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…

Marriage Blog: I Wish You Were…

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A sinking boat.

It’s the only image that could come to mind when I hear couples use the comparison phrase:

“I wish you were more like…”

Each time it’s said, it’ s like another hole is being drilled in the bottom of a boat.  Every time the quote starts out, more water floods in…threatening to sink the vessel.

“I wish you were more like…”

When it comes to marriage, it’s very easy to compare your own to someone else’s.  It is not just seeing a couple you know holding hands, going out one a date, or making out in public. It’s in the sweet birthday Facebook posts or the anniversary tweets. In social media, there are a myriad ways people can publicly express their love to their partners and spouses so that everyone else can see and hear how much in love they still are.

We place ourselves in an unfair situation when we compare our relationship with another person’s.  It’s really like comparing apples and oranges. Because as much as we’d like to think that we’re getting the full picture of their relationship, we’re really only seeing small snippets of behaviors and interactions that could have all sorts of meanings.

You look at another marriage.  You compare your spouse to them. The thought forms in your mind and festers in your heart. If it’s not corrected, inevitably, it will come out of your mouth.

“I wish you were more like ________’s husband, he…
…listens to his wife.”
…really cares about his wife.”
…makes her feel special.”
…is romantic like you used to be.”
…takes care of himself better.”

“I wish you were more like ________’s wife, she…
…listens to her husband.”
…is affectionate with her husband.”
…doesn’t speak to her husband like that.”
…takes care of herself better.”

Marital comparison kills marriages.  It deteriorates the integrity of the vessel/marriage.  We get frustrated with what other people have and then we fire off the phrase…

“I wish you were more like…”

These words are not constructive.  They’re manipulative.

Are you guilty of saying it? Are you guilty of thinking it?

The truth is that you have absolutely no idea what’s really going on behind closed doors. I’ve learned that what we’re seeing (at parties, dinners, on Facebook, and on TV) are just snapshots and highlight reels of what people want to share.

Why do we have to be someone else?  More specifically, why does our spouse have to be someone else? I’m not against personal growth/maturity and marital development. But why can’t we be…well ourselves.  Be the marriage and the people Christ created us to be.  Imagine if every prayer time was filled with the Holy Spirit speaking to us “I wish you were more like (insert someone’s name).” But he doesn’t do that to us.  In fact, we are not called to model and reflect any one person except the person of Jesus Christ.  It says in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and REFLECT the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Would you change something today? Would you deal with the marital envy in your life? Would you stop praying for your spouse to change to be more of who YOU want them to be?

Pray this:

God change me today.  Let what my spouse sees in me be Christ in me.  Let me attitude and my actions reflect the person and the character of who Jesus is.  Forgive my wandering eyes of envy deterring me from the joy you want me to have with my spouse.  Help me to find my contentment not in what I obtain but in who you are. Bless my spouse today. I ask not for the change I desire to see with my own eyes, but the change you desire to do within his/her life. Holy Spirit, develop in his/her life the character of Christ.  Let his/her life shine with the reflection of the glory of the Lord and not the reflection of what I think he/she should be.  Thank you for my wife/husband. I thank you that he/she is fearfully and wonderfully made.  I thank you for placing him/her in my life.  Help me to walk in thankfulness towards him/her.  Amen

Does the phrase “I wish you were…” consume your thoughts? If so, marital envy is knocking at the door, desiring to sink your marriage.

Take a step back.  Pray over your heart.  Pray for your spouse.  And let the Holy Spirit do the change in your spouse you’ve been trying so hard to do.

Thanks for letting me ramble…