Tuesday, 10 June 2008

What I've learned in the past five months

Last weekend, a final-year ministry student asked me what it's like in "real" ministry. Well, what he actually asked was: "what have you discovered over the last few months that you wish they'd told you at college?" My answer didn't exactly fit his question - because I don't think a college can teach you about these things - but here they are anyway:
1. Take your day off. It's vital for everything that follows.
2. Love your wife. She really is your first ministry.
3. Love your children. They're your next ministries. When you retire, you may look back and feel like everything you've done has been a failure - your church / congregation / ministry was always struggling, never got into three-digit attendance, never got written up in a ministry magazine - but if your wife is happy, and your kids are believers, and are living normal, balanced, healthy lives, I reckon that's a "win".
4. Love your congregation. You're their shepherd, their pastor. You're job isn't first of all to preach at them or counsel them or manage & motivate them, but to love them the way Christ loves them - regardless of how cranky, eccentric & exasperating they are are.
5. Be patient. Expect irrational resistance to your initiatives and suggestions. Change is difficult. Everyone always feels tired & stretched & stressed - even if you think they shouldn't! Repentance is scary. Sinful habits are hard to break. The status quo is easier & more comfortable - even if people know it's wrong! Geneva wasn't built in a day. (I'm a Protestant - I don't give two hoots how long it took to build Rome...)
6. Use the "means of grace". Read the Bible, just for fun. Pray, just for the sake of chatting with God. Go to church, just for the joy of being with God's people and praising him together. (When you're on holidays, you may want to go to a different church than where you regularly minister. That's a good idea, to avoid being drawn back into the "regular" web of ministry relationships. But go somewhere!).
And last but definitely not least:
7. Love God; love Christ; love the cross. Live your life "coram deo" - before the face of God. Keep your passion for telling people what Christ has done for them - ie, evangelism. Ministry's not a "job"; it's calling, a mission. Remember, we have the empty cross and empty tomb behind us; we have Christ's glorious return ahead of us. Make all your decisions from that perspective - and encourage everyone else to do so too. Nothing else really matters.

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