There are some realities about ministry with and to a church that I wish I had known thirty years ago. Much of what I have learned about congregational ministry came through study, reflection, and thinking. Yet, on another level, I have learned so much through the daily experience of this work.
The following are some truths that I have learned about this kind of pastoral ministry after thirty years of working with churches. If I could start over with what I know now:
1. I would know that it is critical that I love the congregation. There is no substitute for loving these people.
2. I would know that all ministry is service. It is first service to God on behalf of people. Today, ministry is often reduced to a career in which the language of the marketplace has become more pronounced while far too often the notion of a calling has become diminished.
3. I would know that my prayer life and daily time in Scripture are critical to my ministry. In fact, these and other spiritual disciplines are incredibly important for anyone who wants to remain fresh for the long haul.
4. I would know that reading thoughtful, challenging books, articles, etc. is extremely helpful to ministry. Reading that helps me understand Scripture and the church and broadens and deepens my thinking is invaluable.
5. I would know that the evil one wishes to destroy every good thing that happens in the life of the church. It seems that his work is generally focused on corrupting our hearts and consequently diminishing our love for Jesus and other believers in the body of Christ.
6. I would know that dealing with the negative emotional baggage in my life can be an incredible blessing to my family and to the church. Far too many churches suffer from leaders who have never dealt with their anger, their loss, and their sense of inadequacy.