At the close of 2016, I completed a decade in ministry. Some of that decade was bi-vocational while I held a full-time job in the private sector in addition to ministering. I had the opportunity to make ministry my sole occupation several years ago and took it. Since then, I’ve learned many lessons, some for the better and some for the worse. There have been many positives to ministry. I have personally grown in my knowledge of sacred doctrine, but I’ve also grown in knowledge of who I was and wanted to be. I’ve learned even more about myself than anything, and I’ve been able to see that, were something to have happened ten years ago I might have reacted one way when I didn’t do so at the time it happened. The greatest lessons I’ve learned are how to love Jesus and myself more.
To the first one, my growth in knowledge of the Holy Scriptures has given me an even greater love for Christ. Having read the books of the Bible and reading the works of early theologians who, in their wisdom, could string together thoughts from the Word has led me to appreciate the cross more. Growing a greater love for Christ has led me to exercise self-control when tempted. While ten years ago I might have acted one way in a given situation, I’ve often been surprised how I’ve handled many hurdles that have come my way. As a testament to this, even my wife has commented that she was surprised, and grateful, that I handled situations better than what she thought I would have.
I also used to want to be a Christian simply to avoid hell, but now I want to be a Christian because I truly want to go to heaven. While there’s always room for preaching about hell, I tend to preach more about the splendor of heaven and being with God. Growing in my love of Christ has led to this dramatic shift and new emphasis in my personal Christianity. I try to convey this in my preaching and teaching too, because it’s a perspective that’s so richer than the one I once had. I learned to crawl before I began to walk.
When it comes to loving myself more, I can only say that as a younger preacher, I used to want to be a certain way. That particular way was how I envisioned I’d be a “successful” minister, so I began acting that way early on. However, that wasn’t who I truly was. I realized that I was playing a part and not being true to myself. God knew who I truly was and loved me as that person.
That person (who I actually was), to be sure, was by no means better than who I was trying to be, but I allowed the expectations of the brethren to define who I wanted to be instead of God. Now, I care more about who God wants me to be than any expectation a church might put on me. I don’t smile all the time. I may take off my tie for the evening service on Sunday, or wear my Converse shoes while donning a suit and tie. I use humor in my preaching, sometimes even a hard dose of sarcasm at what I view as stupidity. I even recently said in a sermon, “If you don’t want to be here, don’t come.” I also once said in a sermon about dealing with people that sometimes you just want to throat-punch them.
I wouldn’t say that being myself is always the best thing to do, because who I am isn’t the best person at all times. I will say that I’ve had more people tell me how much they appreciate me being real than I can recall. Nevertheless, I don’t say, “Follow me.” Rather, I say, “Follow Jesus. I’m trying to do it every day, and some days are better than others” I’m very simply a broken person who loves Christ, and I want to please Him the best I can.
I’ve wanted to quit ministry more times than I care to admit. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve wished people would take this as serious as I think they should. I’ve wished that elders were more competent and nicer to me. I’ve wanted to throw a fit at times. No matter how much I’ve sometimes wanted to quit, I keep on, like Jeremiah, finding that fire in my bones and I can’t hold it in.
The last decade has brought me many moments of joy. I’ve built a personal ministry that I believe God finds pleasing. I’ve been fortunate to serve at congregations I’ve dearly loved, and even some I wish I’d had never served. Even in all the bad moments and with the horrors that I’ve faced in ministry, I believe that God has been with me. He’s been with me in the saint of a wife He’s given me, in the heritage of my children, in many loving brethren who’ve encouraged me and prayed for me even when I may not have known it. If it’s to His good pleasure, I’ll keep on trying to be a better Christian and serve Him as one of His ministers. The past decade has had its highs and lows, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.