Soon I will reach the 25-year mark of serving in some form of pastoral ministry. In these years I have accumulated much experience, made more than a few mistakes, and gleaned some wisdom along the way. In these years I have also learned (and re-learned) many lessons that I now pass along to those who care to read them and benefit from them, especially for those who may be new to this type of service in God’s kingdom.
In no particular order, and without much explanation, here are twenty-two things that I have come to realize about serving in church ministry.
- Ministry is often simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. In more recent years, I found myself having never been more encouraged and discouraged at the same time in all my life. Even so, it is worth it in the end.
- Even though generally docile, sometimes the sheep bite, kick, and butt their heads – and sometimes they run off by themselves. Loving, patient shepherds who extend a lot of grace and mercy are truly needed.
- You will never please everybody, no matter how hard you try – so stop trying.
- There will always be someone who feels you are not “deep enough” or who feel they are not “being fed” by your preaching and teaching ministry. The opposite is also true – some will say you are too deep.
- There will always be people who criticize your preaching and teaching to some degree.
- There will always be some who insist that you preach, in the name of relevance, according to the secular calendar (e.g. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.); the world’s calendar is often seen as more important than the Church calendar.
- There will always be lay people, well meaning or not, who will tell you how to do your job even though they have not held such a position themselves or been formally (or even informally) trained to minister in a pastoral, teaching, or preaching capacity.
- There will always be people who disagree with your style or approach to ministry – and some will constantly let you know that and will infer, imply, or outright say that your way is wrong and their way is not. It’s better to agree to disagree here and not get caught up in proving who is right when there are often multiple ways and approaches.
- Some people (wrongly) elevate their preferences to the level of absolutes and offer their critique of you accordingly while insisting in some way that their way is the best or only way.
- Much of what happens in any church when it comes to disagreements is a battle of preferences and an occasional conviction; this includes pastors. I learned to pray for the Lord to help me set aside my own preferences and agenda for the sake of peace and the pursuit of His agenda, and for my own emotional and spiritual health.
- The rumor mill and gossip chain will always exist and will be active, no matter how much its existence is denied. This is deadly to the life and health of the local church and must consistently be addressed.
- When sin or sinful situations are addressed, a common reaction from people in the congregation is, “It’s not me”; usually, such people are in denial.
- Trusted relationships are vital; it’s hard for a pastor to find and keep real friends.
- God’s grace and empowerment are needed to do the work – you cannot do it in your own strength.
- Prayer is absolutely critical for all things related to life and ministry! Failure to pray will suffocate both.
- Beware the siren songs of life that distract you, tempt you, and lead you into perilous waters and malicious traps that destroy not only the soul, but also the ministry that you are engaging in. Stand strong and join the resistance!
- You must follow the Lord where He leads, not go somewhere yourself and invite Him along for the ride.
- Sometimes you just have to serve out of obedience to the Lord.
- Remember that it’s all for God’s glory and fame, not yours or mine. This is especially difficult for people who enjoy being in the spotlight, whether out of pride or out of a need for affirmation.
- While it’s not about me/us or being appreciated, sometimes it helps to be thanked and shown appreciation for what we do.
- As a leader, don’t forget to also be a follower yourself. Who is your pastor? Who are the people investing in you?
- It really is about love and relationships! Love God entirely, and love people in practical ways – that is the recipe for “success”.
Are there more lessons to share? Yes, but these are the ones most prominent in my mind. Are there more lessons for me to learn? Absolutely!
For what it’s worth.