What do I wish I knew before I started in ministry?

I was asked to speak to a group of soon-to-be ministers at a local Bible College.  I was given a ton of freedom of what to speak on.  One of the topics I was given was “What do I wish I knew before I started in ministry?”

So I found myself sitting in a coffee-house sipping some Costa Rican coffee pondering that question.  17 years and 3 positions are nothing to take for granted.  But if I knew some of these life-lessons, I wonder if they would’ve saved me from some sleepless nights, bottles of TUMS, and fits of frustration. I thought I’d come up with anywhere from 7 to 10 things. But they kept coming and coming.  I read them to Anne and she recommended throwing them into the blog.

So here it is.  I wrote them as they came to me, not necessarily in order of importance…

  1. It’s the greatest “job” ever…PERIOD!
  2. A “successful” ministry doesn’t matter if your marriage is failing. Cheating on your spouse with your ministry isn’t a mark of great pastoral leadership or a dedicated ministry heart.  It’s a sad display of misunderstood ministry priorities.
  3. Don’t underrate authenticity in the pulpit. If preaching was a lawn mower, authenticity helps lower the blades to help accomplish what the Holy Spirit has set in your heart to do.
  4. Laughter is grossly underestimated in sermons, services, ministry, and staff.
  5. Let your kids (pastor/missionary/evangelist kids) grow up as normal kids.  Don’t put on them the pressure of the “PK performance”.
  6. You’re children must feel like the most important children in the church to you. It’s has nothing to do with favoritism or them feeling a sense of entitlement because of who their parents are.  They need to know that they have their parent’s heart and attention.
  7. Build The Kingdom and not your empire. You’re not in ministry to build a denomination or a church but the Kingdom of God.
  8. Far too much time is spent on unrealistic expectations.
  9. Ministry doesn’t have to be lonely.  Get out of your church/denomination and make friends with other ministers.
  10. Some people expect you to be omnipresent.
  11. In many cases, productive and lasting associate pastorate ministry (youth, kids, small groups, etc) begins in year 3. It takes 1 year to develop relationship and another year to start establish ministry.
  12. The Lead Pastor honeymoon period can be as little as hours instead of days, weeks, or year.
  13. I MUST remember: I don’t have all the answers.  But the pressure is real.
  14. Discernment is undervalued.  We value vision, change, drive…but the “right” of the pastor to do things doesn’t necessarily make it “right” or make the timing “right”.
  15. The Lead Pastor doesn’t have to do everything.  Delegate and raise up leadership. Multiply yourself.
  16. What worked in one church community doesn’t necessarily work in another.
  17. I am not the epitome of creativity. Get inspired by other pastors/ministries/churches.  Look, listen, ask, create, get inspired.
  18. Message prep time with God doesn’t replace personal time with God. (had to fix that…my dyslexia flip-flopped it)
  19. Camp out between your greatest criticism and compliment.  You can’t believe your greatest compliment nor your greatest critic.
  20. Busy-ness doesn’t equate to productive ministry.
  21. It’s okay to say “no”.
  22. Take care of your body and mind.  Be active. Guard what goes into you (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually).
  23. As a staff member, as much as I thought I understood it, I didn’t grasp the pressure of the Lead Pastor.
  24. Interview the pastor/board as much as they are interviewing you.
  25. Longevity enhances pastoral leadership.  Yet longevity doesn’t equate to fruitful ministry. Follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance AND release.
  26. How you leave is more important than the decision to leave.
  27. Be careful who you talk to. Ministers need outlets and those outlets are probably NOT in your church.
  28. With great social network power comes great social network responsibility.
  29. Look for people’s filters and process their actions and words through that.  You will understand people a lot better.
  30. If I expect others to be generous, I (their pastor) need to be generous first.
  31. Don’t apologize for having free time and/or days off.
  32. Leaders are readers.
  33. More “productive” ministry is done at a table than at a desk. Relationships build the pulpit you will preach from.
  34. Mean people go to your church.  Every church has them.
  35. Deal with offense biblically…ALWAYS.
  36. Don’t just make changes, but lead through change.  Changes in church culture are more painful for a congregation than a pastor will realize. Feelings and memories are attached to buildings and ministry.
  37. Unity is blessed. Uniformity is not.
  38. Be cautious of those who are frantically trying to be close to you and work diligently to develop relationships with those who keep you at arm’s length.
  39. Yours isn’t the only way and may not be the right way.  Be open-minded about other methods.  The the principles and heart behind your method may be correct but the method is not.
  40. It’s okay to be wrong.  It is not okay to not admit it.
  41. Ministry is like life. It isn’t fair.  It just isn’t.
  42. Ministry isn’t the highest calling.  Obedience is.  So stop acting like a diva.
  43. Trust takes time to build.  Don’t expect everyone to jump on the bandwagon.
  44. Keep evolving/growing.  The way you do ministry now will be different in 5 years.
  45. Figure out a healthy schedule.
  46. As a younger minister, don’t take “young criticism” too personal. You’re young and/or younger than some people in the church.  It’s gonna happen.
  47. Be cautious about serving in your home church.  As someone who has served in his home church, the position presents different problems/pressures/challenges that do not happen in outside ministry opportunities.
  48. Criticism isn’t a bad thing.
  49. Funerals and hospital calls are a privilege and should be treated as such.
  50. Protect yourself from liability.  You can’t be too careful…EVER.
  51. _____________________________

As you can see, the list is incomplete.  Why?  Because you can’t EVER stop learning.  You can’t stop growing.

If you are reading this as a minister, do you have anything else to add to the list?

Thanks for letting me ramble…

7 responses to “What do I wish I knew before I started in ministry?”

  1. Very much worth reading and applying, and
    your time in writing and sharing it widely.

  2. My favorite is “Ministry isn’t the highest calling. Obedience is.”
    If we are obedient, God can use the least of us.

    1. Its one of my favs…and pet peeves. I had a bible college prof whi taugh us “ministry was a higher calling than the President of the United States. I disagree. As stated, The highest calling is simply the obedience to what God has called you to regardless of whether or not it’s full-time ministry

  3. Well blogged. Thanks for posting, I got some good notes!

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