One of the biggest challenges that I face as a pastor is responding to mental illness. While I had a couple of counselling courses in seminary, I feel that I lack background in mental health.
I spent some time as chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces. They put a tremendous amount of emphasis on mental health awareness. But the need for this goes far beyond those involved in the military. I find the church is far behind the military when it comes to mental health.
We need to be intentional in being more prepared to respond to mental illness. We can do this be reading books on mental health and attending training events. Mental Health First Aid might be a resource that could be helpful. One of the things I did was to organize a mental health and addictions workshop. It was an opportunity to bring in people with the knowledge and experience that could help my church and myself to grow.
Most churches have some sort of vision/mission statement. They may have both. But more is needed than just having a vision statement. Even having the vision posted on the wall is not enough.
It is the pastor’s job to put the vision in front of the church as often as possible. It is more than just reading the statement or putting it in the bulletin.
One of the things that I do is to plan sermons connected to our mission. I also organize our bulletin under the four headings that comprise our mission statement. I have also planned out to take a year to focus on each of those four components of our mission. This gives me time to invest in each aspect and make sure our church is living out our mission.
There are those who argue that for churches to grow it is necessary for pastors to give up pastoral care. I reject that. I think that being involved in some pastoral care is by definition part of being a pastor.
Having said that, they are correct that pastors cannot provide all of the care. Not only are there other responsibilities for the pastor, pastors are meant to equip the saints for ministry. Training laypeople to care for others in the congregation is part of pastoral care.
In our church, we have what we call Care Teams. We have divided the congregation into groups under a Care Team Leader. The Care Team Leader keeps tabs on the people on their list, not providing counselling, but being a support and letting me know when I need to step in.
It can be a lot of work to get such a structure in place but it will pay off. It will be a blessing for the people both providing and receiving the care.
Whether you are the solo pastor of a small church or one of the pastors in multi-staff situation, we are all part of a team. Out team might be other pastors, deacons/elders or a group of volunteers.
A healthy team environment doesn’t come about by accident. It requires work. While it is not all up to us, we can only control what we will do. We must be intentional in building healthy teams.
Invest in the relationships with the people you are working with. Figure out what motivates them and develop that relationship. Make sure to work on communication. If something bothers us, we need to talk to the person directly instead of complaining to others. Direct, clear and respectful communication can do wonders.
Who is on our team and what one thing can we do to build that team?
Many churches have embraced the concept of disabilities. Churches want diversity of gender, ethnicities, age, economic status and others. But what about disabilities?
I need to confess that I’m biased in this area. In addition to being a pastor, I’m also a father of two children with disabilities. We also have a number of people with disabilities at our church. I’m convinced of the importance of reaching out to people with disabilities.
As a pastor, I will also admit that embracing people of all abilities is challenging. It is so much more than just wheelchair ramps, elevators and accessible washrooms. It requires a radical change in church culture.
You can find my 10 Commandments to Become a Disability-Friendly Church here. But the most important thing is for us as pastors to completely buy in to the importance of welcoming and loving people with disabilities. It is the first step before even considering a disability ministry.
Can you remember your time in Bible college or seminary? Were you counting the days until your graduation? Were you eager to finish your education?
It is interesting to note that many other careers expect that education should continue. Some are required to earn a certain number of continuing education credits. Others are expected to get new certifications. Why should pastors be any different?
Continuing our education can help energize ourselves and our ministry. The great thing is that it can look many different ways. I knew a pastor who used to take a couple of courses per year at a local university, not to earn a degree but just to keep his mind active.
I happen to be motivated by being enrolled in degree programs. It gives me a goal to work toward. After earning my Master of Divinity, I did a Master of Theology in New Testament, a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and I’m currently finishing up a Doctor of Ministry.
Continuing education doesn’t have to be in theology or other religious topics. Consider taking courses in history, psychology, astronomy, or some other subject that interests you.
If your schedule doesn’t give you time to take courses on campus, take some courses online. There are many online programs that are quite affordable.
We need to grow in our knowledge and expand our minds. We need to be intentional in how we will continue our education.
In smaller churches, pastors are equated with preachers. But even in larger churches, many pastors have preaching as one of their responsibilities, although perhaps not every week. After preaching for a number of years, it is is easy to get complacent when it comes to sermon preparation and delivery.
It would be a good idea for pastors to invest in our preaching. This can happen in a number of ways. Here are some suggestions to help take your preaching to the next level.
Listen to audio or video of your preaching to get a better idea of how you preach.
Attend preaching conferences.
Listen to other preachers. This could be listening online or in person on our Sundays off.
Invite a friend to come and listen and to offer their honest thoughts.
One of the best decisions I have made is to observe a Sabbath. A Sabbath is not just a day off. A day off can easily be filled up with other stuff. A day off is not necessarily a day of rest.
A Sabbath is a 24-hour period of rest and focus on God. Obviously Sunday is a challenge to have as a day of rest. I have Monday as my day off and so I take Sunday noon to Monday noon as my Sabbath. I’m not legalistic about it. But I take the time to rest, avoid social media and spend quality time with my family. There are times I have to do things during this period but it is a good goal for me to aim to.
I find it interesting that no pastor would advocate breaking any of the other Ten Commandments but many pastors wouldn’t hesitate to break the Sabbath commandment. God created us with a need to rest and if we want to be effective as pastors, we need to take that need seriously.
One of the best ways to become a better pastor to be intentional in lifelong learning. The worst thing is to see graduation from Bible college or seminary as the end of learning. There are many ways to learn but one of the most convenient is to listen to podcasts. You can listen to them while driving, walking the dog or anything else.
Here are some of the podcasts that I listen to that I would recommend for you: