The Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned in Over 10 Years of Ministry

I started serving in ministry as a 20 year old college junior in the campus ministry I now lead. With the exception of a handful of internships, all of my ministry experience has been in the same place, with the same church. Over the past twelve years, there’s one lesson I’ve learned that’s one of the most difficult but one of the most important.


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As much as I don’t want to admit it, when I started out in ministry, I was clueless! You might even say foolishly naive. I thought I was going to change the world. And, while I still think it’s possible, I have a different angle now.

Somewhere along the way, it clicked. I need to stop spending my time trying to change people. I need to allow God to change me. If God does use me to change the world he’ll start by changing my heart.

This principle has become clear to me…

Be What you want to see.001If I want to see a church consumed by a passion for God, I need to be a person consumed by a passion for God.

If I want to see a church that prays relentlessly, I need to be a person that prays relentlessly. 

If I want to see a church that joyfully shares their faith, I need to be a person that joyfully shares my faith.

This isn’t easy. In fact, it’s hard. I can think of at least three reasons why this approach to ministry is difficult. It’s better than any other approach…but, more difficult.

1. It’s easier to tell people what to do.

Ministry would be so much easier if you could just tell everyone what to do. But, ministry doesn’t work that way. Truthfully, leadership doesn’t work that way, regardless of the setting. People always resent the leader who sets expectations that they aren’t willing to keep. I have to be and do what I’m calling other people to be and do.

2. There are no shortcuts.

Unfortunately, you can’t hurry up and “be transformed.” It takes time. You can’t read a book and — bam! — you’ve got it. It doesn’t work that way. God has to do his work in you so he can do his work through you. Shaping character takes time.

3. Character shaping is painful.

Another difficult reality is that God, more often than not, shapes our character through disappointment, discouragement, and suffering. It doesn’t matter who you are, this is a process you can’t bypass.

My great friend and mentor Chris Buxton sent this to me in an email a few weeks ago. It’s so true! 

“Seasons of doubt, anger, frustration, unmet needs, unmet expectations, unfulfilled dreams — those times are the anvil on which God pounds and forges us into shape. And the more we resist God’s reshaping work, the more intense he gets.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about ministry? I’d really like to know.

  7 comments for “The Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned in Over 10 Years of Ministry

  1. Cyndi
    May 12, 2015 at 8:46 am

    The other day I was remembering our coffee and visiting in the kitchen during your apprenticeship. I was thinking about how excited you would be about some dream or plan and how discouraged I would feel because I had let failure and disappointment jade me and make me a defeatist. God used that time to teach me to get out of that negative thinking. I wanted the excitement you had and not the discouragement I had and I wanted to stop being a person who tears down. Not that I don’t ever go negative now, but because of that time and God’s power, I’ve been transformed into a more positive minister!

    • May 12, 2015 at 11:29 am

      That’s awesome, Cyndi! I loved those times! I often think about those mornings when I walk through the kitchen to make coffee in the mornings at the CCSC.

  2. Phil
    July 24, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    As I mentioned when we talked a few weeks ago, I enjoy your writing.

    My most valuable lesson is continually being reminded that I must live a life Out Of Control if I hope to be effective for Him. I’ve got scores of examples of how pitiful things go when I deceive myself into thinking I’m in control.

  3. Charlie Richards
    November 14, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    This is absolutely true . Great read . I will attest to the character shaping, … it can be harsh, but I’m thankful for it.

    • Neil
      November 15, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      I hear ya, Charlie! Character shaping doesn’t feel good. Thanks for chiming in!

  4. Justin Ratliff
    November 14, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    You were such an important part in my walk with the Lord between you and Chris taking time to invest in my life I can’t say I would be where I am if it wasn’t for your willingness to desciple me!!!! Love you bro!!!!

    • Neil
      November 15, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks, Justin! I love you, too man! And, thanks for chiming in.

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