Nearly everything I think I know about pastoral ministry I’ve learned from someone else. Usually the learning has come in one-sentence statements mentioned in almost throw-away lines. Often it’s been driving along in the car talking about life and ministry.

I’ve been thinking about this recently and decided to compile a list of some of them. In no particular order, here are some gems that have served me for years in most cases.

“Remember: You preach for an audience of One.”

That was Peter Rochelle’s remark to me before I preached my initial sermon. We certainly may preach to audiences of more than one, but we only ever preach for an audience of One. With that remark he helped me settle my highest loyalty as a preacher and drove a stake deep into the heart of this preacher’s fear of man. I’m forever grateful for that conversation and the path Peter set me on. He was my first model of exposition and pastoral care.

“Teach and pray. Love and stay.”

That’s a short summary of pastoral ministry from Mark Dever. Teach the people God’s word. Pray down heaven on the people. Love the people. And, if possible, stay with the people over the long haul.

“Surround yourself with A+ guys.”

David Horner’s counsel to Peter Rochelle regarding selecting elders and deacons. Peter passed that along to us fellow elders who served with him. That admonition fixed our eyes on 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 in our search for co-laborers. For twenty years now it’s been a theme and it’s never failed. In some ways it’s the heartbeat of Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons.

“All my problems are in my own heart.” 

That’s a line from Mike McKinley. He offered that up about five or six years ago when I asked him how things were going at his church. Without flinching that’s what he said and it was like getting shot in the chest with a canon. Immediately I knew that my problems were in my heart. It’s taken six years to work out what some of those were, but Mike’s comment, by God’s grace, began an ocular log removal process that goes on until this day.

“Not all disagreement is opposition.”

Boom. There’s that canon fire again. This time John Folmar lit the match during a car ride in Dubai. He doesn’t even remember the comment and I forget the precise context. But when he said it I knew I’d been confusing the two in far too many instances. Since that time it’s been helpful for me to recognize that godly people may view the same situation with really different perspectives and outcomes in mind. That difference doesn’t itself mean opposition or an active resistance to me. It may simply be an honest disagreement and it’s pride on my part to assume that if they only saw it the way I see it then they’d agree with me.

“Thabiti, how do you want to be remembered when you die?”

Mack Stiles asked me that question as we drove to UCCD. I don’t know what it is about Sheikh Zayed Highway in Dubai, but I tend to get a lot of valuable spiritual input on that road! Of course Mack’s question isn’t new. Lot’s of people have thought it through. I’d even thought about it before. But the value in Mack’s asking lay largely in it’s timing and in Mack’s keen insight of my own family. It helps to be asked this question by someone whose been where you think you’re trying to go and who knows you well. I now regularly ask myself this question and it’s helping my soul, by God’s grace.

“We offer you friendship.”

This was Mack speaking to John Folmar eight years ago as John was considering a call to UCCD. I’ll never forget the way Mack leaned across the table in Chili’s, looked John in the eye, and said these words. I’d never seen a man make such an offer so warmly and directly. Indelible.

“When will you relinquish your passive approach to friendship?”

Mark Dever asked this question during a Sunday morning service. It was one of those well-placed, well-phrased application questions that leaves you meditating for five minutes, until you realize the sermon continued while you reflected. It exposed some deep-seated passivity in my spiritual relationships. For most of my life friendships came easily. I didn’t have to work on them much. As an assistant pastor I could almost always be “good cop.” Then I became a senior pastor. Something about that role defies passivity in friendship. You feel the sanctifying force of God’s hand squeezing you into a more proactive, intentional approach to cultivating friendships of all sorts. Having this question lodged in my head a couple years before becoming a senior pastor helped me understand some of what was happening when I finally entered the role.

“Rest before you get tired.”

I love that bit of pithy wisdom. I “learned” it from Matt Schmucker. I can’t recall when I first heard him say that but it stuck. I say I “learned” it because, properly speaking, I haven’t yet been able to do it consistently. Let’s call it a goal.

So there you have it. Everything I know about pastoral ministry as taught in passing statements from brothers I know. The fact that it’s nine is incidental, but Mark would feel it appropriate.

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14 thoughts on “Everything I Know about Pastoral Ministry I Learned Riding with Pastors”

  1. David Starchman says:

    Wow, great stuff! God-sent confirmation and illumination in my heart. I thank God for this. It’s for me.

  2. Tyler says:

    This post was amazingly helpful and convicting! Thank you.

  3. Good quotes. Thanks for them.

    I think, for the last one, pastoral ministry is like my other pursuit: distance running. Distance running doesn’t initially look difficult; many observers think they can easily do the same, that it’s not so tiring. But the key to good distance running is knowing how to pace yourself; what level of exertion you can maintain over the long run.

  4. Cindy Finley says:

    Excellent word for pastors’ wives too!

  5. bonnie redmond says:

    Good stuff

  6. Nick says:

    Well said, brother. Iron does indeed sharpen iron (Proverbs 27:17). And those men no doubt learned from someone else, too. It’s a wise thing to emulate godly men, who themselves emulate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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