What I’ve Learned in Ministry

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I’m not old, but I’m old enough.

I have been ‘in the church’ for 45 years, 15 of those in active ministry. I have been part-time, two-thirds time (what is that, exactly?), and full time,  from babysitter children’s minister to senior pastor. Here’s 13 things I’ve learned on the long road:

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Communication is King. Not content. Not context. Not Burger. Not Martin Luther. If your organization is not communicating from the top down, the bottom up, and side to side, you WILL have issues that could have been avoided. I fail at this regularly, because I have a lot of my (incredibly fascinating) conversations in my head. After convincing myself of my own sheer brilliance, I proceed to the planning stage. You see where this is going…Communicate, communicate, communicate. And when you’re done, send emails.

Kids ministries are the heartbeat of the church. If you don’t like children, that’s your business. If you want your church to matter in your community, make children your business. Funnel all your extra (!) resources into this ministry. If you don’t have extra resources, it’s probably because you don’t have a vibrant children’s ministry. It’s an interesting phenomenon…

La musica es muy importante. Music transcends race, creed, age, loyalties, language (see what I did there?), etc. Do music, and do it well. Next to a vibrant children’s ministry, this is the most important ministry in the church. I am not an advocate for any particular style of music/worship, but I am an advocate for excellence. Let’s do that much.

The world is not fooled by our lip service to ‘loving our neighbor.’ Hanging a banner from the front of the church that says, “All are Welcome!” means nothing if they don’t feel welcome when they come through the door. We can’t fake that. If they’re not really welcome, it won’t take them but a few minutes to figure that out.

Facilities matter. Most of us are forever renovating our homes; we put additions on, we remodel our kitchens and bathrooms, we change color schemes frequently. And then we go to church. You know, the one with the toilets from 1947. And the paint from 1977. Don’t for a minute think that our guests don’t notice these things.

Church is messy. On account of churches being full of actual people, it gets kind of gnarly sometimes. People are hurting. People hurt each other. But therein lies the beauty of it all; if your life is messy (and it is), join us. We will do our best to shower you with grace, mercy and love. We don’t expect anything in return (we don’t, right?). But we will need your grace, mercy and love showered upon us one day.

Maintaining is easy. Agitating for an upheaval of the status quo takes a lot more effort. I would go so far as to say that church leadership which accepts ‘maintenance’ needs to take a long, hard look at why they are doing what they are doing. To this point in my life, I have not heard anyone shout, “I have a vision for the church, and it consists of keeping everything exactly like it is!” Where is the passion and vision in that?

Prune prayerfully. No gardener necessarily enjoys pruning his plants, but he knows how necessary it is for the continued health of his plants. I have to prune a couple climbing rose bushes every year, and it just about kills me. Briefly. For when Spring returns, and those New Dawn roses are in full bloom, the display is magnificent. As painful as it can be, the church must practice pruning to maintain its health. Pray, and practice grace, but keep the lopping shears sharpened.

Clear objectives are more important than fuzzy purposes. Let’s be honest. Many folks are not going to get the big picture, which you may see in HD.  Doug Lemov, in Practice Perfect, suggests that leaders ‘say no to purposes, and say yes to objectives.’ Thanks, Doug, for clarifying the clarity of clear clarification. This has been transformational for me personally, and takes the guesswork out of ministry for other staff. What purpose says: ‘We will foster greater communication between our students and their parents.’ What objective says: ‘We will have quarterly Family Fun Nights to foster greater communication…’ Subtle shift in language, monumental shift in implementation.

Create space for mystery and miracle. As the church runs headlong over the cliff of relevancy, we leave confused and conflicted people in our wake. As much as I appreciate practical application from the pulpit, where is the mystery? What of miracles? Do we create opportunities for our folks to simply sit in a quiet sanctuary, spending time in prayer and meditation? How/where do we be still and know that He is God? Brainstorm what role art and music might play in this realm also.

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Social Media can be very helpful. Harness the power of instant communication. What great vehicles Facebook and Twitter are for disseminating information. They also allow us to create, cultivate, or continue the conversation. Have fun with it; share pictures, stories, encouraging words. But if you set it up, use it. A Facebook page with no updates in the last 8 months is not a great sales pitch for the ‘life’ of your church.

Laugh long and often. Life is just too short to be Spongebob Grumpypants. Let your guard down and be human. Accept that every worship experience may not be perfect (in our estimation), but God is still present in all our imperfections. Most importantly, learn to laugh at yourself. Everyone else is laughing at you, so you must be pretty funny. Relax.

It all comes down to story. Telling our story. Telling THE story. We just make this whole ministry thing too hard. Keep it simple…

Let me tell you what my life used to be like. Let me tell you how I came to have a relationship with Christ. Let me tell you what I’ve learned, and how I live my life now.

Let’s grab a cup of coffee sometime, so I can hear your story…

Peace. Pastor Greg

[Image: Flickr: by davcivski]

About pastoroftheprez

Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kings Mountain, NC.
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3 Responses to What I’ve Learned in Ministry

  1. Sherry says:

    oooooooo I waiting on that cup of coffee!!

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