25 Things I Would’ve Told Myself Five Years Ago – Part 1

January 1, 2018, began my sixth year of ministry. While I am in no way conveying that I am a veteran minister, have it all together, or know everything there is to know about ministry, I have been dealt my fair share of experiences during these last five years. It was during that time that I developed much deeper relationships with my wife, my parents, and some of my friends. In a summary statement, this has been the past five years for me and my family:

“We’re it not for the grace of God, I would be working a secular job.”

The one thing that has kept me in Ministry was my calling – I knew I was called to serve God through vocational ministry. Although I knew I was called, I began not knowing very much about ministry. So this post is simply a list of statements I would have told my twenty-one-year-old self when I began my ministry on January 1, 2013.

  1. Be patient. If you’ve been in ministry for any length of time, you know that change is a massive barrier through which to break. It takes great leadership to foster true, biblical change. When I first began in ministry, I had been voted and called to become the youth pastor at my home church and though because I’d grown up there that it would be easier to change things than it was. If you didn’t know, established churches do not do change very well. If I could talk to myself before starting, I would encourage myself to slow down and focus on the essentials of ministry: preaching, prayer, and relationships. The change would inevitably come as you put all of your efforts into preaching the Word of God with power, praying for your church with fervency, and building relationships with your congregation.
  2. Read. Read. Read. In complete honesty (I hope some of my professors don’t read this), it wasn’t until my Senior year of college (2016-2017) that I truly started reading for the sake of learning. I simply read enough to pass classes in college. But in ministry, it’s more than passing classes or using quotes to freshen up your sermon. When you are a reader, it also means you are a learner. When you are a learner, you will influence those around you to be a learner as well. Not only has my reading influenced those around me, it has also helped me be a better minister. Reading good books has stretched me in ways I cannot explain. There is no value to be placed on reading in the ministry.
  3. Learn through the hardship. Throughout the last five years, we (my wife and I) have endured some tremendously difficult times during our ministry. I will not get into details of the difficulty we experienced but will say that ministry is messy and people will hurt you. But hardship is part of the ministry. There are times of despair and discouragement, and then there are times where everyone is against you and all you want to do is quit. There is a difference. I’ve been discouraged and been content. However, in whatever situation I’ve found myself, I figured out that every situation was a learning experience. Even during the times of hardship we experienced, we learned how not to do certain things.
  4. Take the high road. If you can’t tell, hardships have been very prevalent in the first five years of our ministry. However, there have been many times where I have been wronged by someone and wanted to react with retaliating language and actions. Let me remind you, if this is you: this is an unbiblical response to adversity. Jesus never gives us the option of responding back with hatred and disgusting language and actions. The biblical response is to take the high road and let God be the judge of their wrong actions – they’ll listen to Him a lot more than they will listen to you. Take the high road. Every time.
  5. Find a mentor. One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was not finding a mentor. My dad has been a great help to me, but sometimes I need someone other than dad to help me work through things. Dads will almost always side with their children. Although my dad has shot straight with me many times, there was still a facet missing for my personal and spiritual health – a mentor. Mentors are absolutely necessary for ministry. Because experience is the best teacher in ministry, the best advice I could give is to find a mentor who has been faithful and seen results.
  6. Network with other ministers. Along the lines of finding a mentor, you also need a network of other ministers in ministry to get together with on a consistent basis. There are just some things that you can’t talk to your spouse about, but you can talk to those friends who are in ministry alongside you in other churches.
  7. Preach your own sermons through your personality. When I first started teaching and preaching, it was a very real and constant temptation to try to mock a preacher I admired. Not only was it tempting to preach like someone, it was equally as tempting to preach someone else’s sermon. In fact, this is a temptation of many pastors today. There are many factors that contribute to pastors now preaching sermon manuscripts of other men, or even making a hodge-podge of many elements from different sermons. Either way, ministers should avoid this at all costs. As Randy Corn, a member of the Free Will Baptist Commission for Theological Integrity, states,

    “The same internet that supplied the pastor with his sermon can be searched by his church members.”[1]

    Maybe the most real of all reasons is what I’ve heard Mark Dever say before,

    “If God wanted ‘so and so’ to preach at your church, He would have brought them there.”[2]

    Not only can your church members search the same internet, it is God who knows your heart. Therefore, it is imperative for us as we proclaim the gospel that we do not give the majority of our time to other things and neglect the study and preaching of God’s Word from your mind and mouth, the one he has called and entrusted to lead the local congregation in which you are overseeing.

  8. Never neglect your spiritual health. I know, this seems like the obvious one to communicate, but it is also the most neglected. How do I know? Because I’ve been there and done just that. I am convinced one of the easiest ways to neglect your own spiritual health is to be a minister. Because when you study the Bible day in and day out, you become indifferent to the fact that you personally need the daily study and meditation of Scripture. The reality is that when you, as a minister, neglect the spiritual disciplines, your people will follow. It was Richard Ross who said it best,

    “Flocks follow the example of their shepherd.”

    Whatever habits and characteristics you emulate is the pastorate will result in your congregation. Therefore, it is imperative for you to never neglect your spiritual health.

  9. Take a day off. Piggy-backing on point 8, when we neglect our spiritual health, we are actually disobeying the fourth commandment – we neglect to “keep Sabbath.” Sabbath was modeled by God but was implemented by the Hebrews in the Old Testament. They reserved this day to remind themselves that the Lord is in control and they are nothing without Him. It is absolutely essential that you take one day per week as a “spiritual retreat day” to remind yourself that the sun came up this morning and didn’t ask your permission and it will set in the evening without checking in with you on its way by. You need sabbath to remember this.
  10. Don’t neglect your family. I am a firm believer that your family is your first line of ministry. The family is God’s original plan for discipleship and ministry and therefore, it must be yours also. Let me just be blunt: work will be there in the morning. Don’t miss out on anything your family does. When Kaylee was pregnant with Beckett, I only missed one appointment the entire pregnancy and it was because I was out-of-town. I would not trade those experiences with her for anything. I never miss an opportunity, if at all possible, at Beckett’s daycare.Now, I absolutely love being in ministry and love working (I told you I was weird), but I have to remind myself that my family is more important than my work. For to be a healthy minister, I must first be a godly husband and father.

[1] Randy Corn, “Whose Sermon is it?”, FWB Commission for Theological Integrity, https://fwbtheology.com/whose-sermon-is-it (Accessed January 19, 2018).

[2] Mark Dever, “On Sermon Preparation”, “9Marks Pastors’ Talk” (MP3 podcast), November 28, 2017, http://9marks.org.

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