have made many mistakes in ministry, so I hope my experience can be useful to you.
First, preach the Word. Paul told Timothy that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and thus Timothy should proclaim the message of the Bible whether it was popular or not, and whether it was convenient or not (2 Timothy 4:2). There will be many words that you can preach and teach, but never stray from the Word.
I also urge you to do the work of an evangelist. Again, it was Paul who instructed Timothy that the young pastor's ministry could not be fulfilled unless he shared Christ regularly (2 Timothy 4:5). Many pastors lead churches in evangelism programs. Many pastors preach and teach others to be evangelistic. Both of these emphases are good, but they must not replace your own personal evangelistic ministry. As you know, our research has shown that few pastors are personally evangelistic on a regular basis. Don't get so busy with ministry and church activities that you neglect evangelism. Don't replace "best" with "good."
Third, love the people. Sam, I just finished spending many hours with several pastors. These good men were hurting. They were cynical about ministry and the local church. They had been criticized and hurt by church members one time too many.
Sam, ministry is tough. You will find soon that you cannot please everyone. But you must not become cynical. You must love the people you have been called to serve no matter what. You must learn to love unconditionally as Christ loved me and you. Aren't you glad Jesus didn't give up on us? Aren't you glad He loved us even when we weren't loveable? Love the people, my son.
I also urge you to make your family a priority. You and Erin are newlyweds, and she needs and deserves your attention. The work at a local church is never done, so don't think that 80 hours a week at the church is necessary to stay caught up. Accept the reality that you will never catch up fully. God willing, you will soon be a father yourself (very soon if this would-be grandfather had his choice). They will need their dad. And Erin needs her husband.
One of the most heartbreaking stories of my ministry took place on a Saturday morning in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1989. You were 9 years old, and this Saturday was our predetermined time to spend a few hours together, just the two of us. We were to start the morning with a breakfast at the golden arches when the phone rang. The cursed phone.
The man who called was in a struggling marriage. He had to see me right then. I told you that we would have to delay our time together, and I immediately met the man at the church. I met with him for three hours. His marriage eventually fell apart anyway. He didn't need me to be his messiah of the moment. You needed me. And the look of hurt and disappointment on your face is ever etched in my memory. Don't neglect your family.
Sam, you have many great days ahead of you. The local church is an imperfect but wonderful gift from God. You have so much to offer, and you will learn that the people you serve can become like family to you and Erin.
Keep your priorities in order. Spend time with God. Spend time with your family. Tell others the Good News of Jesus. Preach the Word. And love your church members with joy and acceptance.
Sam, I am here if you ever need me. But even after I leave this life, and you can't call me for advice and conversation, your Heavenly Father is always there for you. May Paul's words to the church at Philippi be my closing words to you: "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6, HCSB).
I love you my son.
Dr. Thom Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist.