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shepherd-with-sheepIn a couple months, I’ll celebrate four years of ministry at LifeWay. Looking back on the development of The Gospel Project, I am overwhelmed to see how the Lord has blessed this effort in ways that far surpass our initial expectations. We are serving nearly 750,000 participants this fall. Almost every day, we hear new stories of kids, students, and adults who are using The Gospel Project and encountering Christ through His Word.

A pastor recently contacted me. He is considering a leadership position in a Christian organization, and he’d read something I wrote six months after starting at LifeWay, a post in which I offered some reflections on stepping out of pastoral ministry. In seeking to discern God’s will for his next phase of ministry, he wanted to know if my feelings had changed since then.

In short, I affirm everything in the original post, including my comments on vocational calling being expressed through various avenues and ministry tasks. But even though I am thrilled to be doing the work God has called me to during this season, I still miss local church ministry. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Jimmy Draper used to tell people who work at LifeWay, “The day you don’t miss local church ministry is the day you should probably resign.” What he meant was this: you’re better at serving churches when your heart beats for Christ’s Bride.

So, in response to the pastor who asked, here are three aspects of pastoral ministry I miss.

1. Preaching Connected to Pastoring

I love to preach. There’s nothing like digging into the Word, discerning its truth, applying it personally, shaping its presentation, and then delivering its message to God’s people.

But the one thing I’ve learned since stepping out of pastoral ministry is that my love for preaching is connected to my love for people. I enjoy preaching at different churches and conferences. It’s encouraging to see many kinds of churches and to meet believers across the country. Still, preaching is special when your message is directed toward the same people every week, people you know and love and are committed to.

I’ve learned that, for me, it’s not just about preaching, but about people, and preaching is one of the ways you love your people. So, though I get plenty of opportunities to preach, I miss that special sense of preaching that is connected to pastoring.

2. Leading from the Front

I look at my role at LifeWay as leading churches from the side, offering resources that ground believers in God’s Word, that serve churches in their mission of making disciples. Along the way, I get lots of opportunities to help churches by offering counsel and encouragement to pastors.

In our own church, I enjoy serving as a teacher; I always want to support the pastoral staff and contribute to the church’s ministries. Since I stepped away from pastoral ministry, I’ve noticed that my leading hasn’t stopped; it’s merely shifted its direction.

That said, I do miss leading from the front, not just from the side. There are aspects of leadership that I’ve learned at LifeWay that I look forward to applying in a church setting: communicating a path forward, making tough calls, dealing with results, apologizing when I get it wrong, all the things I do in my current role at LifeWay, but not as often in local church ministry.

3. Shepherding through Seasons

I belong to a multi-generational church. I always have, even when I was a kid and my family was involved in a church plant.

As the years have gone by, one of the things I love most about Sundays is gathering for worship with people from all walks of life, all life stages. There’s something special about the senior in high school standing next to a senior adult, singing the same songs to Jesus.

When it comes to multi-generational ministry, the pastoral aspect I miss is being present at events for different groups at different stages of life. I miss the senior adult luncheons, the student ministry’s DiscipleNow weekends, counseling sessions with couples about to be married, or meeting businessmen for lunch.

Pastoral ministry hasn’t stopped since I came to LifeWay, of course. I’m still involved with these groups at different levels of intensity. But there’s something about that daily, weekly, monthly rhythm of being present among church members in all stages of life that I miss.

What about you? If you’re in pastoral ministry, what do you think you’d miss most? If you’re not, what parts appeal to you?

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6 thoughts on “The 3 Things I Miss Most About Pastoral Ministry”

  1. Thanks for the list Trevin. I left a more than quarter century tenure as Lead Pastor where we were so blessed over that time period as part of a secession plan. I have shared many times what I miss looking back with others as well. Perhaps another article could be what you do NOT miss? I know there are also many things I do not miss as well!

  2. Keith says:

    I think that the modern evangelical church has warped “pastoral ministry” into something it wasn’t meant to be. For most people the pastor is the guy up front, behind the pulpit preaching sermons instructing everyone else what they need to do. I think there are far more people in the body of Christ who are gifted as pastors than the few who are paid to do it professionally. People who are gifted and called to protect their brothers and sisters and to love them serve them and guide them. But they are never set free to do that because they might get in the way of the “staff”.

  3. Mark says:

    Keith, you may be right that we have magnified certain gifts above others, but recognize that some gifts are not designed to be as public as preaching. As for the pastor “instructing everyone else what they need to do”, that is a big part of what he is supposed to do in using his spiritual gift (preaching, admonishing, encouraging). That being said, I absolutely love it when a “laymen” who also has the gift to teach gets to use it to proclaim truth over God’s people, but that doesn’t happen every week. I wish it could work that there was a sort of rotation among all those with the gift to teach to use it in a local body, but logistically that would be a challenge not many would be up for.
    What a gift to have a brother(s) who is freed up to devote time each week to apply the truth first and then present it! Any pastor with his salt has a innate desire to see the people exercise their gifts, but the people too as maturing disciples can step up and use their gifts without a public church-initiated solution. Does a young preacher want to hone his skills? He can find many places (prisons, youth ministries, chapels, start a hike bible study) on his own. While we may have a distorted view of the pastor exercising his gifts exclusively, we also trick ourselves into not using our gifts because we’re waiting on someone else to ask, initiate, or make a spot for us. We have the Spirit of God within us, we just need to act.
    Don’t slam the staff, they are a gift for you. Find ways to encourage them, there are already plenty of people who complain about staff and their shortcomings instead of using their God-given gifts to support your local body. It’s about unity, it’s about being the Bride of Christ (even with all her warts).

  4. Keith says:

    Mark. As I read the Bible I don’t see the major task of the pastor as preaching. I think that role of a pastor is formed more from traditionalism than from following Scripture. I see a pastor as someone who is gifted and driven to care for people, protect people, facilitate unity among believers etc. I think there are several people gifted as pastors in any group of believers. Both men and women. They don’t all spend everyday crafting sermons, wearing ties and standing behind pulpits. I think we have made the role of pastor something it was never meant to be. It has become a paid position instead of a spiritual gift to be exercised by whoever has it.

    1. Mark says:

      Keith, I agree with you that preaching isn’t the only task nor the primary task, I’m sorry if I made it seem otherwise. I think the characteristics you describe are most definitely pastoral qualities and functions, especially in that role as a shepherd. In relation to the office of pastor/elder there is a qualification (1 Tim 3) of being apt/able to teach. That is a skilled/gifted teacher, though certainly at varying levels and certainly not only in the context of preaching before a congregation. However, the idea being those who are pastors are by nature inclined to be teachers, I think this is an important distinctive because there are many gifted communicators who are not teachers.
      While I don’t think preparing the sermon should take all the time each week, I do think that God takes it seriously that the men raised up as pastors should be teachers. And remember also that the first pastors raised up deacons to handle much of the day to day care of people so that they could be devoted to the ministry of the Word and prayer. I am not equating that to “sermon prep”, but I can imagine it did in fact prepare their hearts as they applied the Word to their hearts first.
      I agree that as the church we should be raising up those with these gifts to use them for the good old the body, both in formal and in informal ways. Maybe some of those folks should be pastors (teaching gift included), maybe some should be deacons to serve the body, maybe some should just use their gifts in whatever context that connects best with how they’re wired. And may God use the crazy amalgam of the mess we make of it all to bring men and women to Christ and glory to himself.

  5. Keith says:

    Mark, I understand what you are saying and there was a time when I agreed with you. But I have come to think it is a stretch to say that “pastor/elder” is the same person. The gift of pastor is mentioned once in the NT in Eph. 4. The qualifications you are talking about for elders are in 1 Tim. I think these are different people. There is no spiritual gift of an elder. There is one of pastor. So I am saying out of tradition we have equated the two into one. I am a member of a faith community in a different country/culture. We rarely have preaching they way you would probably define it. But we do have several pastors. They are all different from one another. But they are all extremely caring, protecting and unity seeking believers. We also have elders too who lead and who are mature according to the qualifications you have cited. But those qualifications are things that any Christian should strive for. None of the qualifications is an unusual thing just for the head guys. So going back to this article, I would say it would be good for more people to “step out of the pastoral ministry” and reevaluate what a pastor really is.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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