Friday, October 24, 2014


October marks five years that Justin has been a pastor. They’ve been five wonderful years but, like every pastor will tell you, they’ve also been replete with ups and downs, joys and sorrows, encouragements and discouragements.

But more than anything, and through everything, God has been faithful.

When benchmarks arrive, it can be enjoyable to reflect on what’s been learned during the season gone by. There is so much more I could write, but here are five simple reflections after five years:

1. Ministry can be distracting, but being distracted is a choice. I know that, in part, church life these past five years has been distracting because I’ve gone through them with babies. When you have a baby in your arms and toddlers beside you on the pew, there’s always something that needs attention, whether it’s getting the raisins-you-didn’t-know-he-had out of the 2-year-old’s nose, or trying to pacify a newborn, or reminding the 4 year old not to make paper airplanes out of the bulletin.

But it’s not just the distractions from my own family. As a pastor’s wife, there are many elements of church life that I’m constantly (and often needlessly) aware of that can beckon for my attention on Sunday mornings. Perhaps I’m noticing if something didn’t go smoothly with a transition in the service, or if the mics are too loud, or who’s present and absent that day, or wondering if the first-time visitors are being welcomed. The list of both inconsequential and legitimate distractions could go on and on.

But here’s what I’ve found: my heart needs corporate worship on Sunday and I need to focus on Christ, not on all those other things. They may beckon for my attention. But I make a choice: I can either choose to focus on Jesus, or I can choose to focus on everything else.

2. All those things older pastors and their wives told us really are true. You know all those things that older pastors say? Things like, Don’t evaluate ministry, for good or bad, on a Sunday night. Or, Pastor’s wives, don’t give you husbands negative feedback about their sermon on the ride home from church…wait till the next day. Or, You’ll never please everyone in your church so don’t even try. Or, Being in ministry holds the greatest delights and also deepest sorrows you’ll ever know. The list could go on and on. As it turns out, they were right. It seems like all those older pastors and their wives just might have known what they were talking about.

3. The greatest way I can encourage my husband is to pursue Christ. This one is both simple and deep at the same time. In our five years in ministry, there is nothing that encourages Justin more than when his wife is ministered to through his preaching and shepherding and is stirred to love Christ through his leadership. And more than that, when this stirring leads to Gospel centered living.

4. A good pastor is a great blessing. Maybe this one seems obvious, but for me, one of the joys of ministry has been to see God grow and use Justin. A wife is given a unique and up-close view of her husband’s strengths and weaknesses. As I reflect, all I can do is give thanks for a man who is who he is—the Justin that our church sees on Sundays is the exact same man that the children and I see every night behind closed doors. And that man is a good man, a faithful man. He is a strong yet gentle shepherd, and I am so thankful to belong to his fold.

5. God provides. It’s who God is. He can’t not provide. And yet sometimes we doubt, don't we? In these five years we’ve seen God provide for our family and for our church in some amazing and often unexpected ways. God has been good. God has been faithful. God has provided.

I was curious what Justin would say if he reflected upon the same theme, so I ambushed him during lunch one day and asked him what things come to mind when he thinks about the first five years.

Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that these were things that came to his mind in the moment, and it’s likely that with more time to reflect or develop these ideas, perhaps his answers might be slightly different. But I love his reflections just as they are: fresh, spontaneous, and as honest as it gets.

The following five reflections are Justin’s words.

1. Anyone can make a huge difference in the life of a church. You don’t have to be someone with remarkable gifts, incredible intellect, or amazing talents. Anyone can make a difference in their church body simply by being faithful and committed--faithful to Christ, and committed to your local church. Be present. Be reliable. Show up to stuff. Encourage others. Greet visitors. The list of simple things that make a big difference go on and on. You don’t have to be a remarkable person to make a difference in church life. I’ve been amazed at how church life and culture can be influenced by ordinary people who are simply faithful and committed.   

2. Conflict isn’t Bad. Healthy, growing, renewing churches will have conflict. It’s part of life in a broken world. There will be bumps. There will be sin. But the mark of a healthy church is not the absence of these things but the presence of strong leaders who will respond biblically and graciously. A healthy church isn’t going to not have issues that need dealing with; a healthy church is going to deal biblically with those issues. In these five years I can honestly say that times of conflict, and even times of discipline, though hard in the moment, have wound up in the end strengthening our church family and bringing greater unity than we had before.

3. Preachers really do improve in the first few years. (Wife’s note: he said this with a grin.) Most young pastors are familiar with a Tim Keller quote that goes something like this: A preacher really doesn’t start preaching well until he’s preached a few hundred times. It’s true. If you’re open to seeing your flaws, if you’re reflective, if you want to become a better preacher, and if you’ve got some good people giving you feedback, it really is true that your preaching will improve dramatically after a few hundred times. Five years in and, even though there are obviously so many ways I yet want to grow, it’s so awesome to see progress.

4. There’s wonderful freedom in knowing that every church is Christ’s church. It’s so easy for church leaders to fall into the trap of thinking that their church is in their own hands. Of course we would never say that and theologically never believe that. But sometimes when the rubber meets the road in church life, it’s far too easy to carry burdens that you shouldn’t carry. In some practical ways it’s a fine line, because God has given pastors the responsibility to lead and shepherd and make decisions that will profoundly influence the direction of the local church. And yet every local church is not upheld, sustained, or grown by their pastor. I’m just the under shepherd, and I’m so thankful for that freeing truth.

5. There’s nothing more crucial to being a good pastor than simply being a good Christian. At the end of the day, I will only ever be as good a pastor as I am a Christian. Nothing will impact my flock more than my own personal passion and pursuit of Christ. I’ve seen this work itself out in practical ways again and again. I will only ever lead our congregation well when I’m passionately following Christ Himself.

(I’d been feverishly typing while Justin had talked, trying to get down all his thoughts. As we finished up, he paused and reflected upon one last thing. And his words below are sort of a perfect place to conclude.)
You know, before being a pastor myself, I had heard other pastors say things like, My church is my favorite church in the world. Or, There is no other place I’d rather be a pastor. I don’t think I’d ever doubted their sincerity, but maybe just wondered if it was overstated, or if I would feel that way about my own church one day. Well, I can say this without reservation: I love our church—I love the people in our church—and there is no other place I’d rather be.