At the end of this year, I started thinking about when I first got started in ministry. It’s funny, they never tell you quite what to expect. I think it’s partly because you’ll never understand until you’re in the thick of it. So, I took a look back at 2007 Chris and thought about the advice I would have given myself.
Take care of yourself.
Nobody else is going to do it for you. This is some of the best advice I have ever received. This job will break you if you’re not careful. Take care of yourself spiritually.
I have seen many people fall out of a strong relationship with Christ because they replaced their personal relationship with Christ with the activity of ministry. Take care of yourself emotionally. Again, this job has the potential to break you. Make sure you let someone else know how you feel. Also, take care of yourself physically. Plenty of pastors die young. A lot of it is stress, unhealthy eating, or lack of physical exercise. When I started actively trying to stay in shape, the ministries I oversee got better. I had more energy for the kids, better breathing for singing, better energy onstage, and the list goes on and on. Make sure your body is taken care of.
You’re never going to make everybody happy.
What you will hear: “The church pays your salary, so it’s your job to make people happy.”
Hey, there’s some good news here! That’s not your job. Your job is to equip and train believers. Equip and train them to come into worship with God not only corporately, but privately. Sometimes, this requires that you make unpopular decisions. Keep in mind, your job is not to give people what they want. Your job is to give people what they need.
Pick your battles.
Not everything is worth dying for. You’ll have issues that come up that you can’t brush off. You’ll have problems that are huge. But you’ll also have small problems that just aren’t worth moving to the top of your to-do list. Don’t use this as an excuse to sweep everything under the rug. You’ll still have plenty of problems that absolutely have to be handled. If you’re not having an awkward conversation every once in a while, you’re probably not leading very well. But don’t treat every molehill like a mountain.
Stop listening before a service.
What you will hear: “Can I talk to you for just a second about (insert issue here)?”
Getting in a less-than-worshipful mood before a worship service is awful. People can put you there very quickly. Brendan Prout wrote a great article about checking your e-mail right before the service. This doesn’t mean you get to brush everyone off. There are always last-minute things that need attention. But, for things that aren’t priority one at that point, just use the following line a friend gave me: “Hey, it seems like that’s really important to you. Call me in the office this week and we can set up a time to go over it more thoroughly.”
Keep your friends close. And your closest friends closer.
What you will hear: “That guy just wants to make cliques. He only hangs out with certain people.”
Listen, pastors. Listen closely. It’s OK to have friends. It’s OK to have close friends. In fact, you’re not going to make it without them. It’s not a clique. It’s not a club. It’s a friendship. There are plenty of people at church that, I can say with confidence, wouldn’t go to the movies with me and get pizza afterward. Not just because of me, but because we don’t share common interests. Does that mean I won’t disciple them? No. Does it mean I don’t love them? No. You can’t have a close, intimate friendship with every single person in the church. Don’t stop loving everyone. Don’t stop helping your staff disciple everyone. Don’t focus all your attention just on your friends.