April 01, 2014
They say that hindsight is 20/20, or that life is best understood in the rear-view mirror. Most of us have experienced that moment where we say to ourselves, I wish I knew what I was getting into when I started.
We would have felt better prepared or at least more aware of what to expect and how to meet those challenges when they came. Ministry was a big surprise for me personally. It was not a career path that was originally on my radar, but when the call came, resistance was futile.
I left a business career and have been very thankful for the grounding it gave me in leadership, management and systems that became invaluable in the church world. But with all things it's good to look back and summarize the key lessons that have been learned through experience.
So here are the first five lessons I would want to pass onto those entering ministry, and in my next post I will give the remaining five. These are not in any particular order of importance.
1. Speak from the heart, not a commentary
I use to think that delivering a sermon was just about communicating biblical truth. As true as that may be, it is best communicated through a transformed heart.
There was a time when preachers were told not to make the message about them, but about the Word. True again, but if people don't see how it is being lived out through you, it just won't resonate with them. They will feel that you are preaching at them, not with them.
2. Don't expect God to take care of your family
I remember hearing pastors say they were entrusting God to take care of their family. At first this sounded honourable until I realized what they were really saying. They were workaholics and were devoting everything to their ministry and leaving nothing for their family.
They were expecting God to fill the absence this would leave while they did the "Lord's work!" Unfortunately I bought into this for a time, but thankfully realized how damaging this was sooner rather than later.
3. Work from your strengths and don't try to be all things to all people
Be who you are and who God gifted you to be. You will feel the pressure to be more than you are or to fill shoes that are not a good fit. Resist where possible and lean into the gifts God has specifically given you.
A warning though. This does not give you an excuse to be lazy, irresponsible, lax, unteachable, unmovable, boorish, or prideful. It simply means this: you will be most effective where God has made you most gifted. Time is at a premium, so the best way to invest it is in ways that matter most.
4. When in doubt err on the side of grace
Very early into my ministry a mentor took me aside and spoke this into my life. It has become a constant echo in my head. There have been many opportunities to rant, stomp, kick, scream, and put people in their proverbial "place." There has been no shortage of frustrating situations and moments when someone deserved to be scolded. We've all been there.
But over the years, whenever I erred on the side of grace, it minimized damage, hard feelings, regret, and even feelings of guilt. This will drive those of you crazy who tend to lean into "law" when it comes to relationships, but in my experience, speaking the truth in love wins out every time.
5. Take time to recharge...often
Most of my peers in ministry work long and hard. They are dedicated to their people and their craft. In fact, we can get so caught up in the work of ministry that we can become disconnected from the sustainer of ministry.
I want to stress the need for ongoing communion with Christ, not just taking "down-time" from a hectic schedule, even though that is part of it. A healthy retreat from the stresses of ministry is vital. It fuels a relationship with God which restores and refreshes.
Here is the hard reality for many. Our giftedness can become the very thing that causes us to rely on our own abilities, rather than being empowered and carried by the Spirit. In my next post I will give lessons 6-10. If you want to add to the conversation or give some additional lessons you've learned along the way I would love to hear from you.
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