What I Wish I Knew When I Started in Ministry

I recently started my 34th year of full-time ministry as a pastor or seminary professor. At the age of 20 when I began my first pastorate, I was excited and passionate about ministry. I could not believe I was given the opportunity to preach the Word of God every Sunday, and people would actually listen to me. Looking back, I’ve learned a lot the hard way – by experience and mistakes. Here are 9 things I wish I had known back then.


  1. I’m not as smart as I think I am. In my arrogance at age 20, I was sure I was one of God’s special leaders. After all, how could I be pastoring at such a young age if I weren’t? I suspect I would have made fewer mistakes and hurt fewer people had I been a lot more teachable back then.
  2. The opposition isn’t always as strong as it seems. I can’t count the number of nights of sleep I lost thinking that the voice of one frustrated member reflected the voice of the entire congregation. The problem magnified in my insecure mind was often larger than it was in reality.
  3. God’s people sometimes act like undiscipled believers – because they often are. I was naïve enough back then to assume every believer read the Word faithfully, prayed fervently, and evangelized faithfully. When they didn’t, I quickly blamed them, not realizing that many were no more intentionally discipled than I was.
  4. I’ve got it easy. Sure, ministry can be a headache some days. Every church has a knucklehead or two (or three or four). Still, I don’t worry about the safety of church members I lead. I don’t wonder if this Sunday will be the day the authorities shut down my ministry. I probably would have complained less then if I had known more about my brothers and sisters around the world.
  5. We’re incredibly blessed to have access to the Word of God. Maybe if I had realized that truth back then, I would have spent more time devouring the Word. I would have challenged my congregation every week to thank God for His Word – and to pray for a people group that has no such access.
  6. Evangelistic passion wanes without intentionality and commitment. All I knew to do those early years was tell people about Jesus, so that’s what I did. My heart broke on the weeks we did not baptize new believers. I could not have imagined getting so busy with ministry that evangelism would become a second-tier commitment.
  7. Church members make me a better man. They have loved me with a love that only God’s grace can explain. They’ve prayed for me, tolerated me, forgiven me, and followed me. The same churches that called me later supportively launched me into a new phase of ministry. God’s people really are special, you know?
  8. I’m replaceable. God’s kingdom is bigger than I am, and God’s plan includes a lot more people beyond me. In fact, God’s work goes on sometimes so quickly that we’re replaced before we get out that door. That’s humbling, but right. The story isn’t about us anyway.
  9. I’m blessed. It really is amazing that I get to preach the Word every Sunday, and people actually listen to me. What filled me with wonder when I was a young “preacher boy” fills me with wonder again as I get older.


Had I known all this stuff decades ago, I hope I would have served more humbly and thankfully while appreciating God’s people and focusing on the nations more. I would have believed more and worried less. The good news is that God still gives me today to keep on learning. That’s cool, I think.


What do you wish you would have known when you started ministry?


  • undiscipled says:

    I went to the same church 28 years, went to Bible college at my church, submitted to a full time call at my home church when I was 12, I asked my pastor 4 times specifically to disciple me or to ask someone to disciple me, he blew me off and I never got discipled. I am now 29 and finally getting discipled. I am driving 50 miles to church one way twice a week at least, but the problems that should have been discipled out of me when I was 16 are now finally being taken care of. I tried to enter full time ministry as an undiscipled called believer but without discipleship I was so unready. I crashed, I burned, I failed, and it was for lack of discipleship. Discipleship, the biggest area of disobedience in the church today.

    • Bill says:

      We would rather learn from the experience of others rather than our own. I relate to your experience but I also remember the words of a friend of mine who pastored a small church in Southeast Louisiana. He said, “Bill do you remember all that stuff you learned in Seminary in Church and Ministry class, well, throw it out when you move down here.” I could add my own ten things I wish I knew when I started in ministry. The top one would be keep you mouth shut and don’t speak about anything in haste and pray for the Lord to step you through your day before your feet hit the floor.” – Blessing to you!

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    I am sorry to hear your experience, Undiscipled, but I thank the Lord you’re getting what you need today.

  • Melissa Ann says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Dr. Lawless! I just emailed this to my husband. We’re in our first pastorate at a tiny rural church (average attendance of about 35) so #2 has been a struggle for him as the voice of one is quite loud in a small church.

  • Richard Sego says:

    Great word Dr. Lawless…very insightful.

  • Lon Dean says:

    I would add you can’t please everyone. When I first became a Sr. Pastor 10 yrs ago I surveyed the congregation to see what they would prefer on Wednesday night, a service style similar to Sunday with preaching and worship or class style with deeper teaching. It was a 50-50 split. I tried rotating between them both and no one was happy. I learned the hard way that please everyone and don’t pastor through surveys.

  • Joe Mayes says:

    Been in ministry 15 years and one of thing I wish I knew was: people are not always against you and you can learn from every situation.

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