7 Lessons from 17 Years in Ministry

Seventeen years. That is how long I’ve served in vocational church ministry. That number caught me a bit by surprise this week. I really don’t feel like I’m old enough to have been doing this for so long, but the calendar doesn’t lie. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned that make my ministry stronger today than it was in 2000 and that sustain me during hard days.

1. The church is the bride of Christ.

I knew this fact from Sunday School, but I had to learn its value in the trenches of ministry. It can be easy to view your church as a problem or as a thorn in your side. I have heard pastors run down their churches and have been tempted to do the same. But, the church is the bride of Christ. If I am God’s minister, the church deserves my love because she is loved by my Savior.

2. Biblical exposition trumps vision casting.

The book of Proverbs warns us that the people perish without vision, but the most important vision you will cast for your church is God’s vision as it is born out of the careful preaching of his Word. The Word of God is living and active and it is powerful. The Word of God rightly preached and obeyed will produce a vision and direction for your church. Trust God’s process.

3. Culture eats strategy.

I stole this quote from Peter Drucker, but only because I have seen it play out in the local church repeatedly. Pastors watch strategies and plans fail repeatedly because they work to implement strategy and structure in reverse. Strategies succeed only in healthy cultures where people are willing and eager to be led. How do you create a healthy culture? See number 2. Preach God’s Word and watch the Word of God do its work among the people of God. Then, create strategies and systems to sustain and grow the culture.

4. Prayer doesn’t happen by accident.

You have to plan your prayer and you have to lead your people to do the same. Teach them to pray bold prayers and pray bold prayers yourself. God still saves people in response to the prayers of his people. God still answers prayer, but we’ve got to pray on purpose.

5. Pastoral ministry is hard work.

For time immemorial, the pastoral ministry has attracted a group of people who were lazy, but the ministry to which God has called us requires us to work hard. Rightly dividing the word of God is exhausting and time consuming. There are no shortcuts to faithful preaching, pastoral care and organizational leadership.

6. Leadership lessons are better caught than taught.

The pastor is the overseer of the church and as such he needs to be a strong leader, but where can he learn? Pastors need mentors (i.e. other pastors, professors, church members) who will teach them to lead. Only so much can be gleaned from a book or a lecture. Much of my growth as a leader comes from spending time with other leaders.

7. Pastors are church members.

For reasons that I do not understand, a biblical approach to eldership and ecclesiology is often lacking for pastors. I’m not sure if biblical ecclesiology is being neglected in seminaries and Bible colleges or if it is just scary to obey God’s word (though I suspect both are true). The pastor (elder, shepherd, overseer) is a member of his church. He is not a hired gun. He is not the boss of the church. He is a shepherd leader set apart by and accountable to the church. Therefore, pastors should act like other church members. Commit to a small group. Be vulnerable and accountable. Fellowship with other church members. Engage in missions, ministry, and service. Be a part of the church.

Some of you reading this are just beginning in pastoral ministry. Some of you have been serving the Lord much longer than I. What have you learned that has helped you to more effectively lead God’s church?