(From Voice magazine, Nov/Dec 2015. Used by permission.)
Shortly after I became a Christian at the age of 18, I sensed God’s leading into full-time ministry and I enrolled in a Bible institute to begin my preparation. During two of those summers I served as an intern in a small church plant in Utah, the second summer serving as “the pastor” when Ron (my mentor) left for a month of missionary deputation.
Before he left, Ron told me I would have to do everything in the church while he was gone “even a funeral if anyone died.” Needless to say, at 21 years of age I prayed like crazy for the good health of everyone in the church! Much to my relief, God answered those prayers and there were no funerals that month. The second month that followed felt like a breeze compared to the first month when I was all on my own.
It was during those summers in Utah forty years ago that I tasted what it meant to be the pastor of a local church. After graduation from the Bible institute, I continued my education in a Christian liberal arts college and at seminary knowing God was calling me into the ministry as a missionary church planting pastor. All along the twists and turns of the various ministry assignments God has given to us, we’ve loved every one of the last forty years.
Oh, to be sure, there have been plenty of challenges, difficulties and trials I never thought we’d survive. But even in those days of great heartache and desperation, God’s grace has proven to be sufficient, His faithfulness has never failed us and the Holy Spirit has used God’s Word to accomplish some great things in the lives of people. And all of those experiences have provided me quite an education.
Some Lessons I’ve Learned
Looking back, I’ve learned many lessons as a pastor during the times of great blessing as well as during the times of great defeat. Here are few of those lessons learned.
Seek to Cultivate a Majestic View of God in a Man-Centered Society.
In a day when churches increasingly emphasize the horizontal dimension of the Christian life (relationships with others, fulfillment of self, growing bigger in size), I have always sought to call the churches I served to the vertical dimension of the Christian life (a lofty understanding of the holy and awesome God).
I have challenged those in my ministry to recognize our culture’s idols and reorient ourselves to the Majesty on high who says “I am the LORD, and there is no other; beside Me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5). Whenever I teach, I seek to exalt God in my words and manner. As I’ve led, I have very consciously and deliberately submitted my leadership to God’s sovereign direction and leadership.
And as I matured in pastoral ministry, one way my maturity has been evidenced is that my public prayers have deepened. Now whenever I pray from the pulpit, I make sure my prayers truly lift people up to God and are not only heartfelt and genuine but also substantive and worshipful. In fact, I give much more forethought to my public prayers now than when I first started out in ministry because I have grown to understand that I am leading an entire congregation of people to the throne room of the Lord God Almighty. That’s a serious responsibility requiring more than a few shallow and mumbled out phrases (the exact same phrases which we often repeat from week to week in our public praying). Whether preaching or praying or counseling, I want to cultivate a majestic view of God whenever I am with the congregation. I believe that pleases Him and gives Him the honor due His holy name.
People Need to Hear the Bible Taught Combined with Clear-Minded Leadership.
I have always sought to be a Scripture-driven leader. As a leader, we must choose not only where to lead but also the means by which to attract a following. The Corinthians followed leaders who relied upon the means of superiority of speech, persuasive rhetoric, and the force of an impressive personality. Paul relied upon the Word of God, the crucified Christ, and the Spirit’s power (see 1 Corinthians 2). He demonstrated that it is better to be Scripture-driven and Spirit-empowered than propelled by borrowed secular forces. Our standard must be the Word of God and we must never use it haphazardly, nor substitute for it the methods or opinions of men. Be a Scripture-driven leader who leads the flock with a godly sense of authority.
Seek to Surround Yourself with Wise People and Listen to Them.
When I was a teenager, my Dad used to tell me to seek out older, wiser people who knew more than I did and follow their advice. How grateful I am for my Dad’s wisdom in that regard, and after I became a Christian I learned that this is exactly what the Bible instructs younger men to do. I have sought the friendship of godly men, asking them many, many (many!) questions and sought to implement their counsel.
I began with my first pastor: he not only led me to Christ but he taught me how to approach the Bible and how and why to be serious about doctrine and how to be faithful in church. But I wanted more and so I went to the Bible institute he recommended, having never before stepped foot on the campus. He recommended the school. I applied, then enrolled, and that was it. At that school, I met life-long mentors and advisers and my roommate—who became my best friend in ministry even to this day—and my future wife who herself is such a wise woman.
And for forty years at each church I’ve been a member of or have pastored, I’ve learned from elders and deacons and Sunday School teachers and church staff members and fellow IFCA pastors in the local Regional. Not too long ago I asked all sorts of questions and listened as a couple of friends opened up over breakfast, one a realtor and one a ditch digger, and when it was over my soul was refreshed. I gained so much from these two brothers—even ditch diggers can teach you a lot if they are wise and godly and you humbly listen to them.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (ESV, Prov. 27:9)
Les Lofquist earned his BA at Grace College, and his MDiv at Grace Theological Seminary. Over his years of ministry, he has served as a missionary church planter, Bible college instructor, youth pastor and senior pastor. He has served as Executive Director of IFCA since 1999. He and his wife Miriam have been blessed with several children and grandchildren.