July 1, 2016.
It was a hot, windy day in Oklahoma. One of those days you walk outside and understand exactly what it feels like to be inside a convection oven. It was my first day as a full-time pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Ardmore, OK. Looking back from where I’ve come, I agree with what The Faces said back in ‘73: “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.”
The first year of ministry definitely tried to cook me a few times, but I made it. I haven’t started any cutting-edge ministries or led any unbelievers to Jesus, so if that’s strictly how you define success, you’re probably better off Googling “The Faces” than finishing this post.
I have come through my first year with a heart that is still soft towards God and towards the expression of his Church in Ardmore. I’m not discouraged, resentful, or bitter. And I’m looking forward to the second year even more than the first. That counts for something. So, here they are. Lessons from my first year.
No ability to produce or perform precludes us from character.
I’ve been told I have a gift for preaching. I don’t say that because I’m special. We will all be good at some things, and less good at others. I say it because there have been times when my giftedness has fostered pride and judgment. As we find our niches and lean into our respective gifts for ministry, we must take care that we do not allow those gifts or their successes to stop us from doing the hard work of spiritual formation. The journey of being shaped in the likeness of Jesus is long and arduous, mostly unseen and unsung, and entirely worthwhile.
Health always yields and precedes growth. Sabbath is a rhythm of health. If you want to grow, be healthy. Take a Sabbath. No one can do it for you, and no one will do it for you.
Say thank you well, say thank you often.
Every Monday, I pull out one or two thank you cards from the top drawer of my desk, sometimes along with a gift card, and I mail them to the people who have given their time, energy and care to Jesus and me that week. I’m not sure if anything I have done in my first year has been more rewarding to me or surprising to those receiving my thanks. And if we don’t have at least one person to thank in a week of ministry, chances are we trying to do too much on our own.
Ask for help.
The necessary administrative tasks of ministry take enough of our time as it is, so if it’s someone else’s job, let them do it. There is a wonderful woman down the hall from me named Sharon. I call her eighty-seven times a day (on average). She orders office supplies, types up documents, schedules pastoral care visits and researches microwaves that will fit in the staff lounge cabinets. Ask your Sharon for help. You’ll be glad you did.
Find something sacred, and don’t let it go.
No one told me my first year of ministry would include things like developing a church website and building a church security team, or that the church would try to turn me into an event planner. It did, and they tried. What kept me going was an unwavering commitment to something sacred. For me, it’s preaching and sermon crafting. I haven’t let it go, and I’m not about to, because it gives me life. It fuels my fire. It keeps me repentant and convicted. I don’t know into what the church has tried to turn you, but find your sacred something and don’t let it go.
There they are. Lessons from my first year. Hold them loosely, share them freely. And cheers to the second.