The First Step to Becoming a Great Pastor

Ask yourself, "How is your walk with God?"
Ask yourself, "How is your walk with God?" (Lightstock )

I want to be a great pastor. I make no apology for that. It's an ambition.

I want to lead and shepherd well. I want to preach and communicate effectively. I want to develop leaders and cast vision and build a great staff. So where should I start?

Level zero.

One of my favorite lines from the original Kung Fu Panda is when Po shows up at the dojo to begin his training and tells Master Shifu, "Let's just start at level zero." Shifu explains that there is no such thing, but gives Po a chance to prove his most basic skill of punching one of those wobbly inflatable toys. It doesn't go well, and after Po returns to Shifu's feet, beaten, bruised and burned by all the equipment he accidentally stumbled through, Shifu pats him on the head and softly declares, "There is now a level zero." Here's the clip, in case you need a break from politics.

Get Spirit-filled content delivered right to your inbox! Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

That's me! Sometimes, I just need to go back to level zero. What's level zero, for pastors and church leaders? What is it that we need to put into practice before we begin doing anything else? What is it that, regardless of our knowledge, our talent, and our charisma, we cannot or at least should not lead without?

The first step in being a great pastor is to walk with God. 

I'm not speaking of "walking with God" in mystical terms, like Eddie Murphy's white-robed-guru character in Holy Man. And I'm also not in any way promoting the kind of atmosphere that appears in some circles where the clergy are revered as existing on some separate plane closer to God than everyone else.

What I'm saying is that we who lead must first be led. We need to come to God, like clueless children with wide-eyed wonder and spend time wandering through the heavenlies hearing from God in prayer, through his Word, as his Holy Spirit imparts life to us. As 1 Chronicles 16:11 instructs, "Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually(MEV).

You can lead without depending on God. You can build great organizations all by yourself. People do it every day. But being a great pastor is more than being a great strategist or a great communicator or a great writer. Being a great pastor is a matter of shepherding people, caring deeply for their souls, drenching yourself with divine truth and wringing yourself out week after week with a word from the Lord for the broken.

In seasons when my quiet time has been neglected, I grow infatuated with all the wrong pictures of success while also growing colder in my feelings toward other people. My relationships suffer—starting with self and home and spreading to the flock.

But when I've sat at the feet of God, being humbled and shaped and encouraged by his truth, when I've laid my soul bare before Him, owning my sin and submitting to suffering, when I've cast all my cares and anxieties upon Him and have elevated Him in my vision above all else, then I am ready to preach. Then I am ready to lead.

Level zero.

If you haven't been training there lately, clear your calendar—at least the next hour—and open your Bible. Ask God to show you something. Tell Him about all of your potential distractions and your recent failures and then lean into His presence and His grace.

Greatness lies ahead of you! But greatness may not look the way you expected, and it won't arrive through the means you would devise on your own.

Brandon Cox has been a pastor since he was 19 and has served churches, large and small, including serving as a pastor at Saddleback Church. He is planting a purpose-driven church in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as editor of and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders.

For the original article, visit

Get Spirit-filled content delivered right to your inbox! Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Dr. Mark Rutland's

National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)

The NICL is one of the top leadership training programs in the U.S. taught by Dr. Mark Rutland. If you're the type of leader that likes to have total control over every aspect of your ministry and your future success, the NICL is right for you!

FREE NICL MINI-COURSE - Enroll for 3-hours of training from Dr. Rutland's full leadership course. Experience the NICL and decide if this training is right for you and your team.

Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like you’re not growing? Do you need help from an expert in leadership? There is no other leadership training like the NICL. Gain the leadership skills and confidence you need to lead your church, business or ministry. Get ready to accomplish all of your God-given dreams. CLICK HERE for NICL training dates and details.

The NICL Online is an option for any leader with time or schedule constraints. It's also for leaders who want to expedite their training to receive advanced standing for Master Level credit hours. Work through Dr. Rutland's full training from the comfort of your home or ministry at your pace. Learn more about NICL Online. Learn more about NICL Online.

Charisma Leader — Serving and empowering church leaders