I made an offhanded remark yesterday that the fourth lesson I learned in pastoral ministry is that you should always have a backup plan. It took me about 1 week to learn that lesson. After a single Sunday running Kid's church and I quickly realized that there will always be something that doesn't turn out the way you anticipated it would. Could be a game you thought would be great, but that the kids think is lame. Could be an object lesson that works great the 6 times you practice it, but fails miserably when it comes service time. Could be a million other things. So a quick lesson learned…always have a plan B.
Well, my off handed remark about having a backup plan being the fourth lesson I learned prompted someone to ask, "what were the first three lessons you learned?" Here is the answer to that question…
1. Always Have a Great Mentor. Allow me to tell a story. I will never forget the first emergency call I took as an associate pastor at Calvary. A lady in the church had a stroke and so I went to the hospital to pray with her, and introduce myself to her family since they didn't come to the church. When I arrived at the hospital her condition was much more serious than I was expecting. I walked into the waiting room and up to the family, and before they even gave me their names, they said this, "Our mom's stroke was massive. The doctors are asking if we want to remove life support. You're her pastor, according to my mom's religious beliefs would she want us to take her off life support?" Now before you judge my response, please remember this was literally my 3rd day on the job…but my answer seriously went something like, "Uhhh…..well……ummm…..err…..yeah, about that….hang on, let me step out in the hall and call Pastor Tim. I am sure he would want to know how serious your mother's condition is, and I am sure that he would be able to answer that question for you!"
Pastor Tim did come, and he did have a great way of framing a response to their question about whether to take their mother off life support. The response that I listened to him give that day is the exact same response I have used a few times since, and will probably be the same response I use the rest of my life. Lesson #1 Have A Great Mentor.
2. You Must Be a Reader of God's Word. It's tough to get far in pastoral ministry if you are not reading God's Word. And you can't read it just looking for your next sermon. It needs to be read devotionally, not just professionally . Many have tried to get by without this, and many have failed.
3. You Must Be a Reader of Books. You can expand books to include magazines, journals, blogs, even listening to Podcasts. The bottom line is that you have to always be exposing yourself to new ideas. I know for me at least, it is easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if that rut seems to be going more, or less, the right direction. It is good to get out of the rut every once in a while and blaze a whole new trail. New ideas from others help get the creative juices going.