Reflections on 15 Years of Church Ministry

About 15 years ago, right around this time, Andrea and I were on our way to Tulsa, OK to begin working in youth ministry. Today, I am the Teaching Pastor in Wichita, KS. A lifetime of experienced have been gathered in this 15-year span, and here is just a sample of lessons I have gained.

  1. God’s designed the church to be a kaleidoscope not a collection of clones. While we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and are one in the body of Christ (Romans 12:5), there is a variety of maturity levels and areas of giftedness in the local church. Some struggle in the same sins that others have continual victory over. Some people value a particular author that others don’t enjoy. Some grew up a few miles from the church; others moved to the United States just a few years ago. Some are wrestling with questions like, “Where does evil come from” and others are working on the question, “Does God love me”? God loves variety in the local church.
  2. If you preach the Word, it will do what it promises to do. I have learned to live with many things (that are not essentials) in church ministry and seen the Word of God change hearts. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It will soften hearts. It will move people in a specific direction when taught accurately and applied rightly. Trust God’s Word and preach it when people want to hear it and not hear it (II Timothy 4:2).
  3. I am not as dumb or as smart as I think. Just when I think I “nailed it”, I am reminded of how far I need to go. And just when I think I completely bombed, God uses me to bless someone else.
  4. God can and does use me for His pleasure despite my sins, inconsistencies and weaknesses. That is the beauty of God’s sovereignty. He uses us, but doesn’t NEED us. His ways are always perfect; our ways are always flawed. If God can use a talking donkey for His pleasure, He can certainly use this jar of clay (II Corinthians 4:7-9).
  5. Sanctification is a community project. When God saved me, He didn’t save me to myself. He put me into the body of Christ. I need my church to help me become holy. Their encouragements, criticisms, gratitude, “push backs”, praise, invitations, emails, handshakes, etc. all help develop me into the man of God I need to be. I won’t become holy without them (I Corinthians 12).
  6. Senior Christians are undervalued. Too often, and to our shame, we don’t expect our senior saints to contribute to the local body. We encourage them to hit cruise control, lean back in their pew (or chair) in the service, be a spiritual sponge, and keep all their wisdom and spiritual insight to themselves. We need our older Christians if we want to be more faithful in disciple-making (Titus 2:2-8).
  7. Home is my Sabbath rest. I love coming home. Even when I open the door and hear the boys running circles in the living room with their light sabers and see Annie hiding in another room with her ear plugs in – I love coming home. Home is an escape from the pressures and stresses of ministry. Home is where my heart enjoys being and my family rejuvenates me in all kinds of ways to serve the church.
  8. God has never disappointed. Sure, there are times when I have asked him, “Why did you let that elder die when we needed him” or “Why did you allow that church to split?” But I have never been disappointed in His sovereignty. He knows what He is doing (Romans 8:29-30).
  9. Prayer is my fuel. Without prayer, I am apathetic, slow, impatient, harsh, and critical. When I see Paul showing thanks to God for a church like Corinth, I get fired up to pray for others.
  10. The whole counsel of God needs preaching. It’s easy to preach a Gospel or a short book like Philemon or Jude, but there is tremendous value (II Timothy 3:16-17) in preaching a series in the Minor Prophets – which I have yet to do. There needs to be teaching on the book of Deuteronomy – which I have done. There needs to be preaching from the Song of Solomon – which would be an interesting experience. All of it needs to be taught (Acts 20:27).
  11. I read to know that I am not alone. Ministry can be incredibly lonely. Even if you serve with a great team of elders, which I do, ministry is often one-way. There is a lot of shepherding and equipping of others, but few take the time to shepherd and equip you. That’s why I love to read. Some of my shepherds sit on my shelves in my office, and I value their speaking of life to me (II Timothy 4:13).
  12. What I think about God is the most important thing about me. Tozer gave me that thought about 20 years ago when I read The Knowledge of the Holy. My view of God changes everything about me – how I approach each and every one of my own sins, how I husband, how I father, how I preach, how I show hospitality, how I vacation, etc. I want to know more about God today than I did when I first placed by faith in Him (Philippians 3:10).
  13. I am still in the classroom. Just because no professor is overseeing my assignments doesn’t mean that school is over. Church ministry is more of a school than seminary or college ever was. There are tests and quizzes every day. There are questions and answers. There is dialogue and debate. There is non-stop learning.
  14. Criticism is inevitable. Leadership invites a bull’s-eye on your back. When you stand in front of others, you are, at best, a sinful, imperfect leader. I have made unwise decisions; I have said erroneous and foolish things. I will continue to fall short in my communication the rest of my life. On the other hand, I have said what needs to be said. I have preached hard truths. There will always be people in ministry that won’t like how you lead. How I respond to criticism (Ephesians 4:29) says more about me than the fact that I actually receive criticism.
  15. God does not need me. He is all-powerful; I have limitations. He is everywhere; I am in one place. He knows all; I forget stuff every day. He is eternal; I had a beginning. He created the world I live in. He gave me spiritual gifts I didn’t earn or deserve. He softens the hearts I preach to. He gave me words to impart. He is doing just fine without me.

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