Are You Better Prepared for Preaching Than You Are Ministry?
I’m in my forty-third year of credentialed ministry and you might say I’ve been around the block. No, I haven’t seen it all but I’ve sure seen a lot. I’ve been a pastor of two congregations and interim pastor of a third while at the same time serving as an appointed Bishop giving oversight to a region. I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing various kinds of situations and who knows, some may have thought that I could have used a little analyzing myself. While I certainly haven’t worked with every kind of circumstance a minister may face, I’ve sure dealt with a lot of them. Specifically reviewing the early years of my time in ministry, I’m drawn to this conclusion about myself and it’s probably not so different from your experience also and that is this: “I was much more prepared and equipped for preaching than I was the ministry.” Yes, you read that correctly and no, preaching and ministry are not always one in the same. “I was much more prepared and equipped for preaching than I was the ministry.” You may be able to “preach the paint off the wall” or you may be a Camp Meeting walking around on two legs every time you get up, but for several reasons, you are possibly failing to find pleasure in day to day ministry. You’re missing the joy, not because you dislike the people you serve or the community you serve them in but because you may be ill-prepared to walk through the mine fields that surround you each and every day. You learned homiletics, hermeneutics, a lot of Greek and a little Latin, but nobody taught a class in “hot-headed” board member control. Maybe you graduated with a BA in Biblical Interpretation but you don’t have a clue of how to interpret a budget. Challenges Let me lay out all the disclaimers. We are scripturally obligated to apply ourselves to biblical study-wherever and however we obtain it, it’s a must (2 Timothy 2:15). That’s a given. However, equipping yourself only for preaching won’t guarantee you long-term success. ...equipping yourself only for preaching won’t guarantee you long-term success. There are recent challenges to the old statistics that used to indicate that as many as 1,700 pastors per month leave the ministry. Who really knows? The truth is, if it was only one and that one was you, then it was one too many. Some pastors live only for Sunday. Preaching is the fulfilling and even “fun” part of the job. They engage in everything else they do the rest of the week because that’s what allows them to get to do what many preachers really enjoy—preaching. Overcoming The Statistics So the question becomes, “How does one avoid becoming a statistic?” We all know the obvious and expected answers that include a consistent prayer and devotional life. Certainly, those are paramount, but here are some other helpful practices you might want to take note of in order to have a better shot at longevity. Keep Falling in Love with your Spouse-You can’t risk ruining your marriage to a competing affair with the church. Find a Mentor and Coach. Sometimes they’re one in the same and sometimes they’re not. You haven’t learned it all. Someone, somewhere knows more about succeeding and even surviving in ministry than you do, it doesn’t matter how big your church is. Find a Confidant-It may or may not be a mentor. You need someone you can talk to that won’t be “talking you” to someone else when you’re finished. That’s why they’re called “Confidants.” You can confide in them. Don’t be reckless, however. Choose carefully and responsibly. Learn to Successfully Manage Expectations-Yours and the expectations of others as well. Managing Expectations This is a tough one. Most of the time, you just can’t live up to yourself and the self-imposed image of success and achievement you have conjured up. Neither can you live up to what others expect you to be and do most of the time. Too often we expect too much out of our limited abilities and live in a constant state of “let down.” Comparing your gifts and talents to others will most assuredly complicate matters as well. Unfortunately, Pentecostal preachers seem to be especially prone to over-analyzing their pulpit performance week after week. Years ago when I first started speaking in Camp Meetings and conventions, a noted minister said to me one night, “Tim, always remember you’re only as good as your last Camp Meeting sermon.” That was back when the same speaker preached night after night in the same Camp Meeting. He meant well and I understood the point he was making. However, his statement worked on me for several years. For a good while, I found myself striving to dig for “Camp Meeting Gold” rather than resting more in knowing that I had heard from God about my sermons and how to deliver them. Regardless of the delivery, crowd response or acceptance, hearing from God and pleasing Him was enough. It more than enough both then and now. Managing expectations is a subject that few have written about and fewer know how to practice. But the day you learn the art of managing expectations is the day you will start enjoying ministry as much, if not more than preaching itself. ...the day you learn the art of managing expectations is the day you will start enjoying ministry as much, if not more than preaching itself. Lessons Learned I know this, at the start, while my preaching seemed to mature at a fair pace, it took me a while to learn ministry. The first church I tried to lead in Texas didn’t nearly get the pastor my second church got years later in Virginia. By then I had learned a few things about ministry. Among the best lessons that got me ready for ministry: My family was my most Important congregation. My own personal discipleship happens every day. The Church is God’s not mine. The best thing I can do for the Church is to take care of my own Life-Spirit, Body, Emotions, Family, etc. People can disagree with me and still Love me. People will behave in ways that I must not take personally. Real success can’t be judged only by my pulpit performance. I should never apologize for resting and taking time away. Everyone doesn’t like me or my preaching and that’s ok. I must never stop learning. I should never be afraid to ask for help. I should laugh often and be tender enough to cry when it helps. I am not defined by people’s praise or criticism. I must not mistake perfectionism for excellence. They’re not the same. Perfectionism can lead to an early grave while excellence honors the Lord. I must never allow the thought of failure to paralyze me. Conclusion And so it goes. If preaching was all that any of us did, I guess it would be a much simpler life, though not a very fulfilling one. I honestly can’t tell you of a sermon I’ve preached that was solely responsible for growing any church I’ve ever served. Being faithful in all things with consistency and balanced living is what people should always remember and what you must strive for. Let’s Talk About It. Tim Hill