Where Young Pastors Should Go To Learn

For this to be productive I need to confess a few things…

  1. I have been a pastor for five years and realize more than ever how little I know.
  2. When I first became a pastor I thought I was really something special. (I wish you knew how true this is and how ridiculous it feels to type)
  3. Despite going to Bible College and a little seminary, I knew very little of what I actually needed in order to be a good pastor. How is this true? Bible College/Seminary focus 80ish% on biblical knowledge…. biblical knowledge is about 20% of what is needed to be a good pastor.
  4. When I first became a pastor I was overwhelmed when I realized how much there was in the category of “I don’t know what I don’t know.” This helped grow my desire to learn and forced me to go into hyper-drive to get what I needed.

Seminary is very good at giving you biblical knowledge. This knowledge is incredibly important for pastoral ministry, but it is 20% of what is needed for pastoral ministry.

I am extremely grateful for my theological education. It spurred on my love for God, gave me a foundation for the ministry, and helped me develop very valuable relationships. So, I am not saying don’t go. I am saying if you make the decision to go you need to realize  you are spending that time and money to get 20% of what you need. If you feel that is worth it, go, but you have to do more.

Also, in today’s world of technology everyone can have access to great Bible training for absolutely free. If you are called, you are motivated, if you are motivated, you can get the 20% without spending a dime and be able to do it on your own time.

Whether you go or not, the seven things below are crucial for young pastors as they grow into pastoral ministry:

  1. A local church that you believe in. A lot of people run to seminary declaring they are called to the ministry, despite no elders or a local church affirming that call. We have a ton of pastors out there that found comfort in the church so they went to seminary, found a career there, but never had any business going into the ministry. Yet, they have the coveted MDiv so they were hired anyhow. Find a local church to invest in, to be invested in, and walk humbly underneath the leadership and let them affirm and encourage a call to the ministry.
  2. Remain at the local church you believe in or find a local church you trust to train you well for the ministry. A vibrant, well-led, growing church is the best place to be developed as a pastor. Going to seminary and sitting in a church full of seminarians will only prepare you for a small portion of the ministry. Pouring yourself into a healthy church that gives you knowledge, experience, and coaching will prepare you for the 80% of ministry seminary never touches.
  3. Download theological training on your phone. I love theology. You should not read this blog post as someone who doesn’t value theology. Anyone who knows me knows this is far from the truth. The reality is you can listen to all of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology online for free. You can also download all of Reformed Theological Seminary lectures for free on their amazing app.
  4. Read leadership, ministry, and theological blogs. There is so much rich content out there. Anyone who is hungry to learn has access to all of the knowledge they could possibly process.
  5. Get outside of your tribe. I am a “young, restless, reformed” guy. Yet, I have listened to dozens of Perry Noble, Craig Groeschel, and Andy Stanley podcasts. I have also read dozens of leadership books from varied perspectives on varied topics. When I get outside of my tribe it stretches me as a leader and challenges me in areas my tribe rarely will. Every tribe has its strengths and weaknesses, when we get outside of our tribe we get to learn from the strengths of everyone. Nothing has been more helpful to me growing as a pastor than this concept.
  6. Prioritize your learning. Learning needs to be intentional. It should be on your calendar for certain times during the week so it doesn’t get pushed to the side and you get stuck always dealing with whatever is most urgent in that moment. For me, I listen to sermons and leadership podcasts while I work out (around 5 hours a week). I also read to learn for another 5 hours a week (spiritual development, theology, leadership, etc).
  7. Find a “pacesetter.” There is always someone who knows more than you, has experienced more, and whose church is a few steps ahead of yours. Find them and ask them as many questions as they are willing to answer. Don’t reinvent the wheel, you aren’t that talented. Thankfully, I have a lead pastor that instilled this in me from day one. I have made about 1,000,000 mistakes, but this probably kept me from 10 million more.

There is a lot more to be said, but these seven things are the best starting point.

 

My First Five Years In Ministry

I made it. ***big sigh of relief***

Tomorrow, July 1st, 2016 will mark my 5th year of being a pastor at The Bridge Church. This is significant due to the reality that statistics show only around 50% of pastors make it out of their first five years. It has been a wild, fun, up and down, crazy journey the last five years.

I am a very reflective person. I enjoy looking back and thinking about what the Lord has done, what He has taught me, how I have grown, etc. For me, being reflective leads to gratefulness and joy in the Lord. So, here are some things that stand out to me as I reflect on my first five years in the ministry:

  • There is a huge difference in my life and ministry when I am primarily pursuing Christ. It can be easy as a pastor to think you are pursuing Jesus just because you are doing “ministry work.” Nothing is more dangerous and deceiving. The fruits of my life and ministry see a stark difference when I am in seasons where I am diligently pursuing the Lord against seasons where I am not. My ministry must come as an overflow to what God is doing in my own life. It has to be a fresh, new work. Old crumbs only go so far.
  • The primary thing that has to change is me. Much like marriage, the ministry quickly and harshly reveals my need for sanctification. Ministry idolatry, balancing family and ministry, functioning out of the flesh instead of the spirit, and many other things are daily heart battles that I have to wage war against. It does the Lord, me, and the church no good if I am not walking in the Spirit, killing my idols, and truly living as an example of what it means to follow Christ. A lot of things in my church need addressed, but none are bigger than myself.
  • Ministry is 10000X more fun and refreshing when my marriage is healthy. Early on in the ministry one of the primary things the Lord did is show me my need to look at my marriage, really look at it. From the outside everything looked fine, better than most even. Thankfully, we have had our closest friends tell us the major differences they can see in our marriage from now to five years ago. It took a lot of confession, repentance, forgiveness and grace between Meredith and I, but since those things have become the norm and our marriage has been transformed it has made the ministry a lot more enjoyable. I simply learned I can’t have a great ministry without a great marriage.  
  • I truly believe I serve at the greatest church in the world. I hear horror stories from friends and online about what pastors have to deal with and they constantly make me grateful for The Bridge. We have our issues, for sure, but comparatively speaking I am at a dream church. The primary pressure I feel is from the Lord in desire to advance his Kingdom and serve his people, not unruly church members who seem to hate life and everything about it. Bridge family, thank you.
  • Ministry is truly about what the Lord chooses to do, not what I can do. I know how blessed I am to get to serve at the church I serve, with the people I serve with, and how I have gotten to see the Lord work. Most churches never see the type of fruit we have seen at The Bridge in their entire existence. I have gotten to see the Lord move in, around, and through me in my first five years in unique and powerful ways. I am incredibly grateful and praying for even more. My first five years cannot at all be explained by how incredible I am; it can only be explained by how gracious God is.
  • I truly believe I am on the greatest team in the world. Josh Howerton and Craig McKown were already at The Bridge before I got here and all three of us have gotten to stick together over the last five years. We have failed together, laughed together, grown together, and got to see God do amazing things in our midst. We have now added a lot more staff and the joy I feel in serving on this team hasn’t changed a bit. Our entire team is full of humble men and women who joyfully pour themselves out for the sake of Jesus. It is a team marked by joy, love, and humble confidence.
  • I almost didn’t make it five years. Without getting into details, there were two instances in my first three years at The Bridge that I thought my time in ministry was going to be very short lived. Being in ministry is a really exposing work: it highlights all of your weaknesses, brings insecurities to the surface, and has a unique way of showing you how inadequate you are. I simply didn’t think I was “cut out” for the ministry like I thought I was. I reached a breaking point twice. In very different ways the Lord spoke to me, encouraged me, helped me take heart, and graciously helped me. Thankfully, now I embrace the reality that I am not “cut out” for this work, but I am called to it and it is the Lord who graciously gives me perseverance and encouragement. I am just so glad I am still where I am. Thank you Jesus for meeting me in my brokenness and sustaining me in the ministry. 
  • Ministry and myself are both different than what I thought they would be. You go into ministry thinking you have a good idea about what you are getting yourself into, well you don’t. At least, I didn’t. Ministry is very different than I thought it would be. It isn’t just ministry though, I am much different than I thought I would be. The first five years have revealed a ton to me about myself. I thought I knew exactly what I was good at, where I would thrive, etc. Come to find out I am much better at some things than I realized and what I thought would be my best thing isn’t even close.
  • Seminary/Bible College is not the best training ground for the ministry, the local church is. I am grateful for my theological education and my time in school. The Lord used it powerfully in my life and I will always be grateful. With that said, I now encourage anyone who wants to go into the ministry to first find the local church they most want to learn from, go there, and then figure out theological education. Find the church first, throw yourself into it, and figure out seminary as secondary.
  • I absolutely LOVE what I do and am so incredibly grateful the Lord has called me to this work. I love people, I love seeing God work in their lives, and it is an incredible blessing to get to sit in the seat I am in.

Lord willing, I am looking forward to many, many more years.

One Of Those Weeks

I can’t even really describe, I just didn’t like it. I told a close friend of mine, “Man, I am in a funk and I don’t know what it is.” It looked a bit like this:

  • Harder to go to sleep, harder to wake up
  • Less emotionally motivated
  • Instead of “fanning the flame” spiritually I was begging for a spark
  • My relationships at home were more tense (because of me, not them)
  • Anxious and stressed
  • Simply wasn’t fully “present” when I was around others
  • Walked into a coffee shop this morning and two teens I know say, “You look tired.”

Sitting here, pondering my week I realize these are the weeks that often get overlooked. When things are amazing we have celebration, outward joy, etc. When things are really rough we give them their due attention: grappling with our faith and trying to apply the gospel to our situation.

But what do we do with the “meh” weeks? What does the Bible say to us? How does the gospel apply?

To be clear, this post isn’t really for you, it is for me. I opened the Bible this morning just looking for encouragement, an answer, something to hold onto. Something to stir my heart towards God and give me a direction to walk in accordance with the Spirit, not the flesh.

Colossians 1: 9-14

The Apostle Paul is praying for the church and here is his breakdown:

May these Christians,

  • Be filled with the knowledge of his will (this is a better guiding force than my emotions)
  • To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (my bad week doesn’t give permission for my bad heart to sin licentiously and disobey what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord)
  • Be strengthened with all power, according to God’s glorious might (endless, baby)
  • For endurance (a theme in the New Testament, because it isn’t usually easy)
  • Patience with joy (things don’t always come when we would like, but our joy is deeper than the week we have)

How can these things take effect in our hearts and lives in the midst of a bad week?

By remembering, recalling, and re-telling ourselves…

  • He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light
  • He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

My week may be bad, my heart may not be “into it,” but no matter the depth of either my sin, my melancholy, or simply my indifference… his grace runs deeper still. 

Graces Of God Often Forgotten

Psalm 9 (and many other passages) talk about recounting God’s wondrous deeds towards us… When I read these passages I typically go to “the big ones.” He saved me, awesome… He gave me a great family… sweet. And on and on….

For some reason, God really laid it on me to truly pause, and spend a couple hours reflecting, recounting his goodness and grace towards me. I was on the verge of tears for those couple of hours, truly grateful.

Here are some mega-graces I have often times forgotten or simply not given God enough glory for…

  • When my parents divorced God very purposefully placed some different godly men in my life that ministered to me in ways they won’t know until they get to heaven… Josh Thompson (my small group leader, Sunday School teacher, and simply phenomenal dude that showed me Jesus), Mike Recktenwald (a guy that hosted a poker night that became a great community for me. Often times, in my emotional mess, he would stop the poker game and have all the guys pray for me- most of them probably hated it, but I really needed it)…. thank you.
  • God protected me from viewing pornography. There were a few chances I had that when I look back it is simply astonishing how God guarded my eyes, more importantly my heart. For example, one night I was at a friends house and he asked his mom if we could order porn… she said yes. I wasn’t a christian at this point and I thought it was going to be awesome. Next thing I knew I became extremely nauseous and thought, “If I don’t fall asleep right now I am going to vomit.” I hate vomiting more than anything so I turned over and fell asleep, immediately.
  • Three years ago I prayed, “God, it seems to me I am not cut out for ministry. If you don’t show up and change my mind, I have got to get out.” So, I flew away to a conference, desperate for God to show up. In the back of my mind I kind of stopped believing he would do things like that. After the first message (which had nothing to do with pastors or what I was struggling with), the preacher started to pray… his first line was, “Father, I pray for whoever is in here and considering giving up and walking away.” I wept, then rejoiced.
  • Friendships. God has blessed me with incredibly rich friendships. They have been powerfully transforming for me. Yet, I rarely give them their proper due.
  • My dog, Frazier… You might think I am kidding, but I am not. Nothing has enriched my prayer life more than my dog. Me “walking the dog” has quickly become, “my walks with the Lord.” My mind is undistracted, it is quiet, and I set my thoughts on God… then I listen. It’s the first time in a long time I have had a rhythm of listening to God and very quietly enjoying his presence.
  • Great books. God has used a few books to really change me in major ways: to how I understand my Bible, to help expand my understanding of God, to grow my love for the church, and on and on I can go… Great books have certainly been a gracious gift to me.

I could keep going, but those have been the ones heavy on my heart this evening. May God allow me to spend more time, “recounting his wondrous deeds.”

The Difference A Year Can Make (And God’s Good Plan)

I wrote a blog post at the end of last year where I opened up a very little bit about 2014 being a difficult year personally. It was the most difficult year I have had since my parents divorce when I was 14. I only know how to describe it by calling it an emotional nightmare.

Here are a few things that happened in 2014:

  • My wife and I had a couple issues that we had allowed to lie dormant until some tension forced them to erupt. It was difficult to work through, but it was what we needed…. as God knew.
  • I wrestled with some depression. The only person who saw this and understood what was happening was my dear wife, Meredith. Thankfully, she was amazing.
  • I questioned my calling as a pastor. For several months I wrestled with whether or not I was cut out for the ministry. This exposed some ministry idolatry in me and filled me with a ton of insecurity and self doubt.

There is quite a bit more, but I don’t think it is necessary to parse through the details. Those three things sum it up well enough. The point is, 2014 sucked. When I wrote the blog post at this time last year it was a sigh of relief as I was just coming out of it. This blog post gets to be a bit different, because, man, what a difference a year can make.

How 2015 was different:

  • In every imaginable way my marriage is healthier today than it was last year. Our seventh year was by far our best. We enjoy one another on a level I can confidently say never existed before.
  • Instead of depression, this year was marked with a depth of joy I haven’t felt in years.
  • Not only did God very graciously affirm his call on my life to pastoral ministry, I enjoyed ministry more than ever before. To be honest, this is the first year I felt like I was a good pastor. This is the first year I started figuring out who I am as a pastor which led to me finally starting to “hit my stride.” (I really hope no one reads this as, “Matt thinks he is awesome.” Far from it. Please read as, “Hey! It took four years, but Matt finally learned how to walk!”

Why do I say all that? Because honestly, I thought 2015 was going to be a year of recovery. Instead, I can’t remember a year so full of joy, hope, faith, and love for others than this year. The first six years of our marriage Meredith and I kept asking (silently, of course), “Why isn’t this thing clicking yet?” Now, looking back over this last year I can only ask, “How the heck did it go so well?”

Looking over the last year puts me in awe of God’s kindness and grace. I am nothing special. I did nothing special. God owed me nothing. Yet, for his good pleasure, here I am, joy-filled and overflowing with thanks.

Here is the lesson for me though: God wasn’t any more gracious to me in 2015 than he was in 2014. In fact, the grace felt in 2015 wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the sharpening, unrelenting, sanctifying, difficult, and brutally necessary love of God in 2014. It was God’s love that forced Meredith and I to deal with our junk. It was His love that made sure I dealt with some idolatries. It was His love that didn’t just allow, but led me through a season of pain.

A year can make a stark difference. From 2014 to 2015 I had one of my worst years to one of my best.

Yet, both years were designed by God, out of his love and grace, for my good. And for that I give thanks and am in awe of Him.

My 10 Theology Book Recommendations for “Average Joe”

I love studying theology. It challenges my mind in a way that draws my heart towards Christ. While Seminary students want to dive into Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin and one of my favorite books I have read is the 650+ page monster, The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John Sailhamer, those are not the books I recommend to “average Joe” that sits at my church weekly.

So, if you are the typical 50 hour work week man, the stay at home mom, the retired couple that wants to read good theology together, below are my 10 recommendations or “starting points” to get a good theological foundation. I believe if you chose to embark on working through one or all of these you will be drawn closer to Christ and get an even bigger, more beautiful picture of who God is.

  1. Knowing God by JI Packer
  2. According To Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy
  3. Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
  4. Surprised by Hope by NT Wright
  5. Chosen For Life by Sam Storms
  6. Keep In Step With The Spirit by JI Packer
  7. Pleasures of God by John Piper
  8. Kingdom Come by Sam Storms
  9. Pierced For Our Transgressions by Jeffery, Sach, Ovey
  10. The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

My Four Favorite Things In My Four Years At The Bridge Church

It is July 1, a special day for me. On July 1st, 2011 I began my pastoral journey. By the grace of God, The Bridge Church took a chance on a 23 year old eager young man that wanted nothing more than to be a pastor and serve the church.

Now, it is four years later and a 100 post blog series couldn’t put into words all I have learned, am thankful for, how I have grown, etc.

But, now that it has been four years in full time ministry, thanks to The Bridge, here are my four favorite things from the last four years:

____________________________________________

1) My fellow staff members. I have seen healthy and unhealthy staff/leadership environments. I have never seen a staff that genuinely loves, enjoys, and respects one another like the one I get to be a part of. My favorite thing about the last four years is, with all sincerity, the team I get to be a part of. They challenge me as a man, as a father, as a husband, and as a pastor. They pull out the best in me, expose the worst in me, and walk in grace with me all along the way.

2) My personal growth. I was 23 when The Bridge hired me. What does that mean? It means I had a lot of growing and learning to do. As a Christ follower and as a pastor, being in the ministry has forced me to grow in some tough, uncomfortable ways. But man, I am so grateful for it. I have had two rough seasons in my first four years at The Bridge. Both times I have come out the other side closer to Christ, more mature in my faith, and as a better pastor for the church I love.

3) Getting to be with and serve so many people.love people. Getting to be their pastor is one of the greatest honors of my life, one that I carry with a lot of seriousness. I love getting to lead, walk alongside, serve, weep with, rejoice with, and simply have an “in” with so many families. God has made a bunch of really awesome people and it has been a great joy to get to have an opportunity to know so many of them. The relationships I have with so many families at The Bridge is easily one of my favorite things from the last four years.

4) Getting the inside look of God’s work in so many people’s lives. As a pastor it can be hard because you hear all of the hard, crushing stories. BUT, you also get to hear the crazy stories of redemption and grace that not everyone gets to hear. This aspect of being in the ministry the last four years has helped me stay in awe of God and humbled by his grace.