John Markum

How to Know You Have a Good Pastor

Jesus warned us that there would be many wolves in sheep’s clothing seeking to devour God’s people (Matthew 7:15). Sometimes it can be difficult to spot the wolves before its too late. And if you’ve ever been “bit” you may have a tendency to see wolves where they don’t exist. So how do you avoid projecting your past pain or present fears onto a potentially good shepherd of God’s flock? There’s a few things we immediately think of that should be obvious, Does he preach the Bible? Does he regularly give the Gospel? Does he have model godly character? Does he care for the congregation? But let’s get more specific, because even these traits can be hard to discern. Here are a five qualities I look for in senior pastors that tell me they are the real deal…

  • He doesn’t always make you feel good about yourself. Another pastor once told me that the two-fold job of a shepherd is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” Some members can have an entitled attitude toward their pastor. But good pastors work for God first and foremost, and their congregation secondly. Paul said in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the favor of people, or of God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Truth is, we need bold men of God, who lovingly call us out of our comfort zones, and model the way for us.
  • He praises people publicly and privately. A good pastor regularly acknowledges the faithfulness of the congregation with words of encouragement and other appropriate gestures, without needing to make themselves the “hero” of the story. With the responsibility of speaking, teaching, and preaching several times a week, it can be easy and tempting for a pastor to focus on themselves and take credit for the church’s accomplishments. But there would be no church without the people. Good pastors know this and honor their people for their love, generosity, faithfulness, and work in the ministry.
  • He handles confrontation well. A pastor has a massive responsibility to instruct and correct people (2 Timothy 4:2), but how they correct people will make the outcome more or less likely to succeed. Good pastors confront people with grace when necessary, for the purpose of restoration rather than to discipline people. Yes, sometimes a pastor needs to ask someone to leave, but these should be extremely rare. While I have had plenty of people leave my ministry over the past 20 years for a myriad of reasons, I have yet to ask someone to leave my church and not come back. Like amputation, telling someone to leave should be a last resort, and only when every other reasonable option has been attempted to bring healing to the person.
  • He smells like sheep. This one may sound a bit weird, but if you’ve ever spent any time around livestock, you get it! Cows, sheep, horses, etc. all just have a certain smell to them. A good pastor does not live in an ivory tower, untouched by the “smell” of people they shepherd. He lives among, hugs, laughs, eats, and serves alongside the people he is called to lead. You can impress from a distance, but you can only truly influence up close and personal. Good pastors understand that they cannot lead people somewhere they are not going themselves. As such, they do life among them, modelling the very behavior they are supposedly trying to teach. There’s two other reasons they smell like sheep. They actually love the sheep and want to spend times with them, and… we’re sheep also! We all belong to Jesus, which is why pastors should live a life that says “follow me, as I follow Christ.”
  • He watches over his whole church. This one gets tricky… I don’t mean that they personally have a deep relationship with every member of their church. That is impossible past about a dozen people. Even Jesus only had 12 close friends while on this earth, and one of those was a traitor. Your pastor – on his best days – might have the physical, emotional, and relational bandwidth to have 10 to 15 close relationships… max. Which means that if your church consists of only 100 people, you are only 10-15% likely to be one of the close people in his life. Good pastors build healthy infrastructure, leadership development, small groups ministries, and follow up systems to ensure that everyone is ministered to by one another, whether he is personally able to minister to each individual 1-on-1 or not. He “equips the saints for the work of ministry… until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

There are certainly plenty of other qualities one could identify in a “good pastor”. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, or show some love for the spiritual leaders in your life.

Pastor John

The Most Important Thing You Should Know About Your Pastor

I want to preface this by saying that I love my church and I know my church loves me! It is difficult to share important issues like this without someone assuming there’s a problem. Few people know what it’s like to be a pastor, unless they’ve done it. So I want to be clear that I’m writing this from a place of transparency, not a place of resentment. I’m also writing this for all the pastors out there who feel what I’m about to share, but don’t feel safe to say it themselves. In the end, I hope this helps everyone in your churches relate to your pastor better, wherever you call your church home…

I’ve been blessed to be called “Pastor” for nearly 20 years now. I’ve also had the privilege of mentoring a number of other godly men who serve as pastors in other ministries, as well as networking with hundreds who serve around the country and across the globe. If I had to summarize the most important thing I wish people in our churches knew about us, it would be this…

Pastors are people too.

No duh, right? But in my personal experience, and seeing the experiences of so many others in my role, I sincerely believe that most church members and attenders routinely forget this, and it manifests itself in a multitude of ways. From forgetting that your pastor has his own sin and personality, to not realizing that he has feelings and needs also – many people in churches see their pastor as a resource, and little more. To the average church attender’s credit, I sincerely believe this is generally unintentional.

When we often approach our pastors to express our desires, preferences, struggles, frustrations, and needs, it gets easy to forget that our pastors are trying to manage the desires, preferences, struggles, frustrations, and needs of everyone in the church and community they’re trying to reach… not to mention their own desires, preferences, struggles, frustrations, and needs!

Add to this the fact that pastor are almost always unable to share any of these struggles. You can vent about your job on Facebook, but not if you’re a pastor. If a customer or client is hard to work with at your job, you can joke about it afterward with your coworkers or friends, but for a pastor, this would amount to spreading gossip or far worse. So when pastors get hurt – and we often do – the only person they are generally able to share it with, is the only person they are incapable of hiding it from… your pastor’s wife. And yet, that is also not an option many times, for reasons of confidentiality and protecting her well-being. As a result, we tell our wives things like, “I’m hurting over something, but I can’t share it.”

The truth is, most pastors are desperately lonely. Few people in church ever sincerely think to check on a pastors’ emotional, relational, or spiritual well-being until a sin-issue arises with him, which usually results in his dismissal… and he knows this, and wants avoid becoming a casualty. So what do most pastors do? Bottle it up. We seek the Lord, yes. And Jesus is enough for us, just like He is enough for you. But we are people, too. And it gets hard to focus on Jesus, when the only focus many pastors get from people is in the form of criticism.

Let me offer a few helpful things to seeing your pastor as a person whom Jesus radically loves…

  • Accept that he isn’t perfect. Knowing he isn’t perfect is one thing, but accepting it is something different entirely. Realize that he is trying to grow in His walk with God just like you, and he is not going to get it right all of the time. When he once again “falls short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), choose to extend the same grace to him as you hope he will extend to you in your sin.
  • Recognize he lives in a glass bowl. The pastor lives his life on a very public display. We routinely share our lives, flaws, failures, and struggles as we preach because we know that you may admire our strengths, but you relate to our weaknesses. Additionally, our entire families are on display! You know far more about our kids then our kids know about you… this creates a ton of pressure for the pastor, his wife, and their kids.
  • Respect healthy boundaries. Pastoring is a 24/7 job. We get calls and emails in the middle of the night, on our days off, and while vacationing with our families, often for non-emergencies. Some people stop us to criticize us right before we’re suppose to stand up and preach God’s Word. And others just assume his availability is entirely open to their own schedule. Some helpful advice, is don’t call/text your pastor after 9pm unless it is an emergency. If you need to talk, ask for an appointment, and tell him what it’s about. If you’re vague, you put him in the position of speculating and fearing the worst.
  • Express gratitude more than criticism. You are probably aware of 100 problems in your church, but your pastor is aware of 1,000. The vast majority of which, he is unable to share with you. He has to address roughly a dozen issues a day at a minimum just to keep the ministry moving in the right direction. Choose to be one of the people who honors, thanks, prays for, and expresses love and kindness to your pastor. Even more so, do this for his wife and kids! Some of the best acts of love my church family has ever done for me was blessing my wife and children. It was Tiffany’s birthday just last Sunday, and several people brought my wife cards, gifts, and even flowers. A few months ago, another member in the church discovered my youngest son was really into different rocks and geodes, so he bought him a special microscope for looking at different rocks… it wasn’t even my son’s birthday! Even just a simple word of encouragement, text, or email to say “thanks for all you do” goes much farther than you realize.
  • Listen to grow. The best compliment to any sermon is a changed life. Some people only listen to criticize. Others listen because they “like” the preaching, but they don’t intend to do anything with it! God promised that His Word would never return void, but would accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:11). Even if your pastor is not the most-brilliant preacher you’ve ever heard, he’s your preacher. If he weekly opens you to the Scriptures and does his best to convey something useful through the Word, take what can be used and choose to be obedient to the Word.
  • Embrace the vision. The pastor is called to lead, or literally “oversee” the church (1 Peter 5:1-3) – not just preach to it. And a leader take people somewhere they were not planning to go. If they were planning to go, then they would have done it without the leader, ironically making them the leader. Good pastors do their best to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, obey the Word of God, understand their church, and discern their times and community as we lead the church. We have many voices competing to influence our leadership, including within our churches – and they are often contradictory of one another or contradictory of God’s voice. Instead of trying to get your pastor to see things your way, what if you chose to see things his way? What if the whole congregation chose to see things the same way as the man you’ve collectively affirmed as your pastor? What could your church get done for the Kingdom if this was your default attitude, rather than a reluctant last resort?
  • Pray for your pastor. Pray for his family. Pray for his marriage. Pray for God to bless him, lead him, and reward him openly for his labor. Pray for his integrity and character. Pray for his boldness and leadership. Pray for his peace. As it goes for your pastor, it will often go for your church. If he struggles, the church struggles. If he falls, the church stumbles. If he wins, the church wins. Pray that God would protect, guide, and bless him as he serves all of you, so that it may also go well for the church.

I know for many of you reading this, you feel a weight of anxiety about trusting your pastor. I also know that in many cases, that comes from a place of church hurt, often because of a “pastor” who loved his authority more than his congregation. But in my experience, those kind are the exception, not the norm. Most pastors are hard-working, deep-loving, God-fearing men who wish to lead well, and draw their communities to Jesus. In my next post, I’ll give a handful of ways you know you got a “good” pastor.

Pastor John

Ministry Resources: Bible Study Tools

Every pastor, preacher, or student of Scripture needs reliable resources to study the Bible. There are literally hundreds or thousands of resources out there, but I wanted to share some of my favorite Bible study tools. Most of these are free, and the the ones that cost a bit are totally worth it…

    Bible Hub looks like a website built in the early 1990’s, with lackluster user interface and a very monochromatic design. Despite this, it is heavily packed and hyperlinked between Strong’s Concordance reference numbers, original languages, commentaries, and other translations for easy comparison between translator word choices and reasoning. Great for verse-by-verse, and word-by-word study. Totally free…
    I don’t know why I still use this site! But for whatever reason, it is still my default place to look up passages and copy/paste them into my sermon notes. It is super simple to use and has access to nearly every Bible version/translation ever published. It also contains original translation notes hyperlinked within the passages. This is only useful for me on desktop, for mobile I go with The Bible App, completely! I love their reading plans, and community connections. You can follow my church in the app here. Also, totally free, but with an occasionally annoying ad bar at the sides.
    This has all the tools as Bible Hub, but with better data searching. It is not as user friendly as Bible Hub however, so I usually only get into BLB when I’m absolutely lost in the hunt to understand specific words and their usage. Seminary professors actually got me into using this tool. This site is also free, but requests for donations to support their server costs.
  4. Logos Bible software.
    This one cost something, and it is not necessarily cheap. But you do get what you pay for with this. With literal thousands of searchable cross-referenced Bible study and theology tools, it is the apex Bible study resource, perfect for anyone writing and preaching sermons on a consistent basis. It would make a great year-end/Christmas gift for a senior pastor! This price does range, depending on what features and tools you want access to, but you can also scan the ISBN code of physical books you already own, and add them straight into your Logos library! There’s also hundreds of maps, graphs, diagrams, and more to use, such that you’ll likely never use all that Logos has to offer. You can even build sermons directly in Logos where you’re doing your studying, making this a true “All-in-One” Bible Study resource.

If you’re a regular Bible student, preacher, etc. what other tools do you recommend? Comment below. ALSO! If you sign up for my email list here, I’ll send you a free Yearly Sermon Planning spreadsheet. Throughout the year I’ll also send out other free resources, like sermon series ideas I’ve used, new posts to the blog, and materials I make like the Markum Bible Study series I’ve written so far.

Pastor John

The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives. Pain hurts. That's the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully

The Premium of Pain