An Open Letter to Young Pastors From a Retired Pastor

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From Brother Joe, veteran shepherd of six pastorates, to Brother Timothy as he begins what we trust will be a long and fruit ministry of leading churches.

Greetings!

I hear you're having a tough time of it.

Good. Glad to hear it.

As I got it, a group in the church doesn't care for your leadership. They find fault with your sermons. They probably don't like the color of your tie (or worse, the fact that you don't wear one).

What makes their opposition ominous is that they are the leaders of the church. Not a good thing.

Unity is always better than division.

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You came close to resigning, I was told. You probably felt, "If I don't have the support of these elected leaders of the church, then I'll not be able to do anything here."

Perhaps you wrote out a resignation to see what it would feel like.

It felt wrong. You knew you were displeasing the wrong one, the Father who sent you there in the first place.

So, you chose to hang in there and try to give leadership to a church that is not sure it wants any.

Welcome to the ministry.

Scripture says, "It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth" (Lam. 3:27). Whatever else that means, it seems to be saying, "You might as well learn early on what you've gotten yourself into."

I saw this sign in front of a church: "Hang out with Jesus; He hung out for you."

You have chosen to "hang in there with Jesus."

In some respects—not in major, literal ways, but somewhat—it feels like a cross where you are suspended.

Hang in there.

Now, young pastor, the situation you find yourself in can do one of two things to your ministry (actually, it's His ministry; He has just called you to work in His field for a short time):

— It can destroy you and end any further usefulness you have to the Kingdom.

— It can be the best thing that ever happened to your ministry.

Everything depends on what you do with this opposition and harassment.

First, let's consider those people who do not like your style, who don't care for your preaching and who wish you would do them a favor and leave. If you let them, they will rob you of your joy, steal any pleasure you have in serving the Lord and undermine any future you have in this work.

If you are normal—and I'm betting you are—you were already wondering if you could do this in the first place. Preaching is hard work, coming up with something biblical, nourishing and interesting to preach is tough, and then doing it before harsh critics makes it doubly difficult. So, you begin to have thoughts like, "Maybe they're right. Maybe I should have gone into some other work. I'm not cut out for this."

Stop this foolishness.

That's enemy talk. He loves to discourage a good field-hand for Jesus. And no wonder. If he can stop you from working and send you to the bunkhouse, he has won a rare victory over the Lord.

You ask, "But if I can't lead this little congregation, how in the world can I expect to pastor a larger church?"

Answer: One has nothing to do with the other.

There are plenty of small congregations no pastor on earth can lead successfully.

Timothy, I can take you to ministers who were run off from their first church but did outstanding work in their next churches. The first was the hardest.

I'll be greatly disappointed if I get word you are hanging your head in the pulpit, muting the message and tempering the call for men and women to obey the Lord.

If you let the fear of these people and the hunger for their approval drive what you do in the Lord's work, you'll soon be out of work and it will be a good thing.

God doesn't want His preachers to cringe in the face of opposition or discouragement. Nor does He want you craving the approval of the leadership. Jesus told the first disciples, "I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Matt. 10:16a). What could be clearer than that?

Opposition is not par for the course, my friend. It is the course.

God uses it in your life. The abrasion will scrub away the barnacles picked up from too much time immersed in this world's ways. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes" (Ps. 119:71, NKJV).

Stand up straight, look them in the eye, smile the smile of the saved and the knowing and speak out the word Christ has given you as though you were had just been voted Most Effective Preacher of the Year by the heavenly panel itself!

We said one of two things could happen to your ministry as a result of the tightrope you are now walking: You can grow discouraged and quit, or it can be the best thing that ever happened to you.

Those critics are doing you a big favor, whether they mean to or not. (Let's not automatically attribute satanic motives to them. Many of them doubtless mean well, but have never been taught how to relate to the shepherd the Lord sends their way.)

For the rest of this article, visit joemckeever.com.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

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