Two Years Down…
A few months ago, I finished my second year of full-time ministry. As a campus minister, my job differ somewhat from a youth minister’s job or a preaching minister’s job. But I still think I have learned a few things from two years of ministry that might be helpful for any minister who is just starting out.
Five Crucial Lessons
Here are the five crucial lessons I’ve learned in my first two years of full-time ministry.
1. Teach the Word of God. When I was a ministry intern, I spent a lot of time thinking about all the things I would do when I became a full-time minister. I thought about programs I would start, evangelism initiatives, fundraising, and so on. Without knowing it, I was creating a ministry philosophy that focused heavily around my efforts and ingenuity to grow a ministry. What was wrong with this? I didn’t make the center of my ministry teaching the Word of God.
Thankfully, shortly before I was started my current job, I came to see the true importance of teaching God’s Word. I have been amazed at what God has done through His Word. God has developed leaders in my ministry, created a passion for outreach, transformed the students, and given many students a passion for studying His Word.
This didn’t happen because I’m a great teacher. I’m still an inexperienced teacher, cramming too much material into my unstructured lessons. But God works through His Word.
2. It’s easy to dilute your efforts by overcommitting. Time management experts advise people to learn to say “No” to taking on extra projects at work. Otherwise, so many things will consume your time that you will be overworked but performing poorly.
I’m guilty of not taking this advice. When I started this job, I wanted to do well and get noticed. So I overcommitted. In my ministry, I taught 2-3 times a week. I promised a lot of people that I would have coffee with them or go to lunch with them. I tried to talk with everyone that wanted to talk with me. I tried to take visitors out for coffee or lunch to get to know them. I did a lot of things for my church that fell outside of the sphere of my college ministry.
And none of these tasks were bad tasks. But I overcommitted. And what gets cut? Study. Prayer. Proper preparation for lessons and sermons. Intentionally discipling student leaders. Rest. Family time.
God has blessed my ministry these last two years, but I was so overcommitted that I didn’t give him much to work with. Now I’m in my third year, and I’m doing a much better job of focusing my efforts.
3. Spiritual leadership is more than just making good decisions. In my job, I am supposed to teach the Bible, model a godly life, and disciple students. These tasks make up my spiritual leadership role.
But I am also the administrator and the event planner at my ministry. And I have to oversee our ministry programs. So I have to be a leader in these areas. Each week I juggle all these tasks.
And this makes it easy for me to deceive myself about the quality of my leadership. The leadership I exercise in my administrative tasks is primarily displayed in making good decisions. It is easy to equate all leadership with making good decisions. But this is not true of spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership is much more about modeling the Christian life in my actions, faithfully teaching the Word of God, and discipling students.
Both administrative leadership and spiritual leadership are important, but spiritual leader is certainly more important than the other. And if I look back over the year and think of all the good decisions I’ve made, I could conclude that I’ve been a good leader. But if I haven’t lead a godly life and discipled students, I’ve been a poor leader in the more important area of spiritual leadership.
This year, I’m trying to be more intentional about ensuring that I’m being a good spiritual leader and not just making good decision.
4. Energy management is as important as time management. My second point was about time management. But even when I’m focusing on the right tasks and not overcommitting, my work is low quality when I am not managing my energy well. If I’m not getting enough sleep or letting my sleep habits become irregular (which is easy for a coffee drinker to do), then I am inefficient when writing Bible lessons or sermons, planning, and talking to students.
And there is another dimension to this too: the spiritual dimension. When I’m exhausted and burnt out, I’m less inclined to pray and study the Word of God. I tend to become less caring with students and less passionate when I teach.
If I have been slow in learning any of these five lessons, it is this one. But I’m trying to do better. And I think I’ve done better in the last few months than I ever have.
5. It was easy for me to become so involved with my job that I neglected my own spiritual life. Older ministers nearly always warn advise younger ministers to take care to “feed yourself.” But it is easy for me to neglect prayer and reading one’s Bible. And though I spend so much time talking and thinking about where others are spiritually, it is easy to spend almost no time talking and thinking about where I am spiritually.
I must admit that I’ve found it difficult to maintain good study habits and prayer habits. Reading my Bible makes me think about my next lesson. When praying, I begin thinking about all the people I need to meet with or talk to.
I still need my personal habits to mature more, but I do believe I’m doing a better job of this than I was when I started. I just hope and pray that I can continue to improve this area of my life.
I find it hard to believe that my first two years of ministry are past. God has not only blessed my ministry, but he has blessed me by allowing me to learn a lot about ministry without too much pain or disruption. And I am grateful for that.
I hope my reflections will help other young ministers grow as ministers. If you are not a minister but you read this anyway, I hope this will give you a little insight into the struggles of a minister. It is a peculiar job, burdensome yet full of joy. I count it a blessing from God to spend my days in ministry.