Reflections On A Decade of Ministry
This summer marks my tenth year in full-time ministry. I’m still not sure how that happened. A lot has changed over the years in my own thinking, processing, and understanding of ministry.
I decided to jot down some of my thoughts as I reflect on where I’ve been, and with God’s guidance, where I’m going.
I guess I should start at the beginning, as most stories do. I started in my church ten years ago (2007, people!), as a twenty-two year old recently graduated college student. Now, most people say that when they first start out in ministry they have no idea what they were doing.
This is true, but not true. I was certainly new and fresh (perhaps a bit naive. Okay, majorly naive), but I had a vision right from the start.
I had a degree in Biblical Studies and experience working with students and being part of the church. In many ways, my entire life pointed to my future church life.
I knew the church. I loved the church. However, I quickly learned that leading in the church and loving people was not something one could “plan” for.
It happened in ways that a classroom (and even hands on experience) can’t prepare you for. You just have to do it.
I faced conflict and had adjustments a lot during those early years. Part of this is the reality of being a leader. When you are called to make decisions and lead something, inevitably you will face pushback.
This was challenging for me, but I quickly learned if God has called and affirmed you to be in that position, you have to trust the process. And that’s what I did.
I knew in those early days one truth that never left me: I wanted to stick around long enough to really know students and a community.
I didn’t want to be a one and done or church hop, hoping to climb some proverbial ladder of success–like I wouldn’t go to a mega church in the Midwest, just so I could come back to California to work at a bigger church because I got the “experience.” That never appealed to me.
Rather, I decided to trust God in the process and to be where I was until He said to go. So, for a number of seasons He continually told me to stay so I did.
Staying at one place for a while has some difficulties for sure. When you stick around, you begin to notice that there are cycles and trends.
There are seasons of growth that are super exciting. New students coming around, new families joining the church, and the result is numerical growth.
But there are also seasons of pruning. Seasons where you lose numbers, where it feels like progress is stalled. But sometimes this is an adjustment to get focused on what’s next.
When you’ve been around long enough, you don’t freak out when this happens. You’re reminded that this is the season for that and like all seasons, they come and go.
It’s important to not lose sight of what you’re called to do during the difficult seasons. Stay focused on Jesus and His word.
Speaking of different seasons, I’ve gone through the gambit in my life and ministry.
There have been times in my first decade where I felt burned out, stressed, discouraged, and frustrated. I wanted an out, I wanted to quit, I doubted my calling and gifting, I thought something, anything, would be easier than ministry.
I wondered if ministry was good for me. I wondered if it was good for my marriage.
I’ve wondered if students cared, if leaders listened, if families saw the sacrifice and many hours given to their kids.
And then there were times when I felt loved and appreciated and connected. I’ve felt all that and more over the years. It comes with the territory I suppose.
There have also been seasons when conflict has arisen. People have disagreed with me on issues, especially when it comes to their kids.
Of course, there were times when I made mistakes. But there were also times when I saw how easy it is for sin to cause people to run and hide and become defensive. My heart has broken when families I’ve loved chose to hide and blame instead of seek community and healing.
I’d get defensive and offended and worried during these bouts. I took it hard, like sleepless nights and worry, and tons of doubt.
But I’ve learned that this is ministry. The church is messy because we are messy. Life isn’t always so neatly packaged and arranged. It ebs and flows and morphs. The church is no different.
You will have disagreements. And confrontations. Sometimes healing and reconciliation will happen. Other times, it won’t.
Sticking around at one place for a while has also taught me about the strength of relationships. I’ve been so fortunate get to know families–like really know them–and that has been so good.
When I’ve had multiple siblings over the years in the ministry, and when a student has been with me from Middle School through High School, it’s such a different experience.
I feel like I move past the performing part of being a pastor into simply being known. My students know me for who I am.
They know my life, they know my fake laugh, they trust me because there is no substitute for time when you’re building a relationship. This has been invaluable to me.
The years have also taught me a bit about success in ministry.
Early on in my ministry, I had a lot of questions about what marked true success. Was it numbers? Visible fruit? The list of possible factors goes on and on. For sure, God has been faithful.
Students have been baptized.
Leaders have been raised up and sent out into ministry.
Kids that would have never set foot in church have and their lives changed.
Our youth group has been a respite for kids caught in the chaos of the world, and it’s challenged church kids to move out of complacency and comfort.
Students have grown in their ability to minister and Christ-centered relationships have grown and flourished.
But more than any external factor, success, to me, has been about my own life first and foremost.
This is not a self-aggrandizing statement. But success, I’ve discovered, is being faithful to your calling.
The calling God places on you personally and professionally. Loving Him, loving your family, and serving in your context.
Numbers really don’t matter. Neither does the perceived success you get from those around you. What truly matters is your relationship with God and being faithful to Him.
A Jesus-centered ministry has been my goal from the start and that means my own life needs to be aligned with Christ. If that happens, then it’s a win.
There’s so much more to say and process. And, with God’s grace, more up the road
Ten years are in the books. It went fast, that’s for sure. But I’m thankful for the love and support and guidance Marissa and I have received from the beginning until now.
The view from here looks a little different than it did at the start.
For that, I’m thankful.
Now, we’re ready for the next part of the journey.