Until the message asking for "advice to a young preacher" came in last week, it really had not occurred to me that I might not actually be a young preacher anymore in the eyes of my peers. Mind you, at 52 years of age, I know that I have much to be grateful for. I am not on any medication whatsoever, I still look and feel young, and I am far physically stronger than I was in my 20s through 40s. But I suppose that does not change the fact that I have taken more than 19,000 laps around the Earth's axis.
And that is indeed enough time to have learned a thing or two.
I know that many members of the clergy read this column since so many of you have communicated with me about it through the years. I also know that most of my readers are members of churches and other places of worship and have clergy that they care about. So hopefully, the following thoughts will be a help and blessing to everyone. I will put it in the form of a letter since it seems to be such a personal thing.
Dear Preacher, thank you for what you do. Your countless hours of prayer, study, service and sacrifice are deeply appreciated. If I may be so bold, though, I would also like to offer you some helpful advice. You are so good to counsel others; please allow me here and now to counsel you.
To begin with, please remember that your walk with God is more important than your work for God. You get pretty busy in the ministry; I know that. But Jesus told his disciples in John 15:5, "Without me ye can do nothing." If you do not take plenty of time for your own quiet, personal time with God, then you will find yourself falling while you are trying to help others to stand.
Also, Preacher, you need to guard both your testimony and your purity. We seem to have come through several decades now in which a lot of preachers somehow thought it was a great idea to be unfaithful to their wives, careless in their behavior and even creeps who preyed on children. Do I even need to mention how horrible all of that is? You, Preacher, need to be above reproach and, therefore, far more careful than anyone else.
Do not be alone with a member of the opposite sex, or a minor, ever, even for counseling purposes. Do you need a secretary? Make your wife option No. 1 on that, and if that is not possible, make option No. 2 someone who could be your grandmother or even grandfather! Keep your wife close by at all times. Either have joint social-media accounts or, at the very least, make sure that she has the password to every one of yours and checks them regularly. Make your profile picture one of you and her together. Have "happily married" or "Husband" in all of your bios. Wear a wedding ring big enough to be seen from Mars. I could go on indefinitely on this, but I think you get the picture and can extrapolate from here.
Let's talk about finances as well, shall we? You, Preacher, are responsible for taking care of your family long-term. I have seen way too many of the clergy pawn off irresponsibility as "faith" through the years. Paul told Timothy that "if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." So provide. Have a retirement account, and fund it fully. Have an emergency fund. Have life insurance. Have either health insurance or one of the myriad excellent Christian medical sharing plans. Live on a budget. Have short-, mid-, and long-term savings. Have your own home, and pay it off early. Do you know how many wives and kids of clergy have found themselves homeless when a preacher died and they suddenly had to leave a parsonage? Nothing is more pitiful than a preacher who has served the Lord for decades and then ends up old, penniless and bitter. Don't be that guy; it is your responsibility to do better than that.
And now, stand up and take a look down toward your feet. Can you see them? If not, sit back down and buckle up, buttercup (or in some cases butter bowl or butter tub). Have you ever preached 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, that part about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Ghost? If you have some legit medical condition that has made you obese, I will give you a partial pass here. But if you have simply adopted a sedentary lifestyle, eaten like an idiot and avoided the gym as if it was the gateway to hell, then you are living in sin as surely as someone who ruins their body through smoking or drunkenness or illicit drug use.
"Fried" and "died" rhyme for good reason. Learn to eat things grilled, baked or broiled. Reacquaint yourself with these amazing things called fruits and vegetables. Choose whole grains. Practice portion control. Work out hard at least five days a week; "If ya' don't sweat, ya' ain't done yet." Get on a scale regularly, and take measurements regularly.
Also, get some rest. And, full disclosure, the previous things I mentioned come easy to me, but this is the one I am most guilty of violating. I am a certified workaholic and am as likely to be found cutting trees and clearing brush at the church as I am sitting at a desk. Seventy hours plus a week for me is pretty standard. So this is one my dear wife has to hassle me about pretty regularly, and she is right, and I am wrong (I said it, honey; make a note of this day!) God prescribed a day of rest for us from the very beginning, and Jesus said, "Come apart and rest a while." So have a day off. Have a hobby. Take vacations. Get some sleep. As many preachers have fallen from exhaustion as have from temptation.
Lastly, don't seek fame or popularity. Let the red carpet be for self-absorbed purveyors of entertainment. Those who want to be known and liked are a poor fit for the ministry. You cannot expect to be popular while doing as God instructed Isaiah, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet and shew my people their transgression." But people need to hear the truth, and they need to hear it from you.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at wordofhismouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.