To My Younger Self: Faithful is Better than Fast

I graduated from Dallas Seminary a little over ten years ago. At that time I was 25 and we were expecting our first child. I knew so much.

August 1st will be the ten-year anniversary of me starting pastoral ministry (in a paid capacity) and will also be the one-year anniversary of my time at Genesis. (I guess I like to start things August 1—perhaps to coincide with the school year.)

I’m still a pastoral ministry spring chicken—at least that’s how I feel. At the same time, I often think about the ways in which my perspective on ministry has changed over a decade. What would I do differently if I could start over? What would I do more of, and perhaps do it with more intensity?

One topic comes to mind almost right away: when it comes to pastoring, faithful is better than fast.

Just yesterday a friend who stopped by the community group asked me about pastoring and how I viewed how I did, so to speak. That’s, of course, a weird question to ask. Self-assessment on how I’m doing at caring for and leading people Jesus died for isn’t really an endeavor where you’re like, “I’m killin’ it!”

My comment to him was this:

Pastoral ministry is played out in decades. You don’t know if you’re good until you’re done—assuming you made it that long.

That’s a perspective that has only solidified itself more in my heart over a decade. You know the tropes: “people don’t know how much you know until they know how much you care” (fact check: they still don’t care how much you know because it is ridiculous to think you really know that much), “pastors over-estimate what they can do in one year and under-estimate what they can do in five.” They’re all written with this this idea of moving and shaking—getting stuff done, even if it takes a little while.

I don’t know why speed feels like the organizational currency of the world. Things do move at a fast clip. Life does move quickly. I get all of that. Get busy living or get busy dying, or blah blah blah. Sometimes, though, young pastors (and perhaps I did this, I’m not fully sure and wouldn’t trust my own perspective on it) feel like they have to move fast to be relevant—that perhaps moving and shaking is akin to faithfulness. However, it isn’t. At least two concepts cause me to consider this:

  • Congregations and pastors often experience church life at two speeds: What feels like forever for me might feel like five minutes for a member of the church. We run differently and we experience church life differently. That’s fine and comes with the territory. However, pastors would be wise to remember that three years of dealing with (fill in the blank with the issue) is really like two months of a church member experiencing it.
  • Moving fast can burn you out and crush your ministry: Maybe there are speed junkies out there who absolutely need to move quickly, but moving quickly can really be a crushing burden to pastors. Once you start, how do you stop? It might come with enormous success, but in ten years I’ve already seen that perspective crush multiple pastors—and the carnage goes on for years and years.

My pastoral heroes aren’t the ones who get a lot done and are traveling the speaking circuit. Those people used to be the guys I thought were studs—the ones that seemed important to emulate. The ones I admire now are the ones who have served for thirty and forty years, are still married (to the same person as when they started), love their kids and their kids love them, and these pastors don’t have a trail of hurt in their wake. That’s also, in my opinion, the type of pastoral trajectory churches should be looking for in their pastors and seeking to safeguard and protect.

For guys in my stage of life, or those even younger than I am, we need a constant recalibration of what really matters. We need mentors who have walked through the decades and have come out on the other side. We need to be examples of steady plodding, not zealous activity. We don’t need spectacular. We need faithful.

I'd love to hear your thoughts . . .