Pastoral Ministry

12 Stages of Pastoral Ministry

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Everyone’s story is different, but I’ve worked with enough students and pastors now over two decades to see some patterns in pastoral journeys. Here are some general “stages” I’ve seen:

  1. “God saved me!” I was separated from my Creator, but He pursued me and saved me! I want to follow Him. My life is His.
  2. “I can’t believe God’s called me to ministry.” You just know that God has a plan for you, and it includes leading His people in the local church. You’re humbled and surprised at the same time.
  3. “I love to preach!” This is my story, but it’s the story of many others, too. When the preaching fire is in your bones, you can’t help but proclaim the Word. There’s nothing quite like it.
  4. “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Maybe you remember those days. Your first sermon. The first counseling session with a hurting church member. The first time you baptized someone. The first wedding and funeral. You prayed through every step along the way because you knew you’d mess it up apart from God’s help.
  5. “I want God to use me for His glory.” That’s all that matters. You don’t want to waste time or energy; you want to give every ounce of your being to God’s work, and you long for Him to use you in a mighty way.
  6. “I’m fairly sure I’m God’s gift to the kingdom.” I realize this is hyperbole, but it’s not far off from where many young pastors go in their journey. In fact, there’s a VERY FINE line between “God, use me” and “I’m God’s gift.” The combination of zeal, success, and ego convinces us that we’re uniquely gifted among all ministers.
  7. “On the other hand, maybe I’m not . . .” It’s that first, sometimes painful, recognition that God has called many, many faithful, talented pastors – some who get more recognition than we get. It’s the first crack in the shell of pastoral ego.
  8. “This work is really frustrating.” Sometimes the frustration is so great that we really want to say, “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.” Leading God’s people can be messy, aggravating, and hard.
  9. “God has broken me.” It happens. God loves us so much that He brings us to the end of ourselves. The most faithful, effective, God-glorifying pastors I know can tell the story of what God taught them in the valley.
  10. “I just want Him to use me.” Gone is the ego behind this statement. We’re just grateful that He chooses to use us at all.
  11. “I love God’s people.” When you’ve shared life with generations of believers, you grow to love them with a God-given affection. You’ve learned that grudges aren’t worth holding, and you love even the most unlovable folks. Including the ones who frustrated you in #8 above.
  12. “I really can’t believe God called me to ministry.” We look back and now see that the story has always been about God’s grace, never about our talent, our ability, our leadership. Grace lets us do what we do – and we’re better pastors when we learn that truth.

Where do you find yourself in this story? What stages might you add?

*This blog was originally published February 2019 at

  • Pastoral Ministry
Chuck Lawless

Director of the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership

Dr. Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions, Dean of Doctoral Studies, and Vice-President for Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary, in addition to serving as Team Leader for Theological Education Strategists for the International Mission Board. He previously served as a Vice-President for Global Theological Advance for the IMB. Prior to that, he was dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, where he also served as Vice President for Academic Programming and the Director of Professional Doctoral Studies. He received a B.S. degree from Cumberland College and M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Seminary. He is the author of eight works, including “Membership Matters,” and “Spiritual Warfare,” and has contributed numerous articles to denominational periodicals. He and his wife Pam have been married for over 25 years and reside here in Wake Forest, NC.

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