Am I doing this right? What should I be doing different? What am I doing right? Should we be growing more? Should I seek out ways to build a bigger church? What does it mean to be faithful in pastoral ministry? Why is this so hard? These are just a few questions that were addressed and answered this past week at the 9Marks conference for new pastors called First Five Years in Charlotte, NC. I along with hundreds of other young pastors sat and listened to young pastors themselves speak about their own hopes, pitfalls, joys, failures, successes, and hardships in their first five years of ministry, and I was greatly helped. The overall tone was the desire for young pastors to not merely survive, but thrive, in our first five years of ministry. (The above picture are a few of the books they either gave away or had on sale, quality stuff.)
This is the first time 9Marks has done this conference and I hope they do it again. Here is a brief summary of what went down:
Talk 1: John Onwuchekwa – Usefulness in ministry is an awful goal for pastoral ministry. Productivity is an awful north star for pastoral ministry. Matthew 7:21 shows that many useful ministers are now in hell. What then should out goal be? Faithfulness. Relax, settle in for the long haul…strive to be faithful, God will bring results according to His will and purpose in His timing.
Talk 2: Edgar Aponte – Though trials in ministry may be large at times, and though they tempt us to doubt God’s faithfulness to us, trials are not the end of our story, comfort is. God purposefully brings trial into our lives and the lives of our congregations to bring us to new pastures. Everything will fade away as grass, but the Word of God will endure forever – therefore build your ministry on the Word, not on grass.
Talk 3: Bobby Jamieson – How we relate baptism to church membership teaches our people the significance of both. Thus, we must eagerly pursue the entrance into church membership through baptism. Baptism is how a believer commits themselves to the church and submits themselves to the authority of Christ’s lordship. If we remove the tie between baptism and church membership we move away from Biblical church membership.
Talk 4: John Worsley – We sometimes tend to forget that churches face a real hindrance to gospel growth due to a deep-rooted violent satanic influence. This will tempt us to trust ourselves for church growth, or tempt us to think God is not doing anything at all among your congregation. Solution? Trust God steadfastly for growth. He grows His Church in His way and in His time.
Talk 5: Ken Mbugua – Pride is one of the largest temptations you will face as a pastor. It is so dangerous because it tends to camouflage itself in a million different ways. To fight our pride, and we should fight our pride, we should: 1) commit to keep our eyes on the cross because the One crucified on the cross is the only One who deserves glory, 2) place our confidence in God’s power rather than our own to accomplish His work among His people, and 3) keep an eye on judgment day because knowing how we’ll one day be laid bare before God only to have assurance in the blood of Christ will keep us in our rightful and humble place.
Talk 6: Anthony Moore – How can we move through the suffering we’ll see in the lives of our people? How can we continue on through the suffering we’ll see in our own hearts? Knowing that God is good, God is present, and that God is not silent. He brings suffering into our lives as the great surgeon, cutting us in deep/painful ways to rid us of harmful things. We should never waste our suffering.
Talk 7: Jeremy Yong – What is the key to successful shepherding? Love. But more specifically loving Christ’s sheep with the love that He loves them with. How do we do this? By loving Christ supremely. A supreme love for Christ brings forth a love for His people because we you love Christ you come to love the very things that Christ loves. Therefore Christ’s purposes for His Church become our purposes for His Church if we love Christ. Our purposes and plans will fall into the background and His will remain, strong and steadfast.
Talk 8: Tahiti Anyabwile – What is the one thing that should consume your first five years of ministry, the very thing that will pave the foundation of your ministry for the next 50 years? Encourage your people. Why encourage? Because the gospel is encouraging. These churches are not ours, they’re Christ’s. We’re called to serve His people by encouraging them in the gospel. Do this in public, in private, in sermons, in counseling, and in all you do encourage your people.
Talk 9: Trip Lee – As a pastor what is the main thing you’re to give your attention to? 1 Timothy 4:16 gives us the answer: your teaching and yourself. By doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. Be sure of this, that you embrace and believe yourself what you call your people to embrace and believe! That you heartily and affectionately love the Savior of sinners you call your people to love. Pastor, it matters not mainly that you teach, but what you teach. It matters not mainly that you live, but how you live.
Talk 10: Harshit Singh – Investing faithful doctrine, into faithful men, who then faithfully do this to other men is true discipleship. This is the longterm Church growth principle that the Bible gives us to take up and put into practice. No fancy gimmicks, or cool fads but long, messy, life-on-life, one-on-one discipleship. This is not a factory set up for mass production, this takes a lifetime. Faithful leaders, entrusting faithful doctrine, to faithful men is the Biblical pattern for discipleship.
Talk 11: Mark Dever – ‘…preach the Word…” How do you know if you’re preaching a good sermon? What is a good sermon? What is a bad sermon? A good sermon is 3 things: faithful to the text, theologically truthful, and contextually applied. Preaching the Word of God is the God-ordained way He intends to grow His people. The preaching of God’s Word is the very thing God uses to accomplish His will in the lives of all His people. Therefore ministry done according to God’s will is ministry done according to God’s Word. God’s work, done in God’s way, never lacks God’s blessing.
Talk 12: Shai Linne – Pastors ought to be men of prayer. Prayers of praise, prayers of intercession, prayers of confession, prayers of thanksgiving, praying publicly, praying privately, praying for the nations, praying for other churches, and praying expectantly. If the pastor is not on his knees seeking the face of God for himself, his family, and his congregation – can he really expect God to move in power?
Talk 13: Garrett Kell – Pastors who love Jesus should labor to have pure hearts and pure lives. Why? Because it is only through purity that one see’s God (Matthew 5:8). We are commanded to see the lavish grace we’ve been given in the gospel, and once we see such lavish grace bountiful gratitude should explode into our hearts leading us to purify ourselves more and more (1 John 3:1-3).
Of course, these basic summaries of all 13 talks given only scratch the surface of what we learned together. I was rebuked, confronted, challenged, comforted, exhorted, and encouraged in the gospel. And I am glad I’m back so I can begin to put these things into practice so my first five years in ministry are not spent by surviving, but by thriving for the glory of the gospel of the grace of Christ.