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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?