2. When you speak before an unfamiliar group, be careful what you say because you never know who is listening to you. You’ll start to tell a story about some guy in your former church and his mama is sitting right in front of you.
3. There will never be a time in your life when you know all the Bible and have your questions all answered; if you cannot serve Him with some gaps in your knowledge and preach without knowing everything, you’re going to have a hard time.
4. Your church members should submit to your leadership, but you’re not the one to tell them that.
5. The best way to get people to submit to your leadership is for you to humble yourself and serve them the way the Lord did the disciples (John 13); they will trust someone who loves them that much.
6. The best way to get run off from a church is to take your eyes off Jesus and begin to think of yourself as hot stuff who is worthy of acclaim; from that moment on, your days are numbered.
7. In worship services, try not to talk so much, pushing events and meetings, that you are worn out by the time you open the Word and begin to preach.
8. Only a pastor with a suicide wish will tell a story about his wife and children in a sermon without their complete and enthusiastic approval. Even if they give it, you should go over it with them ahead of time to make sure they’re OK.
9. Some of your biggest headaches will come from adlibbing in your sermons, saying things “off the cuff” which you just thought of. Try not to do that until you have fully mastered your tongue.
10. If the Lord is ever to use you mightily in His service, He will first have to break you. (Usually, this involves some failure on your part which comes to light and embarrasses you.) This will be humiliating to you and so painful you wonder if you can go back into the pulpit. However, you will survive and forevermore be thankful for what this taught you.
11. You need to befriend other pastors, old and young. Ministers need fellowship with colleagues. Do not make assumptions about pastors by the size of their congregation. Some of the Lord’s finest pastors and godliest preachers are bivocational.
12. It’s not all about you. Some people will join the church and it will flourish, some will leave and your church may struggle. Some will love you and some will hate you. Very little of it has to do with you. People have their own reasons for what they do. Get over yourself.
13. Marry someone who shares God’s call into this type of work or your life will be dragged down and she will be chronically angry at the demands placed on the family.
14. A little conflict in the church can be a good thing. Where there’s no friction, there’s no traction.
15. One of the surest ways to tell you are backsliding is when you no longer eagerly pick up the Bible and enjoy finding new insights. The day you find yourself thinking, “I know this Book; I’ve been there and done that,” you are in trouble.
16. If you cannot serve God by faith, you will not make it in the ministry. You will plant a thousand seeds along the way which you will never see grow to fruition. Likewise, you will gather a harvest from seed sown by others and cultivated by your predecessors.
17. If your joy comes from numbers and successes and awards, you are setting yourself for trouble. Jesus told the disciples not to rejoice in accomplishments, but “because your names are written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20). This will keep you steady.
18. If you think of the ministry as a career and find yourself ambitious to go on to bigger and better things, you run the risk of imposing the world’s standards on the kingdom. Serve where He sends you, no matter how small or out of the way, and you may be surprised by what He can do at Podunk. Someone once asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Let God move you when (and if) He’s ready.
19. Get all the education you can and continue learning and growing the rest of your life. There is no stopping place until you get home.
20. Learn to live on your income. Avoid all debt except on a house. The first few years (when your income is smallest) are the toughest; after that, it should be easier and easier.
21. Off days. Early on, establish with your spouse at least one full day (including evening) each week for yourselves. Have an understanding about this when talking with search committees. Protect it. (Then, help your wife to know that, a) you will work hard to protect this day, but b) there will inevitably be exceptions once in a while.)
22. Search committees. When dealing with search committees, do not become so eager to go to that church that you fail to do your homework (such as, looking carefully at the church’s history, its relationships with previous pastors, what income/benefits they offer, the details about the living arrangements, etc.).
23. Mentors. Find one or two older ministers as your mentors. Call them occasionally to tell what’s going on and seek their counsel. Pray for their ministry.
24. Reading. In addition to theological books and ministry periodicals, read outside your field. Run by the public library and browse the periodicals. Scan through magazines you’ve never heard of. Be alert for ideas, interesting concepts, anything you’ve never heard of. Read a lot of history.
25. Always have reading material in your car so if you are stuck in traffic or in a waiting room, you’re prepared.
26. Attitude. Stay young. Just because you grow older—as you will, if God blesses you with longevity—you don’t have to become rigid and “set” in your ways. Psalm 92 promises that godly people “will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green.”
27. Laugh a lot. Spend time around children and teens. Don’t act like a dignified preacher around them; get down on the floor and play with the little ones. Change into your jeans and sneakers and play volleyball with the teens.
28. On the other hand, do not try to fit in as a teenager (a common mistake of youth ministers). Even if it appears they accept you as one of them, they don’t. You are a pastor and thus an authority figure to them, and that’s how it should be. But you can still love them and have them adore you.
29. Prayer. Work on your prayer life, both private and public. Just as Paul said, “We see through a glass darkly,” he also said, “We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26). If he didn’t, it’s a safe bet you and I are poor pray-ers, too. Give attention to your praying.
30. Take care of your health. Exercise—walking is a better form of exercise than jogging because it frees your mind to think over issues, go over sermons, talk to God—several times a week and eat right. Watch your weight.
31. Porn. Guard against pornography. It comes in all varieties and can pop up anywhere, so stay on the alert. Just because one does not go to the illicit websites does not mean we are safeguarding our minds.
32. Be humble. You may need to work at this. Do not call yourself “Doctor,” even if you have an earned doctorate. And, do not call yourself “senior pastor” or “lead pastor,” regardless of the size of your church. These titles smack of pride. Pastor is an honorable designation. (If others choose to call you by these or other names, that’s fine. Letting people discover by accident that you have an advanced degree is a compliment to you; wearing it on your sleeve isn’t.)
33. Remembering that “character is what you are in the dark,” we would add that who you are when no one knows you are a preacher is the real you. Who you are in the motel room in a distant city is the real you. How you treat the waitress in Denny’s or how you leave a public restroom, these say worlds about who you are.
34. Preparation. If you are too busy to study for your sermons, you are too busy.
35. From time to time, tell your people: “Pastors are not sent to make the people happy, but to make them holy and healthy and to make the Lord happy.” Ask the secretary to print this in the bulletin at least annually as a reminder.
36. Conflict resolution. When conflicts arise in the church, do not automatically assume you are the one to deal with it. When someone attacks you, your church needs a few mature, godly and sweet members who can visit that person to, a) ask, “What’s going on?” (that is, “Why are you doing this?”), and b) to listen to them. If the complainer has a legitimate gripe, they come back and tell you, and together you all deal with it. If they are out of line, the visiting team asks the murmurer to stop this right now. Leaders of the church must possess both wisdom (knowing what to do) and courage (having the will to do it).
37. It’s no compliment to you when all your “calls” to churches have been unanimous and no slam against you that all the votes have been divided.
38. Family. Beware of putting high expectations and demands on your family just because you are the pastor. Children quickly grow to resent this.
39. Toward the conclusion of your negotiations with a search committee, consider asking: “And how much will my wife’s salary be?” When they answer that “We’re not hiring her,” smile broadly and say, “Right. I just wanted to make sure you knew that!”
40. You will never exhaust the riches of God’s word. When you have read a passage 100 times over 40 years, you will still be making discoveries in it. There is nothing else like this Book. Stay in it.
41. Preparation. Remember that preaching is not a written art, but an oral thing. So, once you have finished your plan for the message, go for a walk and preach it aloud. This will alert you to detours to avoid, rabbit trails to shun, potholes to steer around, and will make you aware of areas where you need to do more work.
42. Never deliver a sermon you have not preached to yourself at least three times. Likewise, when you plan to read a Scripture in the worship service, prepare by reading it aloud numerous times to prepare your tongue for forming these particular sounds, to find phrases you need to emphasize, and so you can do the reading justice.
43. When you are invited to guest preach in other churches, do not reinvent the wheel. This is no time to hammer out a new sermon, but an opportunity to use something you have previously preached. This allows you to improve on it. In time, this may become a favorite sermon you preach in many places.
44. While your sermon-machine is always on (and you will always have a notepad nearby when reading anything), make it a point to read Scripture devotionally—asking the Father to feed your soul—every day. Read for no other purpose than to listen to God.
45. Stewardship. Tithe your income and more through your church.
46. If you are not a faithful tither, you will have a hard time teaching your people about stewardship and taking a stand against materialism and greed. Eventually, if someone finds out you are not tithing—as they will—they will use this against you. Be blameless in all things.
47. Keep in mind that no one ever started tithing when they could afford to do so. Everyone needs just a little more money. As with everything else in the Christian life, you will do this by faith or not at all. But, no matter how painful it is, get started. The first year is the hardest; thereafter, it gets easier. Some day, you will look back with pleasure that in this one area at least, you got it right.
48. Benevolence. Don’t be so hard-nosed toward people who come to your church asking for financial help. Be wise, yes, and be on the alert for con men and scam artists. But never forget that our Lord said, “Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30). He did not say we have to give them what they ask for or as much as they want. Try to give them something.
49. If you stop to help a vagrant, it’s perfectly fine to be generous without making the supplicant earn the money by listening to your lecture.
50. Witnessing. Become a personal soul-winner. Learn how to initiate a conversation with a stranger and how to explain briefly the plan of salvation and lead them in the sinner’s prayer. Then, watch for opportunities. (The Holy Spirit will send plenty of occasions to those who are prepared and watching.)
51. Do not criticize other preachers from the pulpit. Satan loves it when we do this, but I suspect Christ is dishonored by it.
52. Never preach someone else’s sermon. Plagiarism is plagiarism, no matter where it’s found or who does it. (And yes, you may borrow a point here and there or a story or a great insight from the text. Should you give credit to the source of the story or point? No. But be prepared in case someone asks where you got it. I once heard Adrian Rogers say, “I got this from someone who got it from someone who got it from the Lord.”)
53. If someone else’s sermon so impresses you that you just “have” to preach it (or large portions of it), do not do so until, through prayer and study and waiting on Him, the Lord makes it your own.
54. Leave politics out of the pulpit. You have bigger fish to fry.
55. If an election is coming up and you wish to invite the candidates to church, make sure your lay leadership agrees. Invite all those running for office, no matter their stance, and recognize them individually in the service, but without giving them an opportunity to speak. Have a fellowship time afterward where each one is allowed to put materials on a table and greet your people. (In the invitation, specify that this will be the procedure. Otherwise, some will arrive expecting to be allowed to address the congregation.) Sunday nights are best for this. If you preach a sermon, Jeremiah 29:7 is a great text to use.
56. Before you recommend a movie to your people, be sure you have seen it and be confident there is no objectionable content. Otherwise, don’t.
57. Before you condemn a movie or a book publicly, see it (read it) beforehand and know what you are talking about. If that’s not possible, spell out in your presentation where you came by your information. Do not put yourself in a position where someone asks, “So, pastor, have you actually read this book you are denouncing?” and you have to admit you have not.
58. Attire. Pay attention to your clothing. I suggest that the pastor dress one step better than the men in your congregation. That is, if the men are all wearing t-shirts and jeans, my suggestion is to wear a nice shirt fresh from the cleaners with dress slacks or pressed chinos. I’m not sure why, but our attire speaks of the value we place on what we are doing in God’s house. (Do I preach this to my congregation? Probably not. This is not worth the grief you will get from the unknowingly self-righteous who are certain God cares not at all about our clothing and who condemn those who say otherwise.)
59. Invite outstanding preachers and authors to your church. Expose your people to the best. After he or she speaks, have books for sale in the foyer and the author there to sign them.
60. Public prayers should almost always be brief, and therefore well thought out in advance.
61. Resiliency. There is no shame in being fired by a church or run off by a group within the church. The shame comes when you let that discourage you from future ministry. Read Second Corinthians 4:8-10 again and again until you “own” it. Then get up and get back in the game. Your team needs you.
62. If you are terminated—or “encouraged to leave” a church in a way that leaves you angry and bitter—read Luke 6:27-35 repeatedly until you make it your own. Then, to rid yourself of the anger and bear a faithful witness to your detractors, do the actions the Lord commands here: do good, bless, pray and give to them.
63. Encourage pastors who have been terminated. (A pastor recently ousted from his church asked me, “Why don’t other pastors want to help me?” I said, “Tom, when you were pastoring, how many unemployed preachers did you help?” He said, “I didn’t know it was the problem it is.” I said, “They don’t either.”)
64. Problems. Teach your lay leadership (preferably in small group settings) how to deal with problems that arise in church, how to confront a troublemaking member and what to do about a pastor who has gone rogue. (When nothing of that sort is happening in your church is the perfect time to teach this.)
65. Make yours an encouraging church. Train your people to write notes of congratulations and appreciation to people in the news who do good things.
66. Give away Bibles. Put a large box in the foyer and ask your people to bring unused Bibles from home which you can give to those who do not own one. Then, with the aid of some select volunteers, go through and inspect each Bible. Cull those with no backs and fronts, those that have been mutilated and those published by cults. Insert material on the Christian life and your church in the pages, then announce to the community: “This Saturday, free Bibles in front of our church from 2 to 4 p.m.” See what happens.
67. Publicity. In anticipation of a musical program, send some of your singers to a public forum where shoppers congregate to do a short impromptu concert. You’ve seen the “mobs” on Youtube. Do this spontaneously in a store, a mall or on a sidewalk. If the song is not long, too loud or too disruptive, you do not need to ask for permission. Afterward, have the singers fan out and talk to people. See what the Lord does.
68. Vision. Remember that church members who have a burden for a particular segment of society (those in jail, the old folks, the needy, unwed mothers, etc.) must not give you their burden and ask you to act on it. The Holy Spirit grants burdens as a gift to the faithful. When we make ourselves available to Him and take that burden seriously, in His own time, He leads us into a ministry to meet that need. The order looks something like this: A burden comes, followed by a vision, followed by a call, which is followed by a ministry (if you accept the call), which is followed by a several things including fruit, imitation, opposition and duplication.
69. Constantly remind the staff and a few key leaders to be on the alert for disruptions to the Sunday services. Whether an intruder with a gun or an ill person off his medication, leadership should receive periodic training in how to deal with such. (If you train them once and never mention it again, they will forget it. Keep it before them.)
70. Money. Never sign checks for the church. Never. And for that matter, do not handle money at all. When someone approaches you following a service to say, “Here’s my offering. I missed the plate,” ask them to hold on a second, then you call some leader to take charge of their offering.
71. Before you arrive at a new church is a good time to ask the leadership to bring in an auditing firm to review the church’s financial practices and make recommendations. By doing this before you arrive, people who have held key positions for decades (treasurer, bookkeeper, finance chair) will be less likely to take it as a personal insult and become defensive. (If the church has an annual audit, a review is unnecessary. If the church has never had an audit, the initial cost would probably be prohibitive. A review is cheaper, and may accomplish your purposes.)
72. Staff. Try to find the balance between being the boss of the staff and each one’s friend.
73. Never fire someone abruptly. If their work is unsatisfactory, make sure they know in what ways it’s not acceptable, and how they can improve. If they simply cannot do the job you are asking of them, you are doing them a favor by releasing them, painful though it may be.
74. Before doing something abrupt like firing a staff member or church employee, make sure you get sufficient counsel from your mentors and that church leaders are on board with this.
75. Do not reject raises in your salary. While doing so may feel noble to you, it tends to keep the rest of your staff at lower wages, since the church is not going to pay a staffer more than the pastor. Accept the raise, then, if you choose, you can become more generous in your contributions.
76. In a Sunday service, try to avoid naming lists of people you wish to thank or appreciate without having the list in front of you. Otherwise, count on it, you will leave someone out.
77. As the pastor, you are the mood-setter for the congregation. Whatever you radiate on Sundays and in private conversation with members, they will pick up, too.
78. Words. Never say anything to a church member about someone else you would not want plastered on a billboard at the edge of town. If you assume they are keeping this in confidence, you will live to regret it. (With your spouse and your mentors, you may speak your mind; to all others, tread carefully.)
79. Daily, pray the prayer of Psalm 141:3. “Set a guard upon my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips.” Another you might want to add is Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
80. Keep good records for everything you do in ministry—whom you saw, your appointments, everything. A few times in a long ministry, you will find yourself digging through it in search of a vital bit of information (“When did this happen?”) and be so glad you had the records. (I once had a woman call to ask, “When did you marry us?” She gave me two possible dates when it might have occurred. I found her wedding on my calendars and informed her that not only were her two dates incorrect, she was on the wrong year!)
81. Just as no one knows you better than your spouse, your co-workers on the church staff see you as no one else does. Make sure they respect you as a person of integrity and compassion who keeps his word, has a sincere heart for God and treasures each of them. Defend them before critics. If you lose their respect, the fabric of your leadership begins to fray.
82. Watch for certain scriptures—a verse here, a verse there—to begin to impress themselves upon you in a special way. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, He is inviting you to study this area more, to seek His insights and receive His teaching.
83. Humility. Do not fear apologizing to your people. If you made a mistake and everyone knows it, to stonewall and refuse to admit it is to enrage a few and disappoint the others. By humbling yourself and admitting your error, then asking for their forgiveness, you endear yourself to everyone who matters. (I’ve known of pastors who gained so much love and acceptance by publicly apologizing for a mistake, they jokingly say they are now looking for some other dumb mistake to make just so they can apologize.)
84. When you need the approval of a committee, say the finance or personnel, for some project or expenditure, if the chairperson says, “Oh, go ahead and do that, pastor,” you should respond, “Thank you, my friend. But I’d really like the entire committee’s input on this.” Insist on meeting with the entire panel, and never allow the chair to act as if he or she is the committee. (Church bosses are created just so subtly as this.)
85. Always err on the side of conservativism in finances and on the side of grace in relationships.
86. You should always see yourself as a servant and nothing more (see II Corinthians 4:5). Granted that, in Christ, you are much more. However, we’re speaking of “how you see yourself here.” Be a servant. Serve your spouse, serve your staff, serve the congregation. (The parable of Luke 17:7-10, mentioned previously, reigns in your ego’s need for recognition and appreciation. That parable is found nowhere else in Scripture, and may be one of the most important teachings anywhere for God’s workers.)
87. Learn from everyone you meet. Work at asking key questions to draw them out, and then listen intently to their responses. “So, Bob, tell me what you did on your job today.” “What was the most interesting thing that happened to you today?” Ask it, then sit back and be quiet and wait for an answer.
88. Never forget the old adage, “No one should ever preach on hell without tears in his eyes.” Only the compassionate are entitled to teach the stark truths about hell. To speak of such a “difficult doctrine” (see John 6:60) without your heart breaking fails your people.
89. Sleep. No one unable to turn off the constant demands on his life will be able to sleep at night and endure long as a pastor. You live in a world of unfinished tasks; get used to it. (Nothing lifts burdens like prayer. Pray about everything, then leave matters with the Lord—at least overnight.)
90. Have a notepad on your bedside table. When thoughts of people you need to call, projects you need to lead, notes you need to answer, will not leave you alone and interfere with your sleep, write down reminders for the next day and go back to sleep. You’d be amazed how jotting these down settles the mind. (Never assume that “This is so important, I’m sure I’ll remember it when I awaken.” You won’t.)
91. Beware of spending your days locked in your study, absorbed in your computer. Get out of the office and drink coffee with your office staff and the other ministers. Visit your people in the hospitals or the homebound. Check on the saints in the assisted living facilities.
92. Prayer-walk your neighborhood and the blocks around your church regularly.
93. Knock on the doors of all the homes around your church, at least a block in each direction. Introduce yourself and say, “I’m just meeting all our neighbors to ask one question: Is our church being a good neighbor to you?” See where the Lord leads.
94. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
95. Guard against even the appearance of anything out of line with women. If you find yourself being attracted to some person other than your spouse, pick up the phone and ask your mentors if you can meet with them “tomorrow or sooner!” Tell them; they are unshockable and can talk straight to you.
96. Don’t sell your seniors short. Just because we opened this “list of 100″ with a dig about “only 3 people like change and none are in your church,” the fact is, most people do not mind change. They just don’t like abrupt change. Seniors are not averse to new things. No one drives a 1948 Packard to your church. Your seniors own widescreen TVs and computers. Some of them want only hymns written before 1912, but most would appreciate some of the great choruses being produced these days. And they’d like something more than just the piano and organ. But don’t dump it all on them at once. Introduce it slowly, sweetly, carefully.
97. Help your people learn what it means to live by faith. The Lord has no hesitation in asking us to go when we do not know the destination, to build when we do not have the resources, and to give when we have only two mites. Show the flock how to do it yourself, pastor, then (and only then) teach the principles.
98. Remember the delicate balance the Lord has put in His churches: Just enough ornery, head-strong people to keep you humble and just enough sweet, godly saints to keep you from quitting.
99. Have a pleasurable hobby, one you do with some regularity to help you keep your balance in life. But do not let it grow out of proportion and begin to assume too much of your time, energies or money.
100. Start your own list of “Things God is teaching me in ministry.” Or even, “Lessons I have learned the hard way and have the scars to prove it.” Or this one: “Areas in which the Lord is still working on me.”
Thank you for reading my entire list. If as many as six or eight of these seem to have your name on them and to have been planted here just for you, we are well-rewarded. God’s richest blessings on you, my friend.
About Joe McKeever
After five years as Director of Missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way. He loves to do revivals, prayer conferences, deacon training, leadership banquets, and such. Usually, he's working on some cartooning project for the denomination or some agency.
More from Joe McKeever or visit Joe at www.joemckeever.com/mt/