What I wish I’d known about ministry 30 years ago

Dear pastors:

I’m writing to you from my heart. I was a pastor for 15 years, and I’ve been helping pastors with their ministries for another 15. Yes, that means I’ve had 30 years seeing churches from multiple sides: as a pastor, as a member, as a consultant, and as an outsider looking in. I realized there are some major lessons I wish I’d known back in the 80s. I want to share those with you, so you don’t have to three decades to learn them.

First, I wish I’d deeply believed that it was truly NOT all up to me. I knew this in theory when I started, but now I really know it at another level. When you are serving a church that is 50 or 100 years old, there’s a cloud of past witnesses surrounding you. The past is formative and essential, and you can’t change it. You are also surrounded by a crowd of people who can make the ministry happen (or not). Pastors place enormous pressure on themselves. Leadership is important and so is truly being part of a community. God is present with us, no matter what the results. Extend yourself some grace.

Second, I wish I’d not taken criticism to heart. We are all humans. We love praise, and avoid criticism. I love it when people love what I do, and I still don’t like criticism. However, I learned over the years to toughen up and keep it in context. Part of my work is to help other pastors do the same. Criticism can actually be a sign you are making progress. If no one criticizes you, you probably aren’t doing enough to rock the boat. I learned, not to like it, but to see it as the price of progress.

Third, I wish I’d known that “this too, shall pass.” I heard this as a child-it was one of my mother’s favorite quotes. But what I didn’t know was how essential it is in ministry. People get upset. I get upset, angry, afraid, frustrated. “This too, shall pass.” The emotions of the moment will not last. My husband sometimes says, “Will this matter in ten years?” I hate it when he asks this, and I also know it’s a good question. More often than not, the answer is no.

The same is true about the moments of elation and even great success. They will pass. Tomorrow there will be yet another challenge. It’s tempting to think, “We’ve made it,” but progress is two steps forward, one step back. It’s the nature of life. If I can accept that, I can be more present to what’s actually important right in front of me.

Finally, I wish I’d known that being myself as God intended is my #1 job. As my mentor, Larry Matthews, used to say, “Being myself is a full-time job.” My job is not to make other people change. It’s not to “succeed.” It’s not to grow my church. It is to be faithful to my call.

It’s wonderful to write this all out. Thank you for reading this list. I hope it resonated with you. This level of authenticity, mentorship, and reflection are what motivate all my workshops, speaking engagements, and online products. My most successful and impactful program is called Leaders Who Last . It’s a year of support, and clergy all over the US and Canada are reporting more clarity, calm, and confidence in their ministry. In being myself as God intended, I am honored to continue to support these masterful leaders in their own endeavours. If you’d like to join Leaders Who Last, or even just check it out, you can click here.

I am also happy to talk with you by phone about Leaders Who Last, to make sure it’s a good fit and will help you this year. If you want to connect, just contact me and we’ll schedule a time.

Here’s to all your important work, and the lessons we’re always learning,

Margaret

 

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