I remember well my first time as pastor in June 2001. It was exciting and awe inspiring opportunity to love on a local congregation following my graduation from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have learned a lot since 2001 through success and pain. Here is the advice I would give a new first time pastor.
Protect the emotional health of your wife.
Make sure your wife has friends outside of the church and community. Don’t unload with her all of the daily problems of the church. It will cause undue burden on her, how she views others and hurt her worship. Protect your marriage and your wife above all else (only outside your walk with Christ). Make sure you always have a date night. Church members often would ask me how they could help. Ask them to watch your kids for a date night. Remember, churches come and go but you only have one family. Guard your home like a hawk.
Protect your emotional health.
My understanding from health care professionals, it is imperative that all staff working in areas where ionizing radiation (MRI’s, X Ray’s, etc) is a risk must be protected against excessive exposure. Staff radiation exposure levels must be monitored using dosimeters and most are required to wear led aprons. In the event of an identified excessive dosage, the staff member is immediately notified and their working practice and environment investigated. As a pastor, we are often directly exposed to toxic situations. People share with us their deepest scars and most shameful sins. We walk alongside a family in the midst of crisis and too often carry their burdens as our own. We absorb their problems and too often wear them emotionally. Find a good counselor to keep your head clear and to decompress with the heavy burdens of pastoral care. We all need someone to walk alongside us and protect us from “excessive exposure.”
Protect your spiritual health.
Find an accountability partner outside of the church. Stay fresh in your quiet time and walk with God. Pray for your enemies. Build a strong relationship with your deacon chair and invest in him. I did and they always had my back. Some members you will never win over because of deep scars in their life and they project their anger about God onto the pastor. Let go of the people pleasing and be at peace.
Protect your physical health.
My mentor would remind me again and again “don’t write spiritual checks your body cannot cash.” Do not dishonor God by not taking care of the ONE body He has given you. Everything you do for God operates out of it. You are setting a poor example for others if you let your body go. It is easy to do going from one crisis and from one hospital visit to another. Make it a priority and you will be able to do more for God and your family.
Preach deep and wide.
Develop a strong scripture centered preaching schedule and openly advertise far and wide. Publicly announcing your schedule far in advance protects you from people thinking you are impulsively responding to internal issues. Read and absorb the Biblical passage over and over again. Wrestle with God’s Word and write out questions you have from the text. Then seek to answer those questions as you read commentaries.