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Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry
1. Don’t procrastinate. Become a candidate for ministry in your denomination as early as possible. Follow your candidates committee’s instructions to a tee.
Don’t put off candidacy and its requirements until the end of your seminary career. If you do, you will complete your seminary requirements, but be unready to accept a call because you’ve failed to submit to your denomination’s ordination requirements. That may mean you are many months away from accepting a call. Show respect for your denomination and love for your family by staying on track.
PCA students need to keep in mind the following:
- You must be a member for at least six months of a church in the presbytery where you want to come under care.
- You must also be endorsed by the session of that church before it is possible to become a candidate and intern.
- Prior to ordination, you must complete a presbytery internship, which must last at least 12 months.
- The process to be ready to be ordained requires a minimum of 18 months to complete, and, for most candidates, is closer to 30 months. RTS Jackson students: Presbytery Credentials Committee will host an informational lunch at Patterson’s Porch on Thursday, September 21, at noon. If you are even remotely interested in ordination in the PCA, then you should make plans to attend.
2. Prepare your resume carefully. Proofread and get someone else to proofread. Expect your prospective employer to verify each detail. Be accurate. The care with which you prepare your resume is one indicator of the care you will take with the work your future church entrusts to you.
3. Circulate your resume widely. Ask minister friends if they know of openings. Not every position is listed on your denomination’s website, and some positions may be coming open and not yet announced.
4. Compose a cover letter (or email). Attach to each resume a cover letter addressed to the person or committee responsible for receiving your resume. Tailor each cover letter to the position. Proofread and get someone else to proofread. Ask a friend in business to critique your cover letter before you send it. Your cover letter creates your first impression.
5. Include references. Include their names in your resume. Don’t make the pulpit committee ask for them. Make sure you have obtained permission to use their names, and that their contact information is correct.
6. Keep your resume current. Double-check all contact information for you and your references.
7. Be thoughtful. Acknowledge all inquiries with a handwritten thank you note.
8. Be prepared. At interviews, either preliminary or when formally candidating
- Wear a suit.
- Take two handkerchiefs, one for yourself and one for someone else, if needed. A gentleman is always thinking of others.
- Answer questions as briefly as possible. Don’t ramble.
- Answer all questions directly and honestly.
- Ask the pulpit search committee questions and listen intently to their answers. A good pastor is a good listener.
- Sit up straight. Look at people when they speak to you. Manners matter.
- Stand up when ladies enter the room. You are a gentleman.
- Write thank-you notes to the entire pulpit committee. It’s an honor to be granted an interview.
- Write thank-you notes to anyone who helps you during your visit. For example, if you’re meeting with a committee at someone’s office and his assistant gets you a drink while you wait, send the assistant a thank you note. Acknowledge the kind service to you.
- In emails, use formal elements of style, like “Dear Mr. Adams” and “Yours in Christ, Charlie.” Use good grammar. Punctuate properly. Use upper case letters at the beginning of a sentence and wherever appropriate. Avoid slang. Check your spelling.
9. Disclose. If you have been under church discipline or have ever had any problems with the law, you need to tell the pulpit search committee. If you fail to disclose and the committee obtains the information during their reference and background check, they will question your honesty and wonder what else you are withholding. Your candidacy will almost certainly come to an end.
10. Engage people. When you are candidating at a church, speak to everyone, and especially to the children. Learn names.
11. Be grateful. It is an honor to be asked to candidate. Be thankful – to God and the congregation.
12. Treat your wife as your partner. Discuss together, pray together, decide together. You are a team.
Do you want a more effective ministry to your community? Then read your local newspaper.
I subscribe to four newspapers: The Yazoo Herald, The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson), The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. By far the most important is the The Yazoo Herald. Here’s why:
My church worships and serves in a community. Like all churches, my congregation represents only a slice of the community’s population. If my only interest is the people in my congregation, I lose sight of my neighbors, and that hardly squares with the admonition to love my neighbor. The local paper brings me back to the people and institutions that shape my city.
What do I look for in the paper?
Government officials. I have a responsibility to pray for them in the public worship services of the church (1 Tim 2:1-2). What are their names? What are the challenges they face? How can I encourage them – either by letter or an encouraging word?
From time to time, I will disagree with those who lead my city – elected officials, law enforcement officers, social service providers, and educators. Nevertheless, I pray for their success. Why? Because the welfare of my church’s members is bound up in the welfare of my city (see Jeremiah 29:7).
Resources. Who are the caregivers in the community? Are there people in my congregation who need their help?
Achievements. Who in my congregation and circle of relationships is publicly recognized in the newspaper? We rejoice with those who rejoice. In our congregation, newspaper articles about our members are put on a poster board for all to see and congratulate.
Condolences. Read the obituaries. The deceased may not be members, but they may have many friends in your flock. Pray for their families and churches and friends. We grieve with those who grieve.
Networks. Learn about the many organizations that improve the quality of life in your community. They deserve your encouragement. Chances are that members of your congregation may need their services. Be ready to help them make the connections.
Poverty. Every community has poor and marginalized residents who can easily be forgotten. Without thinking, the affluent may live as if they don’t exist. A good newspaper makes readers mindful of all the community, including those who can be easily forgotten.
Events. Parades, patriotic celebrations, memorial days, and school concerts and competitions bring communities – our communities – together, and they are all advertised in the local paper. Attend, and build goodwill and friendships.
Church News. My congregation is one small part of my city’s Christian family. The community calendar directs me to gatherings of other congregations. I love to visit when I am able, and my life is enriched by relationships outside of my immediate church family; it also helps me get to know other pastors in the area.
Advertising. Inasmuch as possible, I want to support local businesses; this is a concrete way to love and support my neighbor.
Another day I’ll share about the benefits of reading other papers. But today my burden is for the local paper, and in my home, none is more important than The Yazoo Herald.
I want my ministry students at RTS Jackson to become skilled in pastoral visitation, which includes visiting people in their homes.
In the late 19th century, Bishop J.C. Ryle was troubled by “a growing disposition throughout the land, among the clergy, to devote an exaggerated amount of attention to what I must call the public work of ministry, and to give comparatively too little attention to pastoral visitation and personal dealing with individual souls.”
In his excellent biography of Ryle, Iain Murray comments:
“However eloquent or apparently knowledgeable a preacher may be, there will be something seriously lacking in the man who is not to be found in the homes of his people. Sermons which come only from the study are not likely to be messages which bind speaker and hearers together in a common bond of affection and sympathy. A preacher must be a visitor and be ready to preach everywhere. Few circumstances can justify the omission. If the excuse be offered that there is too much public work to do, to give time to the private, then the priorities are wrong.”
Facebook, blogs, and other public forums, because of the number of people supposedly reached, may tempt a minister to abandon more traditional, boots-on-the-ground ministry. This is wrong. Social media may assist a minister in his work, but it is no substitute for the work of gathering with people in their homes to pray, instruct, counsel, evangelize, and encourage.
Source: Iain H. Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016), 141.
Thirty years ago today I was ordained to the gospel ministry at Faith Presbyterian Church in Morganton, North Carolina. You only get one first church, and this one couldn’t have been better. Loving and caring and encouraging, its members will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Apart from my sons’ and grandchildren’s birthdays and the anniversary of my marriage to Lynne, my ordination day is the most memorable and important date in my life. Lynne makes the day special – a card, gift, and dinner – just one example of the many ways she stands beside me in my work.
My interest in the ministry began long before I ever preached. Since I was a teenager, I wanted to to be a pastor. My Dad influenced the direction my life would take. His care for congregations inspired me, and as I watched him go about his work, I sensed that pastoral ministry was the life God wanted for me. Dad’s moving prayer at my ordination service meant the world to me.
Certainly, ministry is full of joy, as well as challenges, setbacks, and disappointments. It deals with matters of eternal consequence. “Who is sufficient for these things?” Scottish Presbyterian minister James S. Stewart was right: “the first duty of a minister is to be a real man of prayer. Nothing one can do for God or man is so important as that. To maintain the spirit of prayer is just about the greatest thing a Christian (or anyone in the ministry very specially) can do for the world.”
For three decades God has given me the privilege of serving a succession of godly people in Christ-centered churches. So, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Paul calls the Philippian believers his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). That’s how pastors feel and think about their congregations, and that’s how I do.
For the beloved people I’ve served I thank God today.
1843 was a momentous year in Presbyterian history. The founders of the Free Church of Scotland abandoned homes, incomes, and church buildings to uphold the spiritual independence of Christ’s church. Their courage captured the attention of the evangelical world, and bequeathed stirring testimonies of faith and fortitude to subsequent generations of Bible-believing Presbyterians.
Author Sandy Finlayson skillfully sketches the lives of ten of these leaders in Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Bound together by love of the gospel, a high view of the authority of God’s word, confessional fidelity, and missionary outreach, these men nevertheless held a variety of opinions on controversial issues of the day: church union with other Presbyterian denominations, Roman Catholic emancipation, the evangelistic campaigns of Dwight L. Moody, and educational and social reforms in Scotland.
Conservative American Presbyterians should note the vigor with which several leader tackled widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunity, alcoholism, and other salient social ills. Their lives were spent among the people and for the people.
The author also recounts the personal foibles, bouts of pride, conflicts, and strained friendships – all helpful in reminding readers that there are no golden ages in church history when men were untouched by the frailties common to all. Until our Lord returns, learning to get along will prove hard work.
I enthusiastically recommend Unity and Diversity.
When ministers visit the flock, they bring the ministry of the word to homes, hospitals, prisons, and any other place where God’s people find themselves in need of a pastor’s care. Ministers should give special attention to the sick, for they often struggle with discouragement and doubt. They need reassurance of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus our Lord. The Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order helpfully reminds ministers that they “should visit the the people at their homes, and especially the sick” (8-3).
Learning to visit and care for the sick skillfully requires a thorough knowledge of God’s word, sympathy for the afflicted, lots of experience, and the personal example and wise counsel of seasoned pastors, which is why I found encouragement in Brian Croft’s Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness. The author is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, a congregation he has served since 2003.
Wisely – and before turning to nuts and bolts issues of pastoral visitation – the author offers a biblical theology of God’s care for the sick, observing that “the progression of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation contains an unfolding storyline that reveals two key themes: God is sovereign over sickness and healing, and God calls his people to care for the needy and afflicted.” (16) The history of the early church testifies to his “using sickness, pain, disease and suffering as a way of sanctifying his kingdom people and magnifying the worth of Christ.” (25) If our doctrine is not right, our attempts at pastoral care will harm.
Visit the Sick answers a number of practical questions: How do I prepare myself to visit the sick? What should I say? How do I ask leading questions that guide the conversation from immediate concerns to matters of eternal consequence? How do I share the gospel with patients and families who are not Christians? How long should I stay? What passages of scripture should I read? How will faithfully visiting the sick change me?
And when you are with the sick, the author cautions, don’t forget about eye contact, appropriate touch, facial expressions, posture and tone of voice – things easily forgotten but vital to meaningful care.
A new pastor will not be on the job long before he realizes he needs help. Thankfully, the final chapter outlines a strategy for equipping the church to care for the sick through preaching, prayer, personal example, and communicating to the congregation about the condition and needs of the suffering.
Visit the Sick is full of pastoral wisdom, and is a book that I hope all my seminary students will read, for “in caring for the sick, we enjoy the gift of exercising our faith in Christ.” (45)