20 Years of Ministry, 20 Lessons I’ve Learned, and So Much More to Grasp

This week marks a monumental week for Anne and myself. 20 years ago, we began this ministry journey together. May 4, 1997 marks our first official day of ministry as pastors (insert Star Wars Day jokes and puns).

I remember pacing the hallway in the office area prior to the service that day. College graduation was just a few days prior and here I was, occupying the office of one of my mentors and stepping out on the platform as the interim youth pastor. The position was in my home church. The congregation knew me as Pastor Hal’s son and now I’m transitioning to “Pastor Dave.” The word “nervous” can’t describe the state I was in; “Terrified” is probably a better word. It wasn’t like I was starting a summer job. I was starting my life and career and, yes, I did throw up before the service.

At this point, Anne and I were about 4 weeks from being engaged and a year from being married. She was 19 and I was 21. When we look back, we laugh and say, “seriously, who thought it was a good idea to put us in charge?” Interestingly enough, we said something similar 2 1/2 years later when Cammi was born, “who in the world trusted us to leave the hospital with a baby?”

20 years have gone by. So I thought I’d share a lesson for each year we’ve traveled this amazingly terrifying and joyful journey

  1. Obedience > Position
    • The “call of God” is not about the position you attain but the obedience you follow. Everybody wants to be king but nobody wants to be a shepherd first.
  2. I need to be “me.” There’s two sides to this coin:
    • I can’t be someone else; I have to be who God made me.
    • I need to continually submit who I am to God for Him to shape me.
  3. Check your zipper before every speaking opportunity.
    • It’s about paying attention to the details in life. The last thing Anne says to me before EVERY ministry opportunity. BTW: The last time she wasn’t there for a speaking engagement, well, I didn’t check and, well…
  4. Rest and recreation are not overrated.
    • As someone who has experienced two major emotional crashes in 20 years, you cannot underestimate or downplay rest AND recreation.
  5. Don’t skip “tent time.” 
    • I liken this to Moses going to the Tabernacle to hear from God. Nothing can replace a lifestyle of prayer. I believe having “prayer times,” but if you regulate prayer to just moments instead of a lifestyle, you’ll miss out on amazing opportunities.
  6. Learning is not a “season” but a “lifestyle.”
    • Every lesson I learn is like following the “white rabbit”; there’s a deeper experience waiting for it if I am willing to open my eyes and follow.
  7. Ministry is shallow if my marriage and family isn’t the priority.
    • If I’m healthy at home, I can be healthy in my role. The congregation needs me to prioritize my marriage and family to position me for ministerial health.
  8. My children have permission to interrupt. 
    • For their entire lives, my two kids (17 and 14) have had to share their parents with hundreds of people.  Yet, Anne and I have made it our goal to make sure that they know that they are the most important people in our lives. What they have to say is important because THEY are important.
  9. Never say, “I’ve heard it all.” 
    • You’ll set yourself up for a rude awaking. I can write a book just on the most unexpected, off the wall, moments from weddings, funerals, services, etc.
  10. Covering your hurts and short-comings never helped anyone (including you). 
    • My struggles and failures have been some of the greatest bridges into people’s lives to convey the Gospel.
  11. Misery love company.
    • I’ve discovered that it is easy to find pastors to complain to but few to celebrate with. Start “belly aching” and you can draw enough people around you to make you feel justified in your fracture. I have to decide, daily, to fix my face like flint in gratitude and joy.
  12. Look at life and lighten up. 
    • My wife says that my daughter and I find the “funny” in life. I think that’s because we look for it. Selah (stop, pause, and think on that).
  13. Finding friends to celebrate with is worth more than gold.
    • Finding people who will celebrate WITH you without jealousy or pessimism, well, that’s not as easy to find. I have a few minister friends who I can call just to celebrate the goodness of God. That has been a life-line to me.
  14. Knock before entering hospital rooms. 
    • When you walk in on someone on a portable toilet, well, it’ll change the course of that hospital visit.
  15. Treat people in a manner you would want to be treated if you were on the other side of things.
    • I would rather be known for showing “too much” grace than not enough.
  16. Other people are not like me.
    • Different doesn’t mean wrong. It’s not easy to navigate differences, but if Jesus only worked with people like him, we’d all be sunk.
  17. Disappointment cannot be avoided, but I can prepare my heart for how I will navigate through them.
    • It’s not being pessimistic about what you are going to face, but it’s knowing that you can face everything with Christ.
  18. The change I need may not be the change I want.
    • Sometimes, well most of the time, when you want to see change in your congregation, God wants to start with you. And usually God wants to bring change that exists outside of your comfort zone.
  19. Paul, Timothy, Barnabas is a model to live by.
    • Have a Paul (mentor), find a Timothy (someone to disciple), and be a Barnabas (peer encourager).
  20. Don’t spend so much time building your empire that you miss out on the Kingdom.
    • Don’t be a diva where your church community revolves around your personality and preferences. Center it around Christ. Disciple people to hear from the Holy Spirit and equip them to do ministry. A successful tenure at a church centered around the Kingdom being build and not your brand.

A few decades down and with the help of the Holy Spirit and some good coffee, there will be 3 or 4 more to go.

Love you all. Praying for you.

Encourage Effort.
Celebrate Progress.
Feed Hope.

Thanks for letting me ramble for 20 years…

BTW, I wrote a book of my marriage blogs. If you’d like to buy a copy, click on the image.

5 comments

  • Great list! Spot on. ( Trust you see me as a #13 guy.)
    Looking forward to reading your 40 year list.
    Blessings!

  • PD: Great list! The “white rabbit.” I have followed the silly rabbit and fell in the dark hole. It was in those holes where my faith and trust grew, because Jesus was there with arms wide open waiting for me. “Look at life and lighten up,” even when things look bad, a little “grave side” humor goes a long way.

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