What an Idiot: Lessons I am Learning as a Young Pastor
By Sean W. Corser
I preached my first sermon when I was 23. It was awful. The preparation was grueling. I thought I was going to be sick the night before. I called the associate pastor and said I couldn’t preach. Then I got up there and lectured to the church for what seemed like days. For the past 5 years I have preached around 100 sermons at my church, other churches, BCM’s, student ministries, and college ministries.
As I now enter into a regular preaching ministry, I have learned some things that I hope will be encouraging. No doubt, these lessons will change as I experience and learn new things. It really makes me wish I knew more about my 35, 45, and 55-year-old self. But, as they say, maturity and growth, faithfulness and obedience, don’t manifest overnight. These characteristics take time. So with that in mind, here are 3 things I have learned while preaching regularly.
You really don’t know all the things you don’t know
Whether it is scriptural knowledge, how to break down a sermon, or what application or illustration to use when there it is as if I stare aimlessly into the universe of pastoral ministry with a microscope. Pastoral counseling, how and when to make necessary and hard decisions about Christ’s church is difficult. But experiencing these things in a real-life setting forces you to make the decisions. To seek God’s word and pray that your decision is in line with scripture and is what is best for the church.
What I was most surprised by is my lack of knowledge of God’s word. Now, it may be important for you to know that God saved me when I was young, I grew up in the church, and have a seminary degree. By all intents and purposes I should know the Bible backwards and forwards, but when you are preaching through books of the bible expositionally you are made aware of aspects you never knew were there. You experience the riches in the text week after week and are caused to humbly remind yourself of your own lack of giving yourself to God’s word.
Application: If the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know” is true, then it would be wise to avail yourself to as many resources as possible, namely scripture. Take time to drink deeply from the well of scripture. You will not regret it personally and you will not regret it down the road in your ministry.
Pastoral affection is more valuable than communicative charisma
I mentioned my first sermon earlier, and you may be wondering how it went; the actual delivery. It was horrible. For 30-minutes I essentially laid out that the demographics of our city did not match the makeup of our congregation. Though this message may have been needed, the tone of it is exactly what you would expect a new preacher’s demeaner to be; hard, callous, devoid of compassion. It wasn’t long after this sermon that God began to break my heart for the way I handled it as well as for the congregation.
If I were to go back and preach that same message it would be very different. Why? because the love I have for them has grown. I am learning that every word I speak from the pulpit and in life will be taken account on the last day. That is weighty. As the finest 20th century preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another." I love to preach, I loved to preach, and now I am learning what it is like to love those whom I preach to.
Application: Our calendars are always working against us so make time to spend with your congregation. The 15-30 minutes on Sundays and Wednesdays are not enough. Get to know them, their likes and dislikes, their families, and most importantly learn about their relationship with the Lord. When you do this you will develop a deep affection for them as you care tenderly for them.
Slow and small steps of obedience lead to great things
You may be familiar with Bill Murray’s movie “What About Bob” Murray plays a man who is dealing with all kinds of psychological imbalances and issues which lead him to see a psychiatrist who gives him the advice of taking regular “baby-steps” Though drastically different from the advice of a psychiatrist, sanctification takes many Spirit-empowered steps toward obedience over time that lead in the progressive transformation toward Christ-likeness.
Often I desire the silver bullet that will get me there yesterday post-haste, but I am learning that this silver-bullet does not exist. Faithfulness is seen 20-years into ministry, 30-years into your marriage, and once your children are old and make you a grandparent. Don’t let the immediate desire for a platform or recognition drown out your desire to be found faithful before the Lord. I hope I can look back in 20 years to this post and say, “what an idiot!” and praise God that his sanctifying grace is never ending for the believer.
Application: Since we are being sanctified gradually until the day we are glorified, we must recognize our own imperfections; pastoral, familial, relational, parental. We are fallen and in deep need of repentance. Regular repentance reminds us of our humanity and causes us to strive toward something better; to Christ-likeness.
Drink deeply from the well of scripture, develop an authentic affection for your people by spending time with them, and lastly, regular repentance leads to steps of Christ-likeness. These are just a few things I am learning as a young pastor. I hope you find them challenging as well as encouraging.