What 18 Years of Ministry Has Taught Me

Today marks my 18th year in ministry...at the same church!

Being in the same place for nearly two decades gives a depth of perspective often not experienced by those in ministry because many do not make 18 years in ministry and even those who do often have that experience split between many different churches.

So in honor of the 18 years of ministry I have been blessed to serve, I would like to share 18 things that I have learned during this time.  Some of these things are painful, some of these things are harsh truths and some of these things are insurmountable blessings.

1.  God uses incredibly flawed people, of whom, I am the greatest.

I know myself better than anyone else.  I know how terribly flawed I am.  Yet, I am amazed that God still works through me, even on my worst days.  I can remember, on more than one occasion, where my attitude and my actions didn't line up with where God wanted me to be and the same day hearing how a sermon or teaching given under those less than desirable circumstances was used by God to draw someone else closer to Him.

2.  In general, grace will not be given to you in the same way as others crave grace to be given to them.

Ministers are still human, and, as mentioned in #1, are incredibly flawed.  Sometimes those flaws come out.  However, the sad truth is that the grace sought after to be shown to those struggling with sin within the body of Christ, often do not have the same grace to give to the minister.  In 18 years period of time, I have watched many people leave the congregation.  Some left over the way I dressed.  Many have left over unresolved slights that I found out about only after they had departed.  This isn't a pity party, just a hard truth to learn along the way.

3.  People within the body of Christ are often the most gracious toward ministers.

It seems like #2 and #3 are in contradiction to one another.  However, I assure you both are equally true.  My family has been extremely blessed by our congregation.  Financial blessings, material blessings and relational blessings have all been given in abundance to me and my family over the years.  Sometimes those blessings have come at times where things were tight.  Other times, we received favor in ways we could have never expected. 

4.  Sometimes the people you serve follow you instead of Christ.

It is disheartening to see many whom we have grown in fond affection for drop their relationship with Christ and the church just because they are no longer around me or my family as much as before.  I have seen this in Youth Ministry, as youth leave the youth group and then disappear from the church altogether.  I have seen it in the ministries of the church where leadership passes from myself to another and immediately loses many who were only there because I was.

5.  Baptisms are a highlight of life.

Because of position of influence, I have had the opportunity to baptize many youth and adults over the years.  There are few things more exciting than being able to share Christ with others and have the privilege of baptizing them and so fulfill the Great Commission.  The greatest of these privileges was baptizing my own children.

6.  It is very hard to balance family life and ministry life.

A minister's job by nature is not just instructional, but relational.  So it can be hard to know when you punch out of one job and are doing the other one.  Are we leading a small group as a minister or a member of the church family?  When I support someone's youth at a ball game, it is because I am a minister or because this is what all Christians should do?  When I am playing a game with my family, should I respond to that text, email or Facebook message asking about a question concerning a witnessing opportunity a member is having at that very moment?  Families (spouses and children) can often get the short end of the stick, if a minister isn't intentional about drawing some hard lines in the sand to protect and nurture those relationships.

7.  Sermon preparation during office hours rarely happens.

The one thing that is a constant in a church that has a Day Care is interruptions during the day.  It is rare that I can have 2 straight hours of any given office day to do serious focused study.  It is no one's fault.  It is just the nature of the beast.  People come in and want to speak to the minister.  Many of those conversations are HUGE blessings and a welcome interruption.  Some are from people off the street that are only looking for a handout and drain life and creativity out of you.  However, I am not sure that I can think of 10 sermons that have been completed in its entirety during office hours.  Which means, that those things must be done at home, further complicating #6.

8.  Ministry can make you cynical toward others.

In general, I do not have a very high view of those who have come in looking for help at the church.  I have given to many, many individuals (more than I can count) who wanted nothing more than to treat the church as a friendly ATM who has to give you something if you are to show the love of Jesus.  In the end, they want nothing to do with Jesus or Christian community.  They are thankful for the help, but either show up again in about a week for more help (to see how much they can get out of me) or don't show up for a few years (in hopes that I have moved on...and are often surprised to see me still here).  There are few things I hate more than a phone call from the desks that tell me that "There is someone here who wants to speak to a minister."

9.  Meetings are a necessary evil...and really not that evil at all.

I remember my Organization & Administration of Ministry professor in college told me that his class was the 85% of what you had to do to get to the 15% of what you are called to do.  Eighteen years in, I agree with him wholeheartedly.  I've tried cutting it to a 70/30 ratio.  However, I have found the meetings I have with the Elders (weekly), Staff (weekly), fellow Pastors (daily) and specialized ministries (once a month or more) essential toward accomplishing the vision of the church.  Communication is key.  I wish it just didn't take up so much time.

10.  I have seen many who were seemingly thriving in their relationship with Christ, turn their back on Him, in word and deed.

The parable of the sower has been on my mind lately (Matthew 13:1-9; 13:18-23).  In the parable, Jesus talks about the Word of God being sown among four different groups.  The seed that falls on the path are those who are not interested in the Word.  Each of the next three groups all have an initial interest.  Many ministers who move from ministry to ministry in short periods of time may mistake that initial interest as long term success.  However, over time, the persecution that comes with the Word (the shallow seed) and the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches (the thorny seed) manifest itself causing many to fall away from a faith they once professed.  I have seen a LOT of that over the last 10 years.  Social media doesn't help, as I see how their views on sexuality, living together, the sanctity of life and on Jesus Himself has changed.  Many who have heard the message of Christ for years from my lips need repentance either unto life in Christ or back to Christ.

11.  Accountability in relationship with Christ often leads to broken relationships.

The biggest factor of me losing relationships over the years is the holding accountable those who have professed belief in Christ, but no longer wish to follow Him in their lives.  As soon as that becomes a reality in their lives, I rarely see them again.  They know where I stand, but because of that, I never hear from them.  Even if I approach them, I am often met with silence or indifference.

12.  I have seen those who have flourished in their growth in Christ.

Another Scripture has become one of my favorites over the years is 3 John 4:  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.  I have been around long enough to see youth who are now married adults...with children...who are old enough to be in Youth Group...raising them in the Lord!  I am grateful to see a former youth who has become a sponsor who is now leading our Youth Group!  I have seen Elders preach for the first time in our congregation giving honor to Christ in their teaching!  I have seen parents baptize their children!  I have seen so much growth that there is always a source of encouragement waiting, just around the corner!

13.  I've said "Good bye, for now" to many whom I grew to love.

The bittersweet moments of seeing a friend from our congregation pass to the presence of the Lord have brought both joy and sadness to my life.  I hurt for those who have been left behind and feel the pain of absence left by our shared loss.  But I rejoice that these "good byes" are only temporary.  I am so blessed to know each of those saints that I now miss.

14.  I have seen a LOT of change.

I've been here through 18 years.  It is amazing to see the change in the members of the congregation during that time.  Looking at directories spaced about 5 years apart sees a turnover of about 50% of the congregation.  But it's not just the people, it's the surroundings as well.  Our sanctuary has changed.  Our fellowship hall has changed.  Our parking lot has changed.  Our neighbors have changed.  My philosophy of ministry has also changed.  I have gone from being youth focused to parent focused concerning the ministration of the Word of God and a relationship with Christ.  But that only came through observations of being in one place over a long period of time.

15.  I value the body of Christ more today than I did 18 years ago.

By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another.   John 13:35  As I have grown older, I have become more and more convinced that the body of Christ is the single most important way to show the world our love for Jesus.  Therefore, learning to love one another within the body of Christ has become my greatest goal to teach and to live.

My deepest friendships are all a part of the body of Christ!  Hinkle trips!  Game nights!  Clemson National Championships!  Piano recitals!  Isotopes games!  Memories I wouldn't trade for the world!

16.  My children are awesome!

I have been blessed to see my children be born, grow in their own grace and knowledge of Christ, love the church and begin to move to adulthood as maturing believers in Christ.  I love seeing them blossom into the people God is calling them to be.  They have seen the struggle of ministry, experienced it for themselves and still call the church family the gathering they most want to be a part of on a weekly basis.

17.  My wife is a saint!

There are few things crazier than ministry.  My wife's grace, mercy and guidance has been an invaluable support for me.  There is absolutely no way I would have been able to last 18 years (much less 18 months) without her by my side.  There have been many times where her wisdom has guided my actions whether is was in ministry to our church members, our children or our marriage.  Much of the advice given over the years has a healthy dose of my wife whispering in my ear.

18.  Christ is more than enough!

This journey has not been easy.  The lows are incredibly low.  The highs are indescribably high.  However, after 18 years of ministry and over 25 years of serving the Lord, I am more convinced now than ever that there is no better news than that of the gospel of Jesus Christ, His death on the cross for our sins and His conquering the grave to show us that He has defeated sin and death forever and has eternal life for those who believe in Him, repent of their sins and follow Him.  It is an abundant life indeed and more than enough to keep me going until I go to Him or He comes for me.



  

   


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