Ten Things I Have Learned about Ministry and Life

sign.jpgI’ve been a minister for quite a while now.  Most of those years have been in three churches.  One church was in Florence, Alabama.  One was in Kansas City, Missouri.  The church I have been with the longest is in Waco, Texas.  Most of my duties have included preaching, teaching, serving/leading, and walking with people through some difficult times of life.

After many years I have learned a lot.  Here a few things I have learned that make a significant difference in my ministry:

1.  I have learned to treasure encouragers.  Tonight I am thinking about the encouragers who are in our Sunday morning class and in our life group.  Am I ever blessed!  Consider making a list of the encouragers in your life.  Thank God for them!  Consider making a list of those you are intentional about encouraging.  Have you thought recently about the importance of your ministry with these people? 

2.  I have learned that many people behave in ways that I should not take personally.  In my earlier years, I took so much personally.  Someone would display their anger or say something insulting, and I would immediately wonder what I did wrong.  Of course, that possibility always exists.  However, I have learned that often I am seeing the overflow of anger fueled by that person’s loss on some other front that has nothing to do with me.

3.  I have learned the best thing I can do for the church as a minster is to take care of my life — my spiritual life, my body, my emotions, etc.  I have been called to be a good steward to what God has given me.  Besides that, far too many people and far too many churches have been hurt by ministers not dealing with their "stuff."

4.  I have learned that being spiritual does not mean that I must allow a dysfunctional family or a mean-spirited person to beat me into a pulp.  Being spiritual does not mean that I simply be passive and compliant regardless of the actions of another.  I have not been called to do whatever a human being in the church might want me to do.  For me to do whatever another might want is not necessarily love or servanthood.

5.  I have learned that there is no substitute for getting serious about my own formation into the image of Christ.   Again, the most powerful thing I can do as a Christian minister is to simply be who I have been called to be.  As I reflect upon my life in Christ, I see a person who desperately needs the grace of God.  At the same time, I want to begin each day intending to be the person God has called me to be.

6.  I have learned the importance of laughter.  Genuine laughter at no one else’s expense can add much energy to our lives. 

7.  I have learned that I am very expendable.  The church I am with could find someone else to minister in my place.  While I am working in an important capacity, I personally am not essential.  I am present with these people by the grace of God.

8.   I have learned the freedom of forgetting myself.  I have watched men and women over the years who were overly self-conscious and saw how much energy they put into maintaining a certain image.  Then, I have seen friends who just seemed to forget themselves (their accomplishments, their gifts, their knowledge) and simply desire to be fully present with other human beings.

9.  I have learned the value of listening.  One of the greatest gifts that I can give another person is being a friend who listens and never repeats what I have heard.  

10.  I have learned that the church belongs to God and that it is not my deal!  I failed for too many years with this one.  For too many years I felt so responsible for what people did and for what the church did.  I would internally accept the blame for whatever went wrong because after all, "I should have done something."  I have learned that this really is God’s church and is led by God.

What else would you add to this list? 

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30 thoughts on “Ten Things I Have Learned about Ministry and Life

  1. Although as I have mentioned before I am still training for what most would term "fulltime Christian ministry" somethign I am learning right now is that all the mess isn’t mine to clear up, and sometimes we can waste energy and time trying to work at clearing up a mess that isn’t mine, and more importantly God hasn’t called me to clear up. While leaders should be pointing the direction and walking with the church, taking on the emotional burden of fixing things and people causes unecessary stress and strain.

  2. Great list. In my short years in full-time ministry I have learned:"…Christians will beat you up, but God will never leave.""…watching someone else baptize another person (example: father baptizing son) is better than doing it yourself.""…a good Eldership is the key to reaching the lost.""…good hobbies and time off strengthen the soul." Just a few from me.

  3. I’m thinking this is a good list for any kind of work. If we approached life, even relationships, this way, what relief we might find! (For instance, I am already translating your words into my vocation as a writer… the need to laugh, to realize I’m expendable, the freedom to forget myself and to forget the harsh criticisms and focus instead on where I’m going as a person in Christ with my writing… See?)

  4. Regarding being expendable, I belive it is important to realize that there are jobs within the church that are somebody else’s problem. For two reasons: 1) they have committed to handle it or 2) they are the best person for the job. (hopefully, these two things align in an individual) In either case, I am not involved, and it is usually a very good idea to simply stay out of the way. Another thought on expendability: it is actually very comforting! Right now I do not feel expendable at all, which put me under a lot of pressure. If I knew someone would or could fill the void I would leave I think I would be much more at peace.

  5. L.L.Very good point!  I like the way you fleshed these out for your own vocation.  It would be interesting to hear how others might do the same for their own vocations.Thanks.  By the way– I am impressed with your pictures almost every time I look at your blog. 

  6. Dave,I do think the realization of one’s own expendability can be very comforting.  At times, whenever I start feeling a bit too essential, I remember that if I were to die tomorrow, within a few months, someone else would be preaching here and life would go on for these folks. 

  7. Royal,Good points.  One of the real blessings that I have experienced in the last two places where we’ve lived is having friends outside our church.  You are right though, that is difficult when you find yourself spending most of your time in church settings.It has not been easy for me either but I have made some very deliberate choices to put myself in some settings in our community where I am likely to meet people and be around those who are not a part of our church.

  8. Liam,You are so right.  You have learned this so many years earlier than I did.  This kind of understanding will be such a blessing to your ministry in the long run.

  9. Being preacher and an aspiring writer of , I have learned that criticisms both good and bad can serve as great motivating tools. I have learned never to scoff an anyone’s dreams. I have learned that there is no substitute for holiness. I have learned that good results involves hard honest work. I have learned that prayer has immeasurable power , I have learned to laugh at myself more that I laugh at others. But most of all I have learned to love in spite of and not because of.

  10. This month marks my 31st year as preacher, minister, pastor, evangelist, chair setter upper, lawn mower, dishwasher….you know the list.  Most of us preachers have a lot of diversity in our work…Anyway…thanks for the reminder of the truly great things about being a minister of the gospel.  Your insights are right on target.  Thanks for the encouragement and affirmation. 

  11. Those were great. Thanks! I’m still learning how to do this, but one thing that was said tp me recently is that under the ministry umbrella it is so easy for otherwise clear cut issues to become very blurry. Example: a leader who is not meeting the expectation of the job they had been entrusted with. If this was their job, their supervisor would have a discussion about this and set a plan of "corrective action," if you will. But in ministry, we shy away from this and tend to let things go longer than possibly what is healthy for all sides. It is like we tell 90% of the story which is mostly good and ruffles nothing, but we shy away from the last 10% of the truth. The same standard of work ethic, character, commitment, responsibility, etc that would be required by an employer are not always expected in ministry as far as I can tell and this is sad to me. But I’ve found (in all my 25 years-ha!) that people generally appreciate the last 10% even though it can get messy and be very hard. Tell the WHOLE truth and walk with people through the WHOLE experience not just the easiest 90%. 

  12. Jim: It’s late and I didn’t read all of the responses, so I may be adding something that has already been added. I (finally!) learned the kingdom of God is far larger than the parameters I placed around it. I have brothers and sisters deeply devoted and committed to the Lord Jesus in communities of faith that I once wanted to keep on the outside.

  13. Thanks for your kind words about the pictures. It’s been fun to pursue something that has nothing to do with my regular vocation, but seems to support it by opening up my creative eye. Maybe this could be grist for another “I have learned” point. I have learned to pursue things I love, whether or not they are useful as “work” or directly related to my vocation.

  14. L.L.I really like your suggestion regarding another "I have learned…." point.  In fact, your words below are a keeper.I have learned to pursue things I love, whether or not they are useful as "work" or directly related to my vocation.Thanks!

  15. Blakely,You are twenty-five, and have already made a significant observation about ministry today. (It was many more years before I began to realize what you have described.)You are absolutely right!  Far too often in church life, things are allowed to go on and not dealt with.  Consequently, what may have been a not so big deal a few years ago is not a major deal because it has never been dealt with.