Some Tips for Young Ministers
This summer will mark 10 years of serving in full time ministry for me. I thought it would be good to look back on my first years of ministry and reflect on things I know now, that I wish I would have known then. Some ministers spend several years working on their undergraduate and graduate degrees before accepting a position as a full time minister. Even then, many of them will start off as an associate minister before accepting a position as a pulpit minister. Ideally, this is probably how it should work, but needless to say everyone’s path to the pulpit is not the same. I accepted a pulpit position at an inner city congregation when I was still in college. I had no idea what I was doing, and I learned many things the hard way. Here are just a few things I wish I would have known when I entered into the ministry.
You don’t have to have all the answers – As a young minister it is sometimes hard to say the words, “I don’t know.” It gets easier as time goes bye. Trust me, I know. You don’t have to know everything. People don’t expect you to know everything. If you are a young minister and you act like you know everything, your members will be very suspicious, because they know the truth. Sometimes, the best answer you can give is “I don’t know.” Go practice it in the mirror until it easily rolls off the tongue. You’re going to need it sometime soon.
Get out of the office – When I was a young minister, I felt tied down to my office. When I was not out visiting people, I felt I had to be at the office. Don’t get me wrong, you need to have clearly stated office hours, but don’t be afraid to get away from the office. I get away from the office at least twice a week. I go to the coffee shop once a week. I advertise this, and I encourage people to come by. I also get away from the office at least one afternoon in order to work on sermons. I do not publicize this, but I have my cell phone in case anyone needs to reach me. It’s good for you to get out of the office and spend some time around people. It’s good for you as a person, and it’s helpful to get to know people in your community.
Find a mentor – When I got into ministry, I was all alone and way over my head. You need someone to talk to. You need someone to bounce ideas off of. You need someone who can give you advice when you get into a difficult situation. You need someone who will give you constructive criticism. A mentor is essential, but don’t just grab the first guy you meet on the street. Choose someone who has been in ministry for a while, and is respected by others. Choose someone you trust.
The church is made up of flawed human beings – This shouldn’t have been a surprise, because I am one of the flawed individuals that makes up the church. Young ministers and young Christians sometimes hold a glamorized view of the church that is unrealistic. We think this group made up of sinners is somehow perfect. Once we discover that the people within the church, and sometimes the church itself is capable of some unChristlike behavior, this can be devastating. Young ministers need to know what they are getting into. They need to hear stories from seasoned ministers, not to discourage them, but to prepare them for what lies ahead. The important thing to remember is that you got into ministry to help people. If you got into ministry thinking it would be an easy job without any problems, then you didn’t get in it for the right reasons. People with a heart for ministry won’t have any problems ministering to flawed people like themselves. After all, that is why they got into ministry in the first place.
Don’t be afraid of change - Sometimes change is bad, but often change is good. If you never change your position on an issue, then you are doing something wrong. Anyone who studies with an open and honest heart will change their mind at some point. This is ok. This is what you are supposed to do. Your beliefs shouldn’t be set in stone the day you graduate from seminary. You will need to study for sermons and classes. Sometimes people will come to you with questions and concerns, and you will need to study these things out. Don’t just repeat what you heard some professor say one time. Study it out. You may be surprised by what you find.
Be yourself – I admit that it takes young ministers time to find their voice. It probably took me about five years. Ministers will try different styles until they develop a style of their own. This is ok. Just make sure you stay true to yourself during this process. Don’t try and be someone you are not. Don’t try and imitate someone you are enamored with. It won’t work. You have to be yourself. Your members will respect you for this, and you will soon develop a preaching style that is better than any imitation you could have come up with.
Don’t be afraid to tell someone “No.” – There is a temptation in ministry to try and please everyone. If you do this people will take advantage of you. Set up clear boundaries, and don’t be afraid to tell someone “No.” Ministers need family time. They need time to study. If you never say “No” you will end up working yourself to death, and if you’re not careful you will lose your family.
The power of God is bigger than any ability you may have – Ministers need to hear this at various points in their ministry. They need to hear it when things aren’t going well and attendance begins to drop. They need to hear it when they begin to doubt their own abilities and talents. Ministers also need to hear this when things are going well, and the church is growing by leaps and bounds. It is not your ability that caused this to happen. Don’t allow pride to get the best of you. Whether you are in a peak or a valley have faith in God, and remember He is in control.