I abandoned the professional academic track after my MA in history at the University of South Carolina. I had simply not been engaging with flesh-and-blood humanity in the way I knew I was called to, and in the way I was, in fact, gifted to do. So I went into the people business of pastoral ministry, partly because my pastor, Sinclair Ferguson, told me that, despite having spent half his ministry in the seminary context, he never wanted to be a professor. In fact, he wanted never to be a professor.
This gave me great encouragement to change course and re-engage in the front line ministry of the church. After all, I was a lot more of a people person than Dr. Ferguson, I reasoned.
Now over 4 years into pastoral ministry, I’m realizing that I’ve spent much of the last few years reading up on technique. I’ve read all the church planting literature. I’ve read a whole mess of the leadership and entrepreneurial literature. I’ve even read Getting Things Done (see my earlier post). But I haven’t really followed Dr. Ferguson’s admonition.
He told me that I ought to spend my first several years as an associate pastor reading. Don’t get bogged down in mere busy-work, he challenged me. If you have the luxury of time, read now, he said. After all, when you get to be in his stage of life and ministry, he said, you’re speaking, preaching, pastoring—constantly. And with very, very little time to prepare.
The early years of ministry, he suggested, should be spent, if possible, filling the theological and biblical reservoir with as much content as possible. Expand your spiritual imagination, broaden your vocabulary, and enlarge your heart now, so that when you have enormous demands on your time, your mind, and your tongue, you have ample resources to draw from.
I didn’t take his advice. I regret that. Now I’m a church planter. I’m leading the musicians for two unique services every Sunday. I’m often preaching two different sermons each week. And I’m way in over my head in terms of competency for pastoral ministry. But I’m still relatively young, and, Lord willing, I have at least 32 years left of work in me. So I’m pivoting. I’m heeding his counsel. I’m reading more. I’m thinking more. I’m writing more. This rhythm, they say, is actually good for your mind, heart, and soul. And for your ministry, too.
I’m encouraged to have run across this article in Themelios on the writing pastor. I hope you’ll listen to this voice, and to the voice of Dr. Ferguson. Don’t retreat into the ivory tower and disengage. But discipline your mind through reading, contemplation, and writing, so that you are more skilled to say the right thing at the right time to bless a real, flesh-and-blood person you’ve been called to minister to.