The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – What Does a Pastor Do?

Hiking TrailThis series is turning into a book! Seriously, I plan to compile all of these posts into a book when I’m finished. The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry will encourage and guide young men who are interested in being pastors. Start here.

If you’re thinking about being a pastor, you should learn what a pastor does. 

How does a pastor spend his time? What are his primary responsibilities? The work of a pastor can be divided into three categories. Pastors minister the Word, care spiritually for people, and lead and oversee the church.

The Ministry of the Word
The first area of a pastor’s responsibility is the ministry of the Word. You probably immediately think of preaching. This area definitely includes preaching, but there’s more. The pastor’s ministry of the Word is both public and personal.

Ephesians 4:11 links the word “pastors” (or shepherds) with “teachers.” The work of a pastor includes explaining and applying the Bible. Paul told Timothy to “Preach the Word” and to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching”  (2 Timothy 4:2). Elders (another term for pastors) “labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).

A pastor may spend between 10-20 hours a week preparing to preach. Studying the Bible occupies a lot of time in his schedule. Pastors work hard to understand the meaning of Bible passages and to communicate the meaning and application clearly and in a way that is interesting and helpful to people.

He may also teach a class or Bible study. Some pastors preach or teach 3-4 times in a week. That requires a lot of studying! A faithful pastor will also pray for guidance and enabling power as he studies and as he gets ready to deliver his message.

A pastor’s personal ministry of the Word includes sharing the gospel with unbelievers and discipling and counseling believers. He will explain sections of the Bible and help people understand difficult spiritual concepts. He uses the Bible to help people who are struggling with conflicts, temptation, and sin, showing them how to apply the truths of God’s Word to their lives.

Let’s circle back to preaching, because it’s a big part of what a pastor does. You can take steps to learn about preaching right now.

  • Listen attentively to good preaching. Take notes on the content of the message. Also observe how the preacher structures his message. You can even pay attention to how he uses his voice, face, and body language to communicate effectively.
  • Learn as much as you can about the Bible. Read through it. You might want to start with the New Testament, then start through the Old Testament. A book I find very helpful in getting the big picture of what the Bible is about is Nelson’s Book of Bible Maps and Charts. This book includes background information and an outline for every book of the Bible.
  • Make yourself available to give challenges, devotionals, and short messages. Let your pastor or youth pastor know you’d like to have opportunities to share the Word. Go ahead and work on a message even before you’re asked to give one.
  • Ask your pastor to show you how to put together a simple Bible message. When you’re given an opportunity to speak, prepare as diligently as you can and pray for God’s help. Enjoy the opportunity and learn from it.

Taking these steps will give you an opportunity to experience this important part of pastoral work. By learning and doing, you will find out if you like it and if you are gifted at it.

Next time we’ll talk about a pastor’s second main responsibility, spiritually caring for people.

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Three Basic Steps

Hiking TrailI believe it will help young men who are interested in pastoral ministry to receive encouragement and guidance. If you haven’t already, read Getting Started. Now let’s talk about three more basic steps you can take.

Read Relevant Scripture

A very important and helpful basic step is reading relevant sections of the Bible. Here are a few suggestions. The first two relate to seeking God’s direction for your life. The rest are about the ministry.

Romans 12:1-2

Psalm 25

Acts 20:28

Ephesians 4:1-16

1 Timothy 1:12-14

1 Timothy 3:1-7

1 Peter 5:1-4

You might want to read one of these passages a day for a week. Think about each one and how it impacts you. Journal your thoughts. Pray for God to use His Word to guide you. There may be parts you don’t understand or that you want to learn more about. Ask your pastor to explain them to you.

If God is directing you toward ministry, these passages will probably intrigue you. You will want to understand more of what pastoral ministry involves. You might even feel excited about the possibility.

Pray for God to Direct You

Prayer is another basic step in considering pastoral ministry. If you haven’t prayed much before or aren’t sure what to pray about, now is a good time to learn! The Bible actually provides examples of what to pray for. Let’s look at two places in the Bible that can help you pray about God’s direction for your life.

The first is Psalm 25:4-5. This is one of the passages for reading that was suggested above. This Psalm contains several requests that have to do with knowing what God wants you to do. You can adopt these words as your own or rephrase them in your own way. Express them to God in prayer.

 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

The second is Colossians 1:9-10. Paul prayed this for other people. You can pray it for yourself.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

God isn’t hiding His will from you! If He wants you to be a pastor or in a similar ministry vocation, He will make it clear to you. These prayers communicate to Him that you are open to His direction in your life and you are eager for Him to show you. As David said in Psalm 25:9, He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

Connect With Your Pastor

You may have noticed  I repeatedly encourage you to talk to and spend time with your pastor. This is a very important step on the pathway to pastoral ministry. Scripture shows us that God uses men who are already in ministry to identify qualities in those who will become pastors and to enlist them in ministry.

Paul did this for Timothy. He speaks of it in 1 Timothy 4:14 where he says to Timothy, Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. In 2 Timothy 1:6 he says something similar: For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

The laying on of hands indicated recognition of God’s call on Timothy’s life. Paul along with other leaders in the church formally affirmed that call. They had observed Timothy’s life, knew his character, and recognized qualities that enabled him to serve in ministry.

In the same way, church leaders today recognize and affirm God’s call on a man’s life and his readiness to serve in ministry. This is why it’s important for your pastor to know you and have a part in preparing you for ministry.

You might think your pastor is too busy with important work to take time with you. Most pastors will be thrilled if a young man wants to talk about going into ministry. Sure, he has a lot to do, but if you initiate getting together, he will most likely be glad to do it. In some church settings there may be multiple pastors. You might feel comfortable connecting with a youth pastor or other assistant pastor.

A good place to start is just a conversation. Invite him to have coffee with you, your treat. Share with him your thoughts and questions about ministry. Ask him to pray for you and give you any advice he has. Let him know you are available to help in the church and you’d like to learn about ministry.

As you get more involved in the church, stay in touch with him. Update him periodically on how you are thinking about future ministry. Ask him questions about various situations you face. Invite him to point out areas in your character where you need to grow.

If God directs you farther along the pathway to pastoral ministry, this relationship will encourage you and help you along the way. There may be other pastors or ministry leaders you develop relationships with as well. Cultivate and maintain these connections. Continue to ask for prayer, seek input in your life, and update them on your progress.

Now let’s take the next step on the path.

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry: Getting Started

Hiking TrailI want to give encouragement and guidance to young men who are thinking about being a pastor. This is the first of several articles on the topic. Please share this with young men you know who would find it helpful.

What was the first thought you had about ministry? I remember mine. I was in high school, a sophomore I think. This thought crossed my mind: “I would never want to be a pastor.” That’s funny to remember now, because I became one.

You might have thought about it positively, not in a negative way like I did. Your thoughts might be described as curiosity. Or you may even have a desire to be in ministry. Possibly your first thought was when someone said, “Have you thought about going into the ministry?”

Once you have those first thoughts about ministry, questions probably pop into your head. “What do pastors do?” “Would I even know how?” “How do I know if God wants me to be a pastor?”

These are very natural questions. Anyone would have them. I hope to answer them in this series of articles.

Let me share a little of my experience of God directing me into ministry. I attended a Christian school and sang in the choir. Our choir traveled to churches in the area to present a program in which I had a narration part. I basically quoted a few verses of Scripture and repeated memorized lines that tied the verses to the song we were about to sing.

Several times, people in the audience made comments like, “You sound great. You should be a preacher!” I seem to remember it was usually little old ladies saying such things. I didn’t pay much attention, just thanked them and smiled.

My senior year in high school, when we were planning our senior trip, our class sponsor asked me to give a devotional message on the Sunday we were away. That was the first time I ever studied a passage of Scripture and shared what I learned with other people. I was extremely nervous, but really enjoyed it.

When I finished high school, my parents and I moved. After our U-Haul truck was loaded, my parents had me drive ahead to the motel where we spent our first night while they cleaned and closed up the house. As I drove, I prayed. Words of surrender to God came from my heart. I let God know I wanted to do His will and asked Him to show me what it was.

From that time on, I experienced a steadily growing burden to be a pastor, and especially to preach and teach the Bible. I went to a Christian college and majored in Bible with a minor in Greek (the original language of the New Testament).

After graduation, I attended seminary. During college and seminary, I was given opportunities to serve in churches, and especially enjoyed teaching and preaching. I discovered that the ministry of the Word was my passion and gift.

During my last year of seminary, a pastor contacted me about serving as a youth pastor. I had not known until that point what I would do after graduation. God opened a door for me to be a pastor! I served there for four years, teaching and discipling teens.

My pastor generously gave me opportunities to preach to the whole church. These preaching opportunities cultivated in me a desire to preach to a broader audience. He encouraged me to be open to pastoring a church.

I was contacted by a church of about 75 people who were looking for a pastor. My wife and I visited there, I preached and answered their questions, and they voted to call me as their pastor. Again, God opened the door! At the age of 31 I became the pastor of a church!

The questions related to knowing what to do and being able to do it can be fairly easily answered. If you are meant to be a pastor – as in, God wants you to be one – you will learn what you need to know and God will give you the ability you need. He doesn’t leave you on your own to figure it out for yourself.

In fact, the Bible gives many instructions for pastors. They are especially contained in the section of the Bible called the Pastoral Epistles. These are letters written to men in ministry – Timothy and Titus. The Pastoral Epistles are 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus. You can read these and learn some of what a pastor does. There are additional specific instructions given in 1 Peter 5:1-4.

What should you do if you have thoughts about the ministry or if someone suggests that you think about it? You should take those thoughts and suggestions seriously. God uses the desires of our heart to guide us when we are yielded to Him. He also uses other people who recognize gifts in us that we don’t realize we have.

Pray and make yourself available to God. Tell Him you want to do whatever will please Him and fulfill His will. If you are struggling with being willing to serve Him, be honest with your Heavenly Father about it. Tell Him about your struggle and ask Him to help you with it.

Another step you can take is to talk with your parents. Share with them the thoughts you’re having. Often parents provide wise input and can help you know how to process what you’re experiencing. A conversation with your pastor would also be good. He would be glad to know that you are thinking about ministry and would give you helpful advice as well. These people who care about you will pray for you.

These are initial steps you can take as you consider the pathway to pastoral ministry. Be assured that God will not leave you wondering what to do. If He wants you on this path, you will know. He will make the steps plain before you. Just follow Him.

Next time we’ll talk about more steps on the pathway to pastoral ministry.