This is a guest post by, my friend and colleague, Jon Nielson, the High School Pastor at College Church. He wrote “Why Youth Stay in Church When They Grow Up,” a top ten most read article at The Gospel Coalition Blog in 2011. Follow his daily devotionals at his blog, Something More Sure.
1. First You Must Be a Christian…Then a Pastor
You must first be a Christian, then a pastor. There is perhaps no better writing on this point than from Charles Spurgeon. Listen to his words from his lecture, “The Minister’s Self-Watch” in Lectures to my Students:
“How horrible to be a preacher of the gospel and yet to be unconverted! Let each man here whisper to his own inmost soul, ‘What a dreadful thing it will be for me if I should be ignorant of the power of the truth which I am preparing to proclaim!’
It would be good for all of us as pastors to go back to this lecture from Spurgeon at least once a year, if not more often than that. We must be Christians – changed men with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirits – or else we will find ourselves, not only disqualified from ministry, but disqualified from an eternity with Jesus as well.
What does this mean for the pastor? Be vigilant against sin. Take care to nurture your own relationship with Jesus – as a Christian man. Doggedly pursue holiness, purity, and obedience, by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. I must think about myself, not as “Jon, the Pastor,” but as, “Jon, the Christian.” I am a Christian – a sinner saved by grace – who is also called to be a pastor.
2. First You Must Pastor Your Family…Then Your Congregation
The gospel of Jesus Christ must have its way in our marriages and our families. As a pastor, I need to first pastor my wife. I need to care for her soul. I need to contribute to her sanctification, as I embrace my role as her husband to one day present her before the throne of God as my truest trophy of grace. My marriage will one day end, as I “hand off” my wife to her true bridegroom – Jesus Christ her Savior. Pastors, let’s pastor our wives. Let’s be shepherds of their souls. By God’s grace, I am still learning to do this, and I have a long way to go.
We also are called to pastor our families – our children. One dear friend and mentor of mine has expressed to me several times this sentiment: “How dreadful if I arrived in heaven, surrounded by hundreds of people I had helped to convert, and my kids were not among them!”
Now, children do sometimes go astray, and if children reject Christ, it is certainly not always the fault of the parents. But, shame on us as pastors if we do not do everything we can to pastor, shepherd, disciple, and evangelize our children. By God’s grace, commit yourself to pastoring your family first.
3. First You Must Preach the Gospel to Yourself…Then to Your People
What do I mean by this? I mean that, as a pastors, we need to personally return to the cross – daily, regularly, humbly, worshipfully. Reminded yourself of the miracle of your own salvation – that somehow, by the death of Jesus on a cross, you are accepted by God.
There is no better fuel for gospel ministry than an intense and worshipful wonder at our own salvation. You must experience gospel’s work in your own heart, so that you can further the gospel work – by God’s power – in the lives of others. You can’t commit to something – at all costs – that has not profoundly influenced your own heart and life.
Preach, teach, disciple, and lead as a saved man. Saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, and growing daily in that same grace.