12 Questions I’d Like to Ask Pastors with 40+ Years of Experience

This year, I celebrated my 35th year in full-time ministry. I rejoice over God’s faithfulness through the years, but I’m also aware that I’m always one step away from falling. When I think about that reality, I’d love to convene a group of pastors with 40+ years of ministry behind them and ask them these questions:

  1. How many times have you wanted to quit ministry? Maybe the answer is “0,” but I’d be surprised if that’s the case. I’d like to know that I’m not the only one who’s thought about it.
  2. Do you regret any of the ministry moves you’ve made? It’s always easiest to evaluate our moves after we’ve made them – and I’m not sure we always approve of our choices after the fact.
  3. What’s been your “secret” to avoiding falling? If they’ve made it this long without allowing the enemy to capture them, I want their secret to be known.
  4. What’s been the biggest mistake you’ve made in ministry? I might have already made bigger ones, but I still need to learn from others.
  5. What’s been your biggest joy in ministry? All of us need reasons and hopes to celebrate.
  6. Knowing what you know now, what would you say to yourself when you first started ministry? I’d tell myself, “Regardless of how good you think you are, you’re not God’s gift to His kingdom.”
  7. Would your spouse say that you’ve placed her above your ministry? If she says, “yes,” how have you made your priority clear? No matter how old I get, I need to keep learning in this area.
  8. What’s your strategy for consistent Bible reading and prayer? My strategy is much stronger than 20 years ago, but I’m open to hear from anyone who’s been faithful in these areas.
  9. How have you kept intentional evangelism in your life? I doubt everyone has. Still, I want to learn through others’ struggles.
  10. What one book other than the Bible has most influenced your life? I may need to read it . . . .
  11. What’s your plan for maximizing the rest of your ministry? I’m asking that very question of my life even as I write this post.
  12. Would you do it all again? I can only wonder what honest responses would reveal here. 

What questions would you add to this list? If you’re a pastor with more than 40 years experience, help us out – answer a couple of the questions for us!


  • Hello Chuck, Thanks for this questionnaire. I will respond slowly to this over time if you don’t mind. I hope the responses can provide insight to those just beginning. Question number 11 is the one for me at this time. I do not want to “veg into insignificance!” I do KNOW that my answer to number 12 is ABSOLUTELY YES; even with all the challenges and financial hardship I would not hesitate to do it ALL again. Yes there are certainly some decisions I would change but for the most part I would jump into the deep end of His Call. And there in lies the answer to number 12….His CALL. I praise God for HIS CALL.

  • John W Carlton says:

    I have been in ministry as a full time and bivo minister since June pf 1971, serving medium size to small churches. I’ll try to answer some of these questions to the best of my ability.

    1. I have been discouraged in my ministry and ready to quit the church that I was serving, but as far as quitting the ministry all together I can truthfully say that I never thought of quitting.

    2. Moves that I have made that I regret were moves that I didn’t pray it through completely. When I made the move from full time to bivo, I thought that my plan was great. I fell flat on my face in the secular vocation, but God opened a door in the life insurance business and I was able to continue the ministry at my church.

    3. I have tried to keep the mindset that Joseph had with Potiphar’s wife. I have had to run (literally) at times. It’s not easy to run when the Devil is there tempting and saying, “No one will ever know.” Thank You Lord for Your power to resist those temptations.

    4. The biggest mistake that I have made is not continuing my education

    5. My biggest joys in ministry have been in leading others to Christ. Also there have been those who I have had the opportunity to touch that are not serving in the pastorate, mission field, and teaching on the seminary level. (Al James, and Nathan Finn)

    6. I would read Joshua 1:1-9 and act on God’s promise that He would be with me because He had chosen me to be in ministry.

    I’ll answer those other 6 at a later time.

  • John W Carlton says:

    #5 should read There have been those who I have had the opportunity to touch that are NOW serving in the pastorate, mission field, and teaching on the seminary level.

  • It will be 40 years for me in 2017, and there are just a few days to go, so I hope my answers count 🙂
    1. One time I did quit the ministry. It took 2 years of re-orientation and realizing that I was not the problem, and it took a gracious church to take me on and reassure me that there were some pastoral gifts in me after all.
    2. I can’t really say I regret any moves I have made, but I do regret not having my wife fully on board with every move. In my later years, I made it a matter of principle that if my wife did not share my conviction about moving, I stayed put.
    3. I can only attribute that to the grace of God,
    4. My biggest mistake was listening to the negative, critical voices and giving them too much of my energy. My wife says that is my Achilles heel.
    5. My biggest joy is going back to the firt church I planted, and seeing the grandchildren of young people that I baptized and discipled, and watching THAT generation go on for the Lord.
    6. I would tell myself, “Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re not indispensable.”
    7. I think she would say so now, but that hasn’t always been the case. We have always made it clear in our churches that the church has only hired one of us, and that my wife was free to find her place in the body like every other believer. One of the ways we were able to maintain balance, is that in having pastored a number of small town churches, I was able to study at home and therefore was always around for my wife and children.
    8. I truly I wish I was more consistent in my Bible reading and prayer. My preaching style is expository, so I am one of those who combines my devotional life with my ministry prep.
    9. I have purposely befriend certain individuals and focus on building one or two strong relationships over a couple or three years. I also seek out ministres “on the side” as it were. For instance, I am running a conversational English class (being in a very multi-cultural setting, we never are short of new Canadians) and that becomes my “fishing pool” so to speak.
    10 I would say 1 author has done more to bolster and encourage my faith more than any other, and that would be C.S. Lewis.
    11. To be honest, I have no plan to maximize my ministry. However, I do want my relationship with the Lord to grow as I near the finish line, and I trust that out of a stronger relationship will come a stronger ministry. One of my struggles is that I find studying increasingly difficult. I seem not to have the staying power, so I have learned that the best thing I can do for my brain is to be more active. Thus I am now working out regularly, in the hope that it will help.
    12. Would I di it again? If I could do it again, knowing what I know now, ABSOLUTELY!

  • Chuck Williams says:

    #1 I have been in the ministry 43 years. Every few months I have doubted. I gave myself the name Jonah or Jacob as it seemed I am constantly running or wrestling. An old preacher said “If you doubt , you have never been truly called.” That was hard to swallow, but it seems I can never escape His call.
    #2. Yes. Twice I made selfish moves and paid the price. Hurt my family also
    #3. Reading through Psalms and Proverbs daily for about 10 years I suppose made the difference with temptation
    #4. Biggest Mistake? Not reading E.M. Bounds’ books on prayer every year.
    #5 Biggest joy?Seeing lives changed and then seeing them years later faithfully serving the Lord.
    #6. Have a weekly/partner partner to converse and pray with. I was solo for decades. Big mistake but I really thought that was ok. I now have that and it is a great help.
    #7. Yes. I pastor a church that has 500+ in worship. It is a constant struggle. My wife recently jokingly said on our anniversary “When we got married in the church. I didn’t know we would be living there”
    #8. I have a read through the Bible plan. I journal that plus Oswald Chambers “My Utmost ” and Spurgeon “Morning and Evening”. It is the highlight of my day. It has delivered my soul from the grave many a time.
    9. Being a Mid America Baptist Seminary graduate has ingrained in me the importance of soul winning. I often fail to take advantage of the moment but love to witness when I am obedient to the moment
    10. From a secular view, in the 90’s it was 7 Habits by Stephen Covey. The Listen to be heard part was revolutionary to me and has brought me great reward. The novelists Ted Dekker, his first 6-9 novels although now he has gotten kind of weird, and the novelist Stephen Lawhead; his books are riveting. And of course C S Lewis. Anything by Tony Evans, Warren Weirsbe, or Spurgeon. I find the newer guys are practical but not inspirational as a whole.
    11. To keep the focus I now have and welcome the constant struggle as to whether or not I am called. It’s one of my thorns.
    12. Do it again? I don’t know. I have enjoyed great success and produced miserable flops. In a few years I will retire. I guess I won’t know till I get to heaven. My present church is enjoying wonderful growth. I hope to pass the torch to a younger man who hopefully won’t have my struggles.

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