A successful pastor will take days off, emphasize family fun and find identity in Christ instead of the pulpit. Those are three of 15 lessons Ray and Anne Ortlund cite from their 35 years in the pastorate.
“Take a day off every week,” Anne advised. “We didn’t do that at first and after awhile we had tummy troubles. The doctor said we were headed for a stroke or ulcers.”
“Frantic living sets the wrong pattern for Christian living,” her husband added. “Do you own the church or does the church own you?”
Married 52 years, the couple operates Renewal Ministries, based in Newport Beach, Calif. Between them they have written 21 books. Starting at a church in rural Pennsylvania, the Ortlunds pastored a suburban congregation in upstate New York and finished their
service at two Southern California churches.
While raising four children, they learned the importance of having fun as a family. Sometimes that meant withdrawing a child from school on a day off, but teachers never objected. “Our kids grew up with happy impressions of ministry so they wanted to go into ministry,” Ortlund said. “We wanted to [teach] our children that ministry is fun. It’s a great privilege.”
However, he cautioned pastors to avoid tying their identity to the pulpit. Never think of it as “my” church, he said, something he learned in his final pastorate. Called by a congregation that had been through a painful split, nothing went right. Finally, he and the elders agreed he should step aside. “After 29 years of success, the next two were full of pain,” he said. “I couldn’t please the people or do anything right.”
That experience taught them pastors are always one step away from disaster, Anne Ortlund said. “You always have to stay humble.” Still, God will become precious to you, Ray Ortlund said. And, because Job was blessed by praying for his critical friends, the couple continued to pray for that church. Today it is regarded as one of the nation’s most innovative, he said.
In addition, they learned that a pastor and spouse must maintain a Christ-centered — rather than a ministry-centered — mentality. “There’s never a problem that fixing your eyes on Jesus won’t help,” said Anne Ortlund, while her husband noted, “No matter what happens, remember you’re still in one of the greatest callings of God.”
Their remaining 10 lessons:
* The best way to succeed in a pastorate is by following a lemon. At their first church, the previous pastor had been unpopular, which made them look great. But, Anne Ortlund said, never speak ill of a predecessor.
* Set a high priority on study. Ortlund included his times in the church bulletin to let people he knew he devoted mornings to prayer and Bible study.
* Expect to have trouble with church founders or leaders, like one man who fought them constantly: “He was a good guy,” Ortlund said. “Remember, the people who oppose you aren’t bad, they just see things differently.”
* When under attack, don’t say anything. Three women at one church accused him of being too liberal. He resisted the impulse to respond. They left the church after deacons gave him a vote of confidence.
* Be wary of a false sense of power. Ortlund recalled the day he was “swaggering” and said if anyone didn’t like the church they could leave. But he interrupted the final hymn to apologize for his intemperate remarks.
* Learn to coexist with negative people. No matter where you go, they will always be there, Anne Ortlund said.
* Develop a specific philosophy. Ortlund outlined how his most successful pastorate came by developing three priorities and making sure every church ministry reflected them.
* Handle your finances according to God’s Word. That includes not co-signing for loans, a lesson they learned just 10 years ago. A businessman they knew and liked asked them to guarantee a note. After he declared bankruptcy, the bank took everything the Ortlunds owned with the exception of their home.
* Don’t let your ministry take on a strident tone. A friend who let battles become personal and political confided to Ortlund that it cost him his anointing.
* Remember the best wine comes last. “Don’t worry about becoming old,” said Ortlund, who at 75 hosts a radio show aired over Moody Broadcasting. “You’ll become saggy and wrinkled, but God becomes more wonderful to you.”
Copyright 1999--Ministry Health website. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission of Rowland Croucher, Editor, John Mark Ministries http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 894. This article originally appeared in the Baptist Press, 26 Feb. 1999.