I guess you could say that my calling has been a little like Amos’s. The prophet Amos was not like the others. He was an ordinary shepherd. He did not come from a family of priests or prophets. He just did what God called him to do, and found himself doing the Lord’s work as a prophet.
Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14–15, ESV)
When I look at Amos, I can see that my calling is a little like Amos’s. I am not a pastor’s kid nor did I come from a lineage of pastors. I did not have a pastor take me under his wing to mentor me once I received a call to ministry. I did not have my name passed around in ministry circles while I was in seminary. I did not have a seasoned pastor to call on when I took my first pastorate.
Honestly, I was like Amos in the sense that there were times that I just knew what the Lord called me to do and I was merely committed to doing that. Because of all of this, over time I learned a great deal through experience. Granted, a lot of that experience was gained by learning what not to do. But experience nonetheless.
Looking back I wish someone would have told me a few things while I was looking for my first pastorate. Therefore, here are a few things that I wish I would have known when I was looking for my first church.
Don’t Get In A Rush
Let’s face it, churches do not move quickly. Many pastoral search teams consist of lay volunteers, working full-time jobs, and giving up the evenings to work for their church. In some seasons of the year, the church calendar can be so busy that it is difficult to schedule meetings, causing the pastoral search process to take months.
Understand this, don’t get in a rush to make things happen quickly. Patience is what we need here. Be patient with the church, be patient with the search teams, be patient in the Lord’s calling.
Don’t Get Frustrated
The process of finding your first position can be frustrating. Finding the right church for you is hard. Then add the fact that some churches will not respond to your applications, and others will call you in for an interview and then never call you back. The whole thing is difficult when you’re anxious to get on the field. You can get frustrated with this.
But don’t get frustrated. I understand that this is hard, but Christians are called to have peace. When you feel tempted to get frustrated, call on God for his peace. Peace is what we need in this process.
Don’t Forget To Pray . . . A Lot.
I know how it is looking for your first pastorate. You cruise all the job boards constantly, and you call associations to find open positions. The search takes a ton of time, and it can be consuming. Some will just apply for any place that is open. They tell themselves that they’re like Gideon laying out their fleece. When in reality, they’re just not praying it through as they should.
Guys, don’t forget to pray. There is a lot at stake here. Not only is this a transition for you and your family but this also a big jump for the church. Prayer is what we need, and we need a lot of it.
Don’t Forget To Look For Divine Appointments
We serve a sovereign God who cares much for his church and his pastors. Remember this truth when you are searching for your first pastorate. One of the ways that God shows me that He is in control is through divine appointments. I cannot even tell you all of the times that God has brought a person into my life for his purposes and in many cases, this has happened while I was being called to a new pastorate.
Therefore, look for the ways that God is leading you. Maybe he is opening a door for you through a previous relationship that was rekindled or perhaps he is bringing a new person into your life who will help link you to your new ministry. Honestly, I do not understand all the ways that God works in these matters. But I have experienced Him do amazing things when calling someone to a church.
Don’t Limit Your Ministry Field
I know the blessing of being close to your family or ministering to a city that you love. But do not limit your ministry field based on relationships or familiarity to a town. Do not be that guy that says to God, “I will serve you with all that I am for all of my life as long as I serve here.” I know that this is hard. To be sent to a place far from home and where you know no one can be terrifying.
My first ministry assignment was like this for my wife and I. We both grew up in the city, and I assumed that we would always minister in that city, close to our families. But when I received the call to go to a small, country town several hours away from our home, I knew that I had to go and see if that was where God was calling us. Let me tell you, the town was nothing like our hometown. The people were different, the culture was different, the amenities were different, and we knew no one. This was a scary process for us. But over the course of my time there we grew to love that town and all the people. God did an amazing work in that church and in us that I would not trade my time there for the world.
Sometimes we think we know what is best for our ministry and we want to tell God how to do things. But what I have found is that God desires to show us something greater. Open your ministry field. Let God show you the best place for you to serve.
Don’t Give Up On The Work
One of the weirdest things I have seen guys do while looking for a pastorate is stop working in their current ministry positions. They may be a student pastor or small group leader, and when they begin to search for their first pastorate, they quit the ministry they are working in.
This makes no sense. One of the first questions a pastoral search committee is going to ask you about serving in their church is, “What are you doing in ministry now?” and if your answer is, “well, nothing” then that is not going to be a good thing. Furthermore, what is that telling the church? Are you saying that you only want to serve the church if you are in the lead position? That is not the heart of a pastor.
Guys, don’t give up on the work. God’s calling requires you to pastor in whatever context you are living in. Just because you do not have a title at the moment doesn’t mean you can give up on the ministry.
There were so many things that I learned about myself, the church, and God in those seasons that I wish that I could share it with all of you. But that would be one crazy long post, and I have gone on long enough.
In closing I will say this, If you are in the season of looking for your first assignment, I hope and pray that these words will guide you and encourage you.
Remember that we serve a great God, and He is in control of ALL things. Do not let the process overwhelm you, keep your hand to the plow, and your eyes on Jesus. He will place you where He wants you.
PhD Evangelism (ABD) @swbts.