I’m not the oldest kid on the block but I’m sadly realizing I’m not the youngest either at age 48. My ministry experience to date has been somewhat varied. Prior to seminary I was a campus intern with RUF followed by eight years as a campus minister once my M.Div from RTS was in hand. Following that I served as an Assistant Pastor at a multi-staff church and then became a church planter where I continue as the organizing pastor.
I’ve made and seen a number of mistakes in the ministry in the almost 20 years since I was ordained and I’d like to ponder them a moment. I won’t distinguish which are the mistakes I’ve made and which are the ones I’ve observed. Is that due to pride? That’s entirely possible.Ministry mistakes I’ve made and seen:
1) Buying into the greener pastures myth
2) Going for the silver bullet
3) Wishing you were someone else
1. Buying into the greener pastures myth– by this I mean I’ve seen guys jump ship from a pastorate or ministry position for which they are well suited and a seemingly good fit for something that looks bigger and shinier. What often happens is that the new position implodes. If God has you in a good place of ministry that fits well with your gifts, talents, and personality you need to think loooooong and hard before leaving. Of course, there are legitimate reasons to pursue other callings (save that for another blog post) but just to get a bigger steeple is a poor reason- and can often not end well. You may be jumping to a situation that exceeds your gift mix. We’re not all called and gifted to pastor a Briarwood or be the next featured speaker at T4G.
2. Going for the silver bullet– this is the ministry mistake of thinking the latest and greatest will solve all of your problems. A few years ago we were all told that using the “40 Days of Purpose” would increase attendance and giving! Great! How do I order? Where do I sign? Churches of all stripes were using it. Sadly, silver bullets only work on werewolves (or so I’m told). Now the silver bullet may be the latest and greatest in technological advancement. “Hey, if we get a Facebook page, start a Twitter account, and use some video that will turn Andy Stanley green with envy, we’ll turn this thing around!” It’s not that we can’t glean some insights from others, but if you think you’ve found the mystery method that will solve all of your ministry’s problems that doesn’t involve theological reflection, prayer, and repentance, my advice is to take your shiny ammo back to where you got it. Here’s an idea: What about starting with a renewed commitment to the primary tools God put in the church’s toolbox such as the ministry of the Word, prayer, sacraments, worship, and fellowship? Just a thought.
3. Wishing you were someone else– This is one of those pastoral mistakes that happens within. It occurs when you’re discouraged and begin to think “If so-and-so were here, this thing would have taken off by now and we’d be seeing things happen.” I realize this can spring from faulty views of what “success” in ministry really is. Aside from that, wishing you were someone else can sometimes lead to copying preaching styles, voice intonations, and mannerisms at its worst. For most it can be debilitating as it brings waves of self-pity and doubt. This is where your theology needs to kick in. If God wanted “so-and-so” there, He would have put him there. For today at least, God has you there and that makes you the best fit for the situation. This doesn’t mean you’re there for the long haul necessarily but is a recognition of God’s providence in the here and now.
This mistake calls for those in ministry to take honest assessments of themselves and their gifts and skills. Just as many Little League parents think their kid needs to play Major League Baseball, too many of us in ministry think we need to be the next church planting whiz who publishes books and is coveted as a conference speaker. Hey, if Paul can call his time in jail a time of “fruitful labor” (Phil. 1:22) what should that say about our attitude toward gospel ministry where God may have us as unglamorous as it may seem?
Ministry mistakes made and seen. I’m making them all the time and seeing them firsthand that way. To borrow from the film “Apollo 13”, despair is not an option. Therefore, let’s make 2 Corinthians 8:9 the prayer of all mistake prone pastors- which is all of us.