This is Part 3 in a 4-part series.
37 Things I Learned in 37 Years of Ministry (Part 1)
10 More Things I Learned in 37 Years of Ministry (Part 2)
37 Things I Learned in 37 Years of Ministry (Part 4)
Recently, I retired from full-time ministry after 37 years. Here are some things I learned over the years. They are not in any particular order.
Most are pretty obvious, but I still needed to learn them. Most would apply not just to pastors, but to every Christian. I’m still learning and Jesus still has lots more to do in me. I hope these encourage you.
21. Resolve conflicts as quickly as possible.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)
If you know someone is offended with you or feels you have sinned against them, don’t say, “Well, that’s their problem.” Go as quickly as you can and seek to be reconciled.
I can remember once the Lord convicted me that I had treated several people with a serious lack of grace when they told me they felt called to leave our church. I called each one and they graciously agreed to meet with me. When we met I confessed how God had convicted me of my sinful attitude and I asked their forgiveness for my lack of graciousness. Each one forgave me. I found that the longer we wait to resolve conflicts with friends or family, the more bitterness can grow. Try to resolve conflicts quickly.
22. Don’t judge others from your strengths.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Gal. 6:1)
My father smoked for over 20 years and one day just quit. He could never understand how people could struggle to break the habit of smoking. “I just made up my mind to quit and I did. That’s all you have to do,” he would say.
If we don’t struggle with something, it’s easy for us to look down on those who do; to judge them out of our strengths. We can be tempted to think, “I can’t believe you would do that. I would never do that.” Remember, pride comes before a fall. When someone shares a sin or struggle we should think, “I could fall into that or some other sin if I let my guard down or look down on this person.”
23. Preach the Gospel in every message.
Try to get the Gospel in every message you preach. In most churches every Sunday there may be people there who are not saved. Not only that but believers regularly need to be reminded of Christ crucified – the Gospel provokes thankfulness and praise, humility and love for God.
This not only applies to pastors but to children’s ministry teachers and anyone who teaches.
24. Preach to everyone in the room – teens, kids, blue-collar, people suffering, unbelievers, etc.
Always think of your audience and try to make God’s Word relevant to everyone there. Our church is in a university town, so we’d have college students and profs in the congregation.
But we’re also in a blue-collar area, so we’d have coal miners, farmers and truck drivers in the meeting. We’d have teens and older children. We would regularly have new people so I couldn’t assume they had ever heard the Gospel. Pastors, try to make your messages relatable to everyone in the room.
25. Illustrations are better than quotations (at least in my opinion).
I don’t have anything against quotations. I used them myself. But in my opinion, a far more effective way to drive home a point is to use an illustration or story, especially if it’s from your own life.
Stories captivate people, get their attention. And they are much more memorable. Stories about how I failed to rejoice when I broke a toilet, or how I had to trust my friend who held the rope the first time I rappelled, brought home spiritual truths in memorable ways. You can quote me on that.
26. Sometimes when you try to do good it comes back to bite you.
When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. (Acts 28:2)
On Malta, Paul was trying to be a servant and got bitten by a viper. This verse doesn’t teach that this will happen to us, but very often, when we are trying to do good, people don’t respond with the gratitude and love we think they should.
A fellow pastor and I once spent many hours counseling and trying to help a couple. We blessed them financially. And the thanks we received was they left our church and went to numerous pastors in town and told them we were Satanists. Of course that doesn’t always happen, but sometimes when we try to do good, we get bitten.
You try to bless a rebellious teen, and you get disrespect and grief in return. You lend your guitar to someone and they put a big scratch in it. Don’t be surprised. And don’t forget that it’s ultimately Jesus who rewards us for our good deeds.
27. Try to really listen to people when they disagree with you or criticize you.
When people criticize us, our tendency is to get defensive ‒ to stop listening to them; to be offended; to try to shut them down. But they may have something really worth hearing.
Try to listen, really listen. Maybe they disagree with you about an important doctrinal issue. Even if you disagree, try to listen. Try to understand where they are coming from.
28. Be merciful to people – you don’t know what they’re going through.
When someone reacts harshly to you, cut them a break. Maybe they are going through a rough time, or had a rough day. Make excuses for people: Well, he’s just very discouraged about his son right now. Maybe that’s why he responded so harshly when I mentioned him.
We don’t know why people respond the way they do sometimes. We don’t know what challenges they’re facing or what pain they’re in. To “make excuses” doesn’t mean we overlook serious sin. But it means we cut them a break, not knowing what they’re going through.
29. The best question to ask when discouraged or anxious: What am I believing about God right now?
Once my wife asked me why I was acting down. I said, “I guess I’m just feeling overwhelmed,” She asked me, “What are you believing about God right now?”
To which I replied, “I guess if I feel overwhelmed I am believing that God won’t be faithful, that He won’t help me and that He is giving me more than I can handle.”
When I spoke this aloud, I realized I needed to grab myself by the collar, give myself a good shake, and believe God’s Word, that He is faithful, loving and will never give me more than I can handle. So next time you are feeling overwhelmed ask yourself, “What am I believing about God right now?”
30. The best question to ask when tempted to anger: What is it I want that I’m not getting?
In James 4 we read:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2)
Anger arises when our “passions” or strong desires are thwarted. We “covet” or we want something and “cannot obtain” it, so we get angry, we fight and quarrel. In other words, we want something and don’t get it, so we get angry. So the best question to ask when tempted to anger is “What is it I want right now that I’m not getting?”