Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Some Thoughts about Ministry, Particularly for Those in Seminary

I know two older ministers who began to write books about ministry based on their own experiences.  One didn't finish before he died, and I am praying the other will!

Here are some thoughts from me at year sixteen, with hopefully thirty more to go:

1.)    Ministry is frequently lonely.
2.)    You will be compared unfavorably to your predecessor, because you were in part a reaction hire (you had strengths where he had weaknesses).  Your successor will be unfavorably compared to you, and will likely be a reaction hire.
3.)    Preaching is the greatest, awfulest thing in the world.
4.)    It is hard to be productive when you are the one in charge of your own schedule.  Using time well is difficult, when you are the master of your own schedule.
5.)    You will feel guilty about the time spent doing the very things you need to do to be a productive pastor.

6.)    A lot of the scary myths of seminary just aren’t true (unrealistic expectations of your wife, on your time, on your children).  Usually, a church wants to love you.  You will always be held at a bit of a distance, but this is part of being in the ministry.
7.)    Be more patient about change.
8.)    But don’t be too patient about change.
9.)    Every church has a personality and a set of unwritten rules and assumptions about pastors.  Be careful not to misread this.
10.)                        It can be difficult to find ways to inject yourself into your peoples’ lives.

11.)                        Some people will profoundly dislike you, and neither you nor they could verbalize why.
12.)                        You will get very close to some people towards the end of their lives.  They will die, and you will grieve deeply.  Don’t underestimate the power of that grief.
13.)                        Understanding the expectations of any particular church is a tricky thing.
14.)                        God will often give you a few folks who serve as your surrogate family.  Develop those relationships and be grateful for them.  Sometimes these people will eventually pull away from you, and you will be reminded again that one of the costs of ministry is being separated from your family.  Let this help you long for heaven.
15.)                        You will discover ugly ambition in yourself and it may show itself in pettiness, jealousy, and bitterness.

16.)                        When people leave your church, it hurts.  When they leave because of you, it hurts double.  This will happen.
17.)                        Sometimes you will be paralyzed by an overwhelming sense of your own inadequacy.
18.)                        At some point, somebody will probably accuse you of not preaching the gospel.  Make sure they’re wrong.
19.)                        If you can’t hold people’s interest with Scripture for twenty-five minutes, it’s not the Scripture that’s boring.
20.)                        Short notes of encouragement to people who are going through tough times or serving the Lord faithfully mean a lot.  A pastor who notices and is thankful is appreciated.

21.)                        Expect to go through the well of grief and suffering to make you useful to others.  I was just reading about the late Dr. Henry Bast, the paragon of expositors among the Dutch Reformed in the middle part of the twentieth century.  He buried two wives and a son, and Parkinson’s caused him to lay down his career and he languished his last six years unable to walk and only talking with great difficulty.  Make sure it makes you useful and not bitter or withdrawn.
22.)                        God does not promise that faithful churches will flourish.
23.)                        Reach out to people.  This is hard if you are introverted as many Reformed people are.  Find ways to compensate for your introversion.
24.) Work to improve your preaching.  Many pastors think about what to preach but stop thinking about how to preach.  Yet, the 'how' dictates how the 'what' is heard and is of equal importance.


  1. Thanks for this list, Ken. Very helpful. GT

  2. Excellent.. Thank-you very much! Your very post is evidence of the reality that fruit for others comes out of one's own suffering/experience. Our reward is great.

  3. A very good read. I so appreciate you for many reasons: a Godly man, a good husband, a peaceful calmness about you, and of course a wonderful preacher. I am grateful for your ministry and mentoring in my son's life. Mary Jo

  4. Thanks for these wise words. I trust I can remember them as I enter seminary in a few weeks down your way!
    Jason Wegener, Wichita, KS

  5. You ought to open it up to additions, for I am sure there are a wealth of other suggestions, as well. For instcnce, preaching is your primary job. Make sure that, as a professional communicator, you communicate. Preaching is not speaking AT. It is communicating WITH. Study preaching and preachers. Getting the interpretation of a passage right right is just part of it.