Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tom Ascol has served as a pastor for 35 years, the past 28 with the same congregation. In a recent blog post he recounted what he has learned. While I would probably use slightly different words, I found myself nodding in agreement over most of his points:
Thirty-five years ago this month I began serving my first church as pastor. The Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station, Texas took a major risk on a senior Texas A&M student by issuing me a call to be their pastor. It was my happy privilege to serve them for nearly two years before being called to the Spring Valley Baptist Church in Dallas. I am currently in my twenty-eighth year of serving Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida.
As I recently reflected on the last thirty-five years I wrote down some lessons learned and convictions I’ve come to or continued to hold. Here are thirty-five of them.
    1. Long-term perspective helps you to endure and to think wisely about immediate problems.
    2. The kingdom of God does not—and will not—skip a beat when I am sidelined.
    3. The church is more important than I thought when I started.
    4. Some of my words and actions to which I am most oblivious can be hurtful to people.
    5. Pastoral ministry is indeed, as John Newton puts it, “a bitter full of sweet” and “a sorrow full of joy.”
    6. Christians are the greatest people in the world.
    7. Christians are capable of the most wicked actions in the world.
    8. My greatest challenge at the beginning of my ministry continues to be dealing with my own heart.
    9. An excellent wife is the greatest earthly gift I have, and she is more excellent than I ever could have imagined.
    10. True friends are rare and invaluable.
    11. Some of the most outwardly religious people can be the biggest hypocrites.
    12. It is nearly impossible for a man who marries poorly to make it in the ministry.
    13. Some of the most humble, unassuming saints provide the greatest encouragement to pastors.
    14. Some of the most effective pastoral ministry I have ever had has come through my presence more than my words.
    15. Some words I have spoken incidentally have ministered God’s grace more powerfully than others over which I labored and prepared for hours.
    16. Preaching really is a divinely ordained, foolish activity.
    17. Every conversion to Christ is a miracle of grace involving intricate acts and provisions that have been divinely orchestrated.
    18. Having the right books is far more important than have many books.
    19. God’s grace has shined brightest through the suffering of His people.
    20. Justification by faith is a bottomless well of grace.
    21. The complete humanity and spotless righteousness of Jesus has become more amazing to me.
    22. There is no easy way to do a hard task and ministry is full of hard tasks.
    23. The propitiatory work of Jesus on the cross amazes me more and more.
    24. The relationship of God’s law to His gospel has implications for every biblical doctrine.
    25. Some of the greatest pastors are men who live, serve and die in relative obscurity.
    26. Incremental progress is real progress and should not be dismissed.
    27. God is far more patient than I could have ever imagined.
    28. Forgiveness is one of the sweetest graces both in its giving and receiving.
    29. Though I’ve stayed in one place a long time, I have served at least 4 different churches during that time and my people have had at least that many different pastors in the same man.
    30. Wherever you see a long pastorate you can be sure there is an abundance of grace in the congregation.
    31. Godly widows and widowers are worthy heroes.
    32. The advance of the gospel and the spread of God’s kingdom is a testimony to power of His grace.
    33. Raising children is one of the greatest privileges and challenges in human experience.
    34. Having adult children is a greater joy and blessing than I ever imagined it would be.
    35. Grandchildren rock!
Well said!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Remembering Sermons

Adrian Reynolds has this great comment on whether or not it's important that people remember my sermons:

I've just spent a wonderful hour with a dear Australian brother who has given his lifetime to preaching the gospel and teaching others to do so (no name dropping here!). He made an observation, almost in passing, that really grabbed my attention. "It doesn't matter", he said, "if people don't remember your sermons. Preaching is about making actions instinctive, not giving you more head knowledge." He went on to say that he's a good reader, but doesn't remember being taught to read. He can play the piano but remembers very little about his tuition. He knows how to ride a bike, but can't recall the moment when the stabilisers were taken off.
How true and how liberating! We are tempted, I would suggest, to measure our ministry in terms of how much people can remember of it. And when people say to us "I remember your three points" we get a inward glow. But in fact, the measure of God's word preached is whether people change and if spiritual habits that were unnatural become the norm, become instinctive. We need to pray that our preaching would be effective and not so much that it would be memorable
It doesn't matter if people don't remember your sermons. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Long-Term from a Business Viewpoint

While not all of this will apply to the pastorate, I thought this note from the Harvard Business Review blogs was suggestive of why it's worth it to stay in one place for a while:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Angry Pastors

From Dan Bouchelle at "Confessions of a Former Preacher:"
While I don’t fully understand my anger, here is my current best shot at explaining it. I am angry because I couldn’t force the church to live up to my image of what it should be even when they implemented most of the changes I wanted. I am angry because I thought I had a contract with God: if I did ministry the right way, he would make me feel successful and fulfilled. I am angry because I could not shake the feeling of failure when I was doing everything I knew to do and I could not get the church to post the measurables I needed to validate my ministry. I am angry because the church I was building was too much a figment of my imagination detached from sustainable reality. I loved the people in my church and I enjoyed ministry with them. But, as a congregation—which is an abstraction in many ways—I could not reconcile what was with what should be. I am angry because other preachers who used what I thought were inferior approaches to serve inferior visions saw their churches grow while mine was plateaued or declining. I am angry because I could not solve the problem of church, as if churches are problems to be solved instead of people to be loved and developed. I am angry because I looked to my ministry for self-validation instead of modeling self-denial. I am angry because I wasn’t willing to obey what I heard God calling me to do and trust the outcomes to him instead of expecting something specific in return.
No wonder I have wanted to deny my anger. It is ugly. But there it is. Why say it out loud? Why reveal this online? Am I now an exhibitionist? Am I trying to get attention in some sick way? Perhaps. I hope not. I just think it needs to be said. I think those of us who have gotten seduced into being career minded, if only in part, even when we wouldn’t admit it to God or ourselves, need to repent and fess up. I think we need to stop blaming the church for our immature emotional issues. The church does not need to face enemies within when it has a huge challenge without.  I also want to warn other preachers to avoid a path that can lead to their undoing. Watch your expectations. We are called to a cross, not a crown. We are called to serve the Lord through the church. The church isn’t here to take care of our emotional needs.
So you are angry? Well, you might want to do something about that. That road goes to a bad place.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


This week I spoke with a woman who wishes she could erase some memories and a man whose mind is beginning to erase his. Both are living in tragedy.

The sad reality of sin is that even though God forgives our sin — indeed, He forgives us — yet we have trouble forgiving ourselves and even more trouble forgetting many of those sins. Like an old scar on our head left over from a youthful fall, some sins engrave themselves almost indelibly on our souls. Or so it seems.

Then there's my friend whose problem is not forgetting but remembering. It is so hard to see this smart, sharp professional slowly becoming a caricature of himself. Without even realizing it. And, even at this early stage, I am imagining the pain that his family — especially his wife — will be going through in the years to come.

Memory is a gift. And I am convinced that even bad memories, with a large dose of time and an even larger one of grace, can change, even if they don't go away. Our goal is not necessarily to forgive and forget (though it's great when we can!) but to forgive and move on. And to cherish our forgiveness.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

How Pastors Go the Distance

Tim Peters has a helpful article at

Based on his experience of running an actual marathon, his suggestions for pastors who want to go the distance are

1. Run at a healthy pace

2. Run with no excess baggage

3. Run with a team

4. Run with frequent re-fueling

Monday, November 07, 2011

Thom Rainer on the Lifecycle of Pastors

Southern Baptist researcher Thom Rainer comments on the various lifecycles of pastors on his blog at

The honeymoon lasts a year. After that, through year three, the "crisis" of both pastor and congregation is discovering their mutual humanity. Most pastors leave during this time. Years three to five are a period of "realignment," during which dissidents leave and new people arrive. "Growth," if it's going to occur, comes in years five to ten.

But here's what I found most interesting: he calls the years beyond ten "Mystery," because, "There are relatively few pastors and congregations that continue their relationships beyond a period of one decade. Thus any perspective I have of long-term pastorates is inconclusive and limited. I am confident, however, that if we see more and more pastors entering their tenth year of ministry and beyond, we will see more productive and fruitful ministries in local churches across the nation."

I found it sad that he had so few models of long-term pastors to be able to draw any conclusions, but encouraging that he finds a certain trend in that direction.