The two commercial plane crashes in the last five months have sparked fear among the public, frustration among pilots, and a frantic effort at Boeing to fix whatever led to these tragedies. Everyone wants to know what went wrong. In the reporting that’s come out so far it seems there were two primary problems: a software malfunction with the planes and a training issue with the pilots. The pilots were not fully equipped to deal with the challenges that arose during these two flights, and the result was disastrous.
When it comes to safely flying a massive jet, with the lives of hundreds of people at stake, training obviously matters. No one wants to fly on a plane with an insufficiently trained pilot, and pilots themselves want to be sufficiently trained as well. And as pastors, we should want the same thing. As we lead the church, with the souls of many people entrusted to our care, our training matters.
And so Paul wisely instructed Pastor Timothy, Train yourself for godliness… Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:7, 13–16).
Training for pastoral ministry doesn’t end when we graduate seminary. There are many ways to train ourselves for godliness, to practice and immerse ourselves in further development, so that we might make progress. Here are 8 ways pastors can continue training for the good of the churches we shepherd:
1. Read Voraciously
Pastoral ministry involves a steady stream of content delivery. We preach sermons, we teach lessons, we give counsel, and so on. Yet, with all the output involved in the nature of our role, we need regular input if we’re going to serve in a sustainable way. You can’t give what you don’t have, and I don’t know a better way to gain fresh insight into the Word of God than by a regular diet of reading the Bible and solid Christian books. Fill up on good reading as often as you can, and you’ll find that you have more to share with the people you serve.
2. Write Carefully
The gospel is the best news in the world, and we want to share this good news and all the sound doctrine that surrounds it with as much clarity and precision as possible. Therefore, anytime you find yourself writing about Christ and his word, take it seriously. As you craft your sermons, your small group questions, your emails to church members, your Tweets and your texts, seek to write with a level of care worthy of your subject matter. Not only will this bless your people, but it will sharpen your own understanding of all that you teach.
3. Listen Purposefully
When it comes to solid gospel-centered content, we live with an amazing abundance of riches. There are more solid-doctrine-shaping and ministry-skill-sharpening sermons, podcasts, and audio books available today than we could possibly engage with in multiple lifetimes. However, one way to take advantage of more of these resources is to intentionally fill the gaps of your life with more purposeful listening. By all means, enjoy ESPN radio, but also take your car rides, your runs, your time mowing the lawn, and other opportunities to enjoy a something that will stimulate your mind and your heart for your ministry.
4. Meet Regularly
Pastors are called to shepherd the flock of God among us. In order to teach our people, counsel our people, pray for our people, and serve our people well, we need to know our people. Meeting regularly with members of your church will confront you with struggles you hadn’t considered, questions you’ve never answered, and problems you don’t know how to solve. Then, turning to the word, prayer, and wise counsel in order to work out the problems and help your people will further equip your for similar ministry opportunities in the future.
5. Teach Humbly
It’s wonderful to receive encouragement after preaching or teaching. It can be harder to hear constructive feedback from the congregation. Yet, when it comes we’d do well to see it as an opportunity. We should want to know if something we said was unclear, confusing, distracting, or unhelpful to someone in our church. Hearing these things may sting a bit, but if we’ll listen with humility and a desire to grow, we’ll learn how to avoid similar missteps in our future teaching.
6. Debate Wisely
I think every pastor needs good, trusted friends to argue with. Healthy debate is one of the best ways to clarify our positions on important matters, both by defending them well and receiving correction. Unfortunately, most of our debate these days seems to happen online, and I think a lot of us are rightfully skeptical of the value of a long Twitter argument. So, consider sitting down for a meal with a few pastor friends and kicking around some tough topics face to face. You’ll disagree, the conversation may even get heated, but when you shake hands and walk away you’ll all be better for it.
7. Translate Joyfully
Knowing the Greek and Hebrew is not essential to faithful ministry, but if you have the opportunity to learn the Bible’s original languages don’t disdain this gift. What a sweet thing it is to read the words of Paul’s letters and hear the sound of David’s poetry. Pastors, we want to dig as deep as we can into God’s word in order to bring out the most treasure for the people we serve. Spending time in the languages will cause you to slow down, ask questions you didn’t think to ask, and see things you wouldn’t see otherwise. Enjoy your time translating the Bible.
8. Pastor Officially
That’s an odd way of saying “get ordained,” but I wanted it to sound like the other 7 points. Just this week I sat on the ordination council of a friend of mine, reflecting on the wisdom of denominational credentialing. No pastor is an island unto himself. Willful submission to a denomination, a network, or some other group of pastors and churches provides healthy accountability we all need. The experience of writing a theological paper, answering questions in a council interview, and whatever else your particular process looks like is one more step in watching our lives and our doctrine, and asking others to watch us too.
Brother pastor, this calling is too serious and too significant for us to coast into the future without rigorous, ongoing, training. Let’s stay as sharp as we can and grow as much as we can for the glory of God and good of his church.