So, we come to the final four of the sixteen things that I have learnt over sixteen years in ministry. It has been great for me to reminisce about the times that I have enjoyed and worried about, and stressed over, and seen come to nothing over my time in ministry. You can find the series here, as well as our YouTube playlist here.
I hope this series has been helpful to you if you are in ministry, or are considering going in to ministry. I’d love to hear your feedback, because I have a LOT more that I could have written on the subject!
So, let’s crack on to these last four:
1. To love someone sometimes means saying ‘no’ to them.
This is a hard one for us as ministers to deal with. Because we are the sort of people who like people to like us. We focus on the fact that God loves people as they are, where they are at. On top of that we need people to do things, we need volunteers, we need to fill spots on rosters, we need people to be involved so that we don’t end up doing all of the work. But the truth is that, while God does meet us where we’re at, He never leaves us in that space. He is always drawing us forward and correcting our behaviour to bring it in line with the character of His Son. As people who are called to minister His love to others, we are to act in this same way. When people are not up to something, when a task is beyond them, or they are not spiritually prepared for it, they need to be told. To not do so is unloving. It is hard, but we need to brace ourselves and do it.
2. People WILL let you down. God never will.
This is just life. We live in a fallen and sinful world. The reality is that people will never make you happy 100% of the time, and they shouldn’t have to. That is a massive burden to place on anyone. Only God can take the burned of your deep joy. If you develop your relationship with Him, if you deepen it, and lean on Him during the good and the bad times, you will discover that He is always faithful, that He is always there, that He is the One you can depend on. If you put your hope, your trust, your security in people, you will be let down, people are not meant to be worshipped – even a group of people, like a congregation, is not a place to put your hope or your validation. One day you won’t please them, and then that’s it! You don’t want to be caught in that trap. You want to be only beholden to God.
3. Those who have never done ministry will tell you how it should be done.
This is a reality of being in ministry. Doctors, lawyers, business owners, entrepreneurs, all of them will try and tell you what needs to be done to run a church. A friend of mine had a three hour meeting with a doctor and an accountant who were telling him what he needed to do in order to run his church. In the end he asked them, if he came into their place of business, and told them how to run it to be successful, how would they react? They didn’t take it well, but it is the reality of life in the church. People are invested in the church, they have attended for a long time – many of them since before you were born, and they feel like they have a stake in how things run – even though they might not realise exactly what it takes to run a church! – so they feel free to tell you things that they would never accept for themselves. This is something that you simply have to learn to deal with and to gently train people out of, and not everyone who comes to offer advice is wrong, or doesn’t know what they’re talking about, you have to be wise about who you allow to speak into your life an ministry.
4. Don’t be fooled by quick fixes and easy growth formulas.
This is something that I have learnt, not so much the hard way, but more like the long way. I have been pulled to the idea of simply copying something that is working somewhere else, of doing something exactly the same, of copying a sermon series, of decorating stages the same, of doing the same program. My thinking was – and it was erroneous – that because they have 10,000 people at their church then they must know all!
The truth is that the true key to growth in ministry is growth in your own relationship with God, and your love for those you minister to. It all come back to how we define success – is it numbers or is it faithfulness to the call that God has on your life? It should be the latter, an faithfulness to God looks like following the Great Commandment, and obeying the Great Commission:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Love you neighbour as yourself.
Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Do that, and you will be a successful minister.
Question: What has been the hardest thing that you have discovered about ministry? If you had one word of advice for ministers, what would it be?