What I’ve learned in 20 years of serving the Lord

On Sunday, May 4, 1997, I surrendered to the call to ministry. I celebrate that day every year because I knew what it took to get me there. I also know that God didn’t call me because of anything I could offer Him but because of what He wanted to do through me.

I had big dreams as a 16 year old. I had all these grandiose ideas of what ministry would be like, but I soon discovered that it would not be perfect just because it was about Jesus. Jesus is perfect, but all those people I was going to encounter (including the man in the mirror) are not perfect.

I would like to be as concise as possible in stating things I’ve learned. Those who have served or are currently serving the Lord can agree or maybe see some light regarding their experiences. Here is some of what I learned.

  1. Not everyone will like you. It does not matter how kind you are, some people are determined to hate you because of your position. This applies to other leaders who are outside of ministry. When you said yes, you put a bullseye on your back. If they hated Jesus, they have more of a reason to hate us.
  2. Not everyone truly wants to go to Heaven. Some blatantly hate Christianity while others don’t want to genuinely pay the price of following Jesus. You have surrendered your life while others just want a little piece of Jesus.
  3. The first person to want you in a church will be the first one to want you out. I have encountered that many times. Beware of hyperemotional people. They will go from north to South Pole faster than you can blink your eye. Love them, but keep your radar on.
  4. Serving God won’t always make sense. You’ll watch God take 10 percent of your income that you give Him (which is a major sacrifice for you) and multiply it and you can’t explain it. You’ll leave a better paying job with less stress to go into a job where people will criticize you, even if you walk on water. You will step out on faith when things don’t add up, and  you will see God put the pieces together. You can’t figure God out, but His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.
  5. Don’t take a ministry job for any reason other than the call! I took some positions I was not called to. You will soon discover that your personality and vision are a horrible fit for the church. Money will not buy happiness in any situation, so don’t pimp yourself out as a minister (or whatever your vocation may be).
  6. Don’t give up a God-given dream just because it doesn’t add up! I waited to do certain things and refused to do certain things as a younger minister. I am now following a call from years ago to be the founding pastor of a church. It is a challenge and blessing wrapped in one. I had to deal with years of settling for something else because I didn’t follow through with the call that didn’t add up.
  7. Don’t sacrifice your family on the Altar of “ministry”! A lot of things are unnecessary that we as pastors do. Some of my ministry moves hurt my family. I was busy chasing dreams. My first ministry is my family. God instituted the family before the church. I wish I would have counted the cost in certain situations because some of the damage still exists today.
  8. Don’t sacrifice a good friendship to work with a friend! Pastors told me for years how this could damage friendships. I learned this firsthand. It could be a lot worse, but the friendship is almost non-existent. In hindsight, I should have probably been flattered by the offer and chosen to stay where I was. Nevertheless, I met some great people and trust the promise that my labor was not in vain in the Lord (I Corinthians 15:58).
  9. Don’t focus so much on the administrative work of ministry that you forget about people! I lost sight of this for many years. Jesus did not sit in His office and expect people to come to Him. He went to the people. The Great Commission says “Go”. I missed out on so much because I allowed the demands of administrative tasks to steal me away from the people God wanted to minister to through me.
  10. People want a pastor to be real! I know that seminaries have trained preacher robots for many years, but most people aren’t impressed with that. Don’t be fake and impersonal! Many people have given up on trying to live the Christian life because they see all these people who supposedly have it together when they really don’t. You will lose influence and favor with people if you refuse to be transparent and genuine with them about your life and struggles.

I think I should just leave this as a top 10. If you read this, I encourage you to comment and add some of what you have gleaned. I would love to hear it, and I know others would benefit too. Here’s to another 20 plus years of surrender to my Savior and Lord!

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14 thoughts on “What I’ve learned in 20 years of serving the Lord

Add yours

  1. All of them are great–but #2, now that’s the cause of a lot of frustration…and heartache–to offer this incredible gift to people who only want a piece…Congrats and keep moving forward!

  2. Our human condition! We’re a mess, but to at least long for heaven! Our blessed hope. What a terrible thing to learn people don’t want to go or don’t care about Heaven. Sad….Great lessons to have behind you now!

  3. Recognize you will be misunderstood more than you may think. Especially if you have a caring heart…which is a requirement if you truly have a heart for Jesus.

  4. I know that seminaries have trained preacher robots for many years, but most people aren’t impressed with that. Don’t be fake and impersonal! Many people have given up on trying to live the Christian life because they see all these people who supposedly have it together when they really don’t. You will lose influence and favor with people if you refuse to be transparent and genuine with them about your life and struggles.
    ^ Bingo. And the following may sound bad, but hopefully people will read my comment all the way to the end and get what I’m trying to convey: This is why I watch T.D. Jakes and John K. Jenkins on YouTube and listen to Dr. Darrell Scott on Radio 1000 but have never enjoyed the “white” churches I’ve attended. Whereas T.D. Jakes has confessed to flipping out and completely forgetting who he was during a road rage incident (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djyzu8fVdfQ) and John K. Jenkins has admitted to a “swearing spirit” (and said the word “pissed” during sermons), and Dr. Darrell Scott sometimes reminds me of Morris Day (think “Purple Rain”), white pastors always act prim, proper, perfect, and uptight. It’s off-putting. There are exceptions, of course, such as Kerry Shook, who’s in Texas, but I’ve never encountered them in Cleveland. When I go to church, I feel like I’m sitting in the principal’s office.

    1. Your last statement is hilarious. I understand though. I attended an African-American church for a semester in college. I prefer passionate, real-life preaching. My approach to preaching and ministry has changed due to life circumstances over the past few years. I’m thankful for the change God did in my heart through the difficulty.

      1. Yeah, “funny” how that happens… In college, I took an anthropology of black culture class, and we watched a documentary about black churches. Even then, 10 years before I became a Christian, it struck me how passionate the parishioners were. Little did I know I’d be starting a blog/memoir about the role they’ve played in my life. It almost makes you think God had all of this stuff planned out. 😉

  5. Don’t ever give up. God has plans for those who love Him. Those plans are good, and He always hears when we humble ourselves before Him. God is light, and He will give us light as we read the Word, and go about the day. I believe He works things out for His glory.

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