This year will be my 20th in full-time ministry. There are so many days where I wish that I could go back and start all over. Not because I am disappointed with where I am now, but because I could have saved so much time and anguish trying to figure a few things out.
Experience and time always manage to bring some clarity. I would not trade any of my experiences because they helped shape me into who I am today, but there are a few things that would have been nice to know from the get go.
It’s really ok to be me
I know this is a cliché that is used all the time, but it was a long lesson that I had to learn in ministry. On the surface, my gifts and temperament are not ideally suited for my entry into ministry. I was an introvert functioning as an extrovert in an extremely extroverted environment. For many years, I felt like I was coming up way short of where I should be because I didn’t fit the ideal that my peers seemed to be. It has only been in the last few years that I have come to realize that effective ministry takes every type of personality.
I didn’t know anything at 23
I think almost every youth pastor believes that they could lead the church better than the senior guy. After all, we are the ones on the cutting edge of ministry. If the leadership would just listen to us, the church would be better off. At 23, my youth group was having some success while the overall church was going through some struggles. I was convinced that if I were in charge, things would turn around. We just needed to add some pop songs in worship and people would stop leaving. I now realize that I didn’t have a clue. I had no idea about the decisions, the stress, the pressure that went into being the guy at the top of the chain.
Family comes first
I still recall the moment when this principle first dawned on me – I was sitting in a meeting following one of our first Easter services. We had just had our first child, and I had basically not seen my family for the last 2 months. My wife decided that she had had enough and asked someone to pull me out of the meeting so she could inform me that she was done being a single parent. I immediately realized that I was succeeding at work but failing with my family. I would love to say that I have never struggled with that balance since, but I have come a long way. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s too much wreckage out there to not make your family the top priority.
A Sabbath is not a suggestion
God knew what he was talking about when he commanded that we take a day off each week. I think this commandment is very easy to ignore when you’re in ministry. After all, everything that we are working on is for God – right? Satan doesn’t take a day off, so why should we? If you are not taking a weekly Sabbath, then you are telling God that you are in control – not Him. God needs us at our best, and I can guarantee that He’s not getting it if you are not taking the time to refuel consistently. I wish I had learned this way earlier in my ministry.