Brian Parks

Unique Temptations for a New Pastor

If you walked into our church seven years ago, the gray hair in my scruffy beard might have led you to mistake me for a veteran preacher. But despite some wrinkles and a penchant for 70’s rock, I was a rookie. I had served as a lay pastor for several years and knew that leading a church plant would come with fresh challenges. But the new senior role exposed me to many temptations that I did not expect.

Some merely taunted and tempted me. Others I fell for.

Trying Too Much Too Soon

It’s normal to begin with big vision and gospel-sized hopes for your church. But I was tempted to do too much, too quickly. Many weeks I succumbed and found myself overwhelmed, exhausted, and not doing anything particularly well.

“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32). Many weeks I set out to take the city but gained little ground.

All the parables with agrarian imagery also challenged me (cf. Mark 4:26–32). I’ve heard more than one wise shepherd suggest that pastoring is like farming; slow, faithful, day-in and day-out work bears the most fruit over time. The great preacher James Boice said that we usually overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in ten. Shorter weekly to-do lists and bigger long-term goals serve us well.

Focusing on Weak Sheep to the Detriment of Cultivating Leaders

Men with hearts like the Good Shepherd find great joy in taking care of the flock. And weak sheep will often ask for that care with greater vigor than members who occupy themselves with serving others.

In the early years of pastoring, I filled my time with caring for weak sheep and tended to neglect fellow or potential leaders. “We’re doing more ministry if we spread our efforts, right?” I thought to myself.

But I forgot that God had called me to care for leaders as well. I needed to “entrust [the gospel] to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Jesus picked twelve and gave the bulk of his time, teaching, and training to them—even prioritizing Peter, James, and John among them. I needed to rethink the time I was investing in weak sheep in order to cultivate and care for fellow shepherds.

Launching New Programs Without Considering Long-Term Consequences

People love programs. If you can package and standardize ministry into events, it will often have greater appeal to people in your congregation.

Programs aren’t bad in and of themselves. They often serve helpful purposes, whether it’s Sunday morning classes, evangelism training, or youth group. Programs can serve God’s purposes; the problem comes when they are seen as the only way to accomplish the goals for which they’re designed.

The New Testament describes very few organized ministry activities in programmatic terms. Yet members have asked me on more than one occasion, “Why don’t we have a _____ program?” Many of them had come from churches with programs galore. In Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s book The Trellis and the Vine, they tell of a church that had 23 different ministry programs listed in the bulletin every Sunday.

I often wanted the same goal that my members’ proposed programs promised, but I feared that our goal would become perpetuating the program, over and against organic ministry in the lives of members.

Despite pressure from members, I was slow to implement new programs—while fortified by wise elders—and I’m glad for it. Ask yourself: are there ways to teach and train through your sermons, Sunday services, or other existing programs, instead of starting a new one? Would ordinary discipling relationships accomplish just as much as, if not more than, a new program? If the goal is to help people learn new ministry skills, might there be a short-term solution that won’t saddle you with an ongoing program that could become a “sacred cow”? Think through long-term consequences before starting a new program.

Being Overly Buoyed by Praise or Sunk by Criticism

C.H. Spurgeon in his book Lectures to My Students says, “You cannot stop people’s tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken.” I return often to this chapter as I continue to pray for “thick skin” and a “soft heart,” rather than the “thin skin” and “hard heart” that my sinful nature pushes me toward.

In my first years, I was overly buoyed by praise from members and overly discouraged by criticism. “That sermon really blessed me, pastor” is encouraging for anyone to hear, and we should praise God when it comes. But criticisms that catch us off guard can push us as low as praises take us high.

We serve the congregation, but Jesus is our master (1 Cor. 4:1). And it’s to him that we ultimately answer. Here’s where the temptation to neglect our own spiritual disciplines leaves us vulnerable to Satan’s schemes. Regularly nurturing our discipleship and love of Christ guards us from being overly influenced by praise or criticism.

I follow English soccer with a passion. When new players make their debut, they’re always vulnerable to “rookie mistakes,” despite their skill and eager desire to serve the team. They’ll make mistakes, alright! And many of the players learn from them and go on to become seasoned veterans.

The same is true for new pastors. If we navigate temptations with the Lord’s help and humbly learn from our mistakes, the Lord will use us for his purposes.

I may have had gray in my scruffy beard, but in those early years of pastoring, Paul’s words for Timothy felt like they were for me too: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. . . . Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:12, 15).

Editors’ note:  A version of this article appeared at

Brian Parks
Brian Parks