We Pastors Need to Learn to Forgive.
Local church ministry often involves seeing people at their worst and unfortunately all of us pastors experience times when rocks and arrows are directed at us. We need to forgive others when we’ve been wronged because it’s commanded in the New Testament and because it honors the Lord when we “take the high road.” And we need to acknowledge there are times in ministry when we pastors do or say the wrong thing and we need to admit “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” All of us need to forgive those who have hurt us in church squabbles and get along with them so the gospel won’t be negatively affected. Unsaved people are watching and need to see how the Gospel has changed us by helping us to truly love and forgive others. Forgiveness is simply the active part of love.
Submission to Authority Is for Pastors Too.
The Apostle Paul frequently wrote that he was a slave of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:1 for example). Likewise, we pastors must never forget that we are slaves and this should have incredible implications in how we carry ourselves as we do our ministry. If we are slaves of Christ, there should be attitudes and actions that accompany this position. Similarly, God who is our ultimate authority, has delegated authority to different spheres in this world, like government for example (Romans 13:1-2) and elders in church (1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17). But many well-intentioned pastors believe that since they are serving the Lord, they need only submit to Him; in other words, they believe they are an authority unto themselves and are always free to pursue their own agendas. This will cause disruption in the work and ministry of that church whenever the pastor’s fellow elders or other leaders in the church raise legitimate questions.
I’ve always attempted to lead with strength and decisiveness, while at the same time being willing to submit to the other elders when they’ve raised legitimate questions. I’ve also submitted to the wisdom of deacons and nursery workers and kitchen coordinators who knew the solutions to problems in a ministry I had little knowledge of. I don’t know everything, and I can’t know everything. There are times when I lead with great confidence and times I submit to the advice and counsel of others. Submission is for pastors too.
Respect What God Has Done in and Through Those Who Preceded You.
I have always sought to respect our heritage. I believe we cannot build for the future if we forget the past. In my present ministry I recognize our IFCA forefathers were men greatly used by God who built something eighty-five years ago that still stands today. I have spent many hours in our archives researching photographs and minutes of meetings as well as visiting and interviewing older men. This is out of respect for God’s work in the past generation and out of concern for the future generation.
The stones of remembrance in Old Testament history represented the past (“look what God did”) as well as the present and future (“and He can still do it today or tomorrow”). Look at all the past tense verbs in the Psalms and see their relationship with the present tense and future tense. And when I was a local church pastor I attempted to honor what God did through the men and churches I’ve served in the decades before I ever showed up on the scene.
Too many men lead with their insecurities, disrespecting the past or ignoring what God accomplished before they became pastor, almost as if by treating the past with contempt the people will appreciate them all the more. I’ve found just the opposite to be true. People loved it when I honored the earlier blessings of God and entered into their happy recollections of their past. And I found it often resulted in greater respect and appreciation for my own leadership by the congregation.
It’s Important to Pursue Team-Building Within All Aspects of Ministry.
The accomplishment of ministry is never done alone. New Testament leaders were in plurality in the local churches. Paul wrote to Timothy that the ministry always involves training others who in turn would train others (2 Timothy 2:2). By its very definition, koinonia involves fellowship, community, togetherness which is quickly undone by the self-interests of others (most especially the leaders). Work like a team in church because no one, not even the most gifted pastor, can do everything—he needs others around him to fill in the places where he’s weak or not gifted.
Do the Quiet Work of One-on-One Mentoring and Discipling.
In my ministry I’ve learned that preaching and teaching to a group was the way to appeal to many, but the quiet work of equipping a few was more influential and lasting. It wasn’t more exciting, but it was more productive. Seventeenth century English Pastor Richard Baxter wrote,
I have found by experience, that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse in half an hour’s close discourse, than they did from ten years’ public preaching. I know that preaching the gospel publicly is the most excellent means, because we speak to many at once. But it is usually far more effectual to preach it privately to a particular sinner. (The Reformed Pastor, Banner of Truth Trust, 2007. p. 18)
My experience has mirrored Baxter’s, even though we are separated by over three hundred and fifty years. I especially worked on my relationships with the men in the church believing that if I reached the man I would reach the whole family. Years ago I learned that was also Baxter’s method and it became mine as well. I urge all pastors to do the same.
Seek to Be Balanced Between Evangelism and Bible Teaching.
I know all too well how easy it is to get out of balance, leaning always toward our areas of strength and giftedness. And like most pastors, in my gifts and strengths I lean towards Bible teaching and shepherding. I want to feed, lead and protect the sheep God has entrusted to my care. But there are countless others who need to be added to the flock, lost sheep wandering far from God…and they need my attention as well. So I constantly remind myself to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). Often times I just observe people in the mall or at a restaurant and see how desperately they need the Savior. I do that to stir up my passion for evangelism. I also believe that I need to share the simple gospel more than we IFCA pastors usually do from the pulpit. We need to tell people regularly how to get saved! We need to lift up and encourage the work of the evangelists in our churches and not just exalt Bible study and the Bible students in our congregations. I need to seek a balance between evangelism and Bible teaching—and I think many of our churches need to do the same.
There have been plenty of challenges, difficulties and trials in my ministry. But even in the days of great heartache and desperation, God’s grace has proven to be sufficient, His faithfulness has never failed 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.
I’m profoundly grateful for the lessons I’ve learned while serving our wonderful Lord.
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.