As the university year comes to an end, many of you are preparing to walk across the stage you’ve stared at for four years. Some of you have already walked that stage and are now getting ready to jump in. If that is you, if you are walking or have already walked, hi. I couldn’t be more thrilled for you to begin your first year in full-time ministry. It is a job like none other. It is unpredictable and wild and terrifying and wonderful.
By the end of this month, I will have officially finished my first year in full-time ministry (which is an unbelievable concept to me). And as April quickly comes to a close, I’ve spent the last few weeks reminiscing over my first year and am so thankful I’ll never have a first year in ministry again. Because although it is both transforming and powerful, ministry can also be incredibly hard.
Here are seven things I’ve learned this year and by no means have I mastered. I pray in some ways this helps you as you begin the adventure of a lifetime.
Take it slow. New can be exciting both for you and for the ministry team you join, but don’t rush into change. Be okay with steady. Be okay with taking your time to understand your area of ministry and those you will be working with. I didn’t take it slow enough. From the minute internship ended I ran full force and most days feel as if I’ve never stopped running. Don’t run. Walk or at least jog.
The tasks will still be there a year from now. Believe me.
Be patient with yourself. Some of you may be headed to a familiar place or landing in a town with familiar faces, but to those of you who are headed to unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar faces, be patient with yourself. It may take you a year (or longer) to learn street names and find your way to Home Depot and back without a GPS. You will not know everyones names nor their family tree within your first year. You will frustrate people because you won’t know that so and so shouldn’t have been put in a group together because they have ‘history.’ And you will get frustrated with yourself because you wish you did. Michigan is becoming more like home to me but some days I still feel so far behind with much to learn. But rather than be frustrated with my lack of knowledge I am learning to be patient as I learn. Be patient with yourself too.
You don’t know everything. I often joke with my team that I have no idea what I’m doing. Yes, I have a degree in ministry but by no means do I consider myself an expert in it. The job is still very new to me and it will be for you too. Sure, you may have gone on mission and ministry trips or traveled with the school band, worked at camps and completed your internship, but full-time ministry is a different kind of animal. Not knowing everything wasn’t and isn’t a hard concept for me to grasp, the hard part about the not knowing is not letting it defeat me. I’ve made mistakes, failed in areas, and could give you a list of things I wish I’d done differently (and that’s only year one!), but I’m continuing to learn and read and ask questions. You should too. ESPECIALLY ask questions. Oh, and fight the need to defend yourself. Work for the Lord, not for people. NEVER lose sight of HIS vision and HIS mission.
Take time to rest. Out of all the spiritual disciplines learned at university, this was the one I heard the most on. Friends, those professors were and are not kidding. If you do not take the time to be still and know that God is God, you will burn and it will show. Ministry is not a nine to five job so you have to be strategic and set aside time to rest. Your soul will thank you and your team will too. The moments I am the least like Jesus are always traced back to a lack of rest in Him.
Know when to say, “Not now.” We hear all the time that we have to learn when to say, “No.” True, but in ministry there are certain things you can’t say no to because they simply must get done. So instead, I am learning how to say, “Not now.” Knowing your limitations isn’t laziness, it’s wisdom. Sort through the need to get done list and decipher what needs to get done now or later. You might be surprised how much falls into the later category. Everything you hope to accomplish in your area of ministry will not get done over night and that’s okay!
If you are single, love yourself and do not fall into the guilt trap. We are a people created to do life together and when you find yourself doing parts of life alone, well, that can be lonely. Know this, there will be people who point out your singleness and see it as something to fix. Being single is not bad or wrong, it’s a season to walk through with grace and adventure and a season to embrace yourself. But know this, there will be people who are married with children who will look at you with envy because you are single and can essentially ‘do what you want.’ Do not feel the need to prove them wrong and do not feel guilty because you haven’t started a family of your own. Love yourself. Embrace yourself. Honestly, this was an unexpected thing to process through and probably has been (and rather surprisingly) one of the toughest for me. But we are loved by a God who is rooted deep in love. Grow in that.
And lastly, catch those moments. Ministry is a job like none other. There are days I walk out the doors and think, “Wow. God, You are good.” And there are days I walk out the doors and think, “God, I can’t do this.” Because although ministry is wild and wonderful, it is unpredictable and terrifying and comes with an unbelievable amount of pressure. It can be painful and lonely. It can make you angry and deeply sad. You can be both loved and disliked by the people you lead and you can wrestle with loving and disliking yourself. But if you catch those moments, those incredibly powerful moments when Jesus meets you in the, “God, You are good.” and in the, “God, I can’t do this.”, you’ll find full-time ministry to be one of the most rewarding boats you have ever jumped in. You’ll find that ministry is so much more than yourself and what you know and don’t know or what you do and don’t do. If you rest in those moments, you’ll find lives will be transformed and yours will be too.
Let me share a ‘catching moment‘: the last few weeks I’ve spent my nights simply wrestling with the Lord and some realities in my life and then on Sunday, a moment happened. There on a stage in front of hundreds of watching people, Jesus showed up and said, “I’ve overcome it. I’m alive and I’ve overcome it.” Catch moments like that. Moments when Jesus shows up in the midst of your chaos and leaves you weeping in His presence because He IS alive. That’s what ministry is all about. Don’t lose sight of that. It’s not about you, it’s about Christ in you. Live that. Share that. Teach that.
Oh, and don’t forget to have fun. Find friends and go to the movies and eat dinner at nine o’ clock at night. I haven’t done fun too well this year, so here’s to the next! May we learn and grow and live full and full of joy in Him as we do!
Your still learning ministry friend,