"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (I Corinthians 15:58)
It was over twelve years ago that the little church I'd pastored for over twenty years was closed and I stepped out of full-time ministry and into what some people call "the real world". During my first two years in "the real world" I struggled with anger, defensiveness, and self-pity.
That was then, and this is now. I've hated much about my life during these years, but I must admit I've changed. I also must admit that much about my exile from full-time ministry has been very healthy and enriching for me. I got to thinking recently about things I wish I'd done differently when I was a pastor. I don't know if I will ever pastor again. It seems unlikely. But if I ever do pastor again, it's likely I'd be very different from what I was in the past. Here are some examples:
1. I'd be more of a "People Person". My dental hygienist complimented me a few weeks ago, telling me as I sat in the dental chair that I'm a People Person. I'm really not! And I guess you can't force yourself to be a People Person. I'm not saying I'd become this extroverted, warm, super engaging guy. But, I would make an effort at it. I think people need to know they're valued by their pastor.
2. I very much "Played Favorites" as a pastor. I'm not sure I could totally eliminate that, but I would focus much more on "The Least of These". I didn't focus on "The Least of These" when I was pastoring. What a terrible mistake! In fact, disabled and special needs people are very close to the heart of God. A pastor ought to be one who genuinely loves, affirms, encourages, and ministers to all people. I guarantee that were I pastoring now - that would be me!
3. A pastor should be vulnerable and compassionate. Honestly, as a pastor I think I did pretty well in the vulnerability area. Many ministers will never admit their weaknesses and struggles. I did. I would continue to be willing to be vulnerable. Now, when it came to being compassionate, I wasn't always the best. My experience of exile and humiliation has greatly helped in this area. I was the kind of pastor who acted compassionate because "that's what pastors are supposed to do". Today, I've surprised myself about how compassionate I am. If anybody from Bread of Life Church where I attend now has experienced me praying over you, listening to you, and exhorting and encouraging you, please know I did not do that "because I was supposed to". Several months ago I brought a word of prayer and encouragement to a couple going through a difficult trial. I broke down crying as I ministered to them. I was embarrassed. But that was genuine. I think and pray about others often. It's much deeper and more heartfelt than it was in the past.
4. I'd have more friendships and relationships with other ministers. When I pastored I did have a number of liberal clergy friends. I also had a number of minister friends from other evangelical organizations. I had very few close relationships with other Assemblies of God ministers. I tended to feel uncomfortable around them and that I was in competition with them. I don't feel that way now at all. Honestly, I have more Assemblies of God minister friends today than I've ever had. When things go well for them I rejoice. When they are having difficulties I stand with them and support them.
5. I was very poor regarding the "Business End" of pastoring. And over half of the work you do in ministry involves the "Business End". I guess I was embarrassed that I was so weak in this area. Were I pastoring again, I'd seek help from those who are gifted in this area.
6. It's tragic that so many Assemblies of God people are embarrassed about our Pentecostal heritage and about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I did preach on the Holy Spirit Baptism every Pentecost Sunday. And I do pray in tongues in private pretty much every day. But I was one of those pastors who "soft peddled" the Holy Spirit Baptism. My missionary daughter Amy received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit two weeks into her years as an Evangel University student. Why didn't she get the Baptism years earlier? Did I genuinely encourage the people of our church about the importance of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit? Well, somewhat. But not like I should have! Were I pastoring today, I'd be one of those "Old Fashioned Holy Ghost Preachers"! And I'd never "soft peddle" my Pentecostalism.
Well, that's it. I will never be asked to speak in a chapel service in one of our Assemblies of God colleges or universities. But if I ever did receive such an invitation, this is what I'd tell them.