Reflections on My First Year in Ministry

Yesterday, December 27, marked one year exactly since I'd left my job at  corporate American working in Nashville, TN to enter full-time ministry at FBC Dickson, TN.  It was a big adjustment for my family and I for a lot of reasons.  I went from spending 2 hours a day on the road commuting to eliminating that altogether since I live just 5 minutes away from the church.  I went from being able to spend about 2 hours a day with my kids to now spending 4-5 hours a day with them and seeing them most everyday for lunch.  But the biggest change was the work itself.  I went from having a career to answering a calling.  Here are the 3 big things I learned in my first year.

1. The work of the ministry can never be left in the office

Ministry isn't a 9-5 job (if those even exist anymore).  When working for corporate America, when 5pm came, I shut the job down, commuted home, and rarely did I do any work from home.  With ministry, I am always thinking about it and always on call.  I don't lay my calling down at the end of the day and pick it back up the next morning.  My job just happened to be what I did, my ministry calling is part of who I am.  I'm still learning to adjust to this and balance the demands that ministry brings on my time and attention.  I have more time with my family now, but I'm more easily distracted by work.

2. Preaching is really hard work

I believe most people who aren't in full-time ministry have a distorted view of what a pastor does.  While my job doesn't entail preaching all the time (I'm not the senior pastor), it is occasionally something I am privileged to do.  If my week involves sermon preparation, a lot of other things must take a back seat.  Sermon prep involves a lot of time, energy, prayer, and thought.  Preaching a sermon is so much more than reading a passage and then just saying what you think about it.  Biblical preaching is so much more than picking a topic you think people want to hear about and seeing what the Bible says.  Biblical preaching is the painstaking work of pouring yourself into a passage of Scripture, studying it's context and flow, seeking both in study and prayer what God is trying to say in that text, and applying it to the lives of those in your church.  So because of the few times I have gotten to preach, I have gained an extra appreciation for those who do it every week, or sometimes multiple times a week.  I'll say it again.  Preaching is really hard work.

3.  There are some things in ministry that seminary just can't prepare you for

I am grateful for my seminary experience.  I am a proud alumni of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  I spent 4 years working on my M.A. all while working full-time.  I took classes in systematic theology, church history, New and Old Testament, philosophy, evangelism, hermeneutics, etc.  All of it taught me so much about being in ministry, and all of it helped immensely in preparing me for full-time work as a minister.  But there are some things only experience can teach.  Some things like preaching your first funeral for a family member, visiting with a person in the hospital who has terminal cancer and then visiting their funeral 3 weeks later, praying with someone whose mother is on life support knowing that a few hours from then that the plug would be pulled, or having someone unexpectedly show up in your office to tell you they were getting a divorce after just 3 years of marriage (or 15 years or 25 years).  Seminary doesn't really teach you how to deal with the stress ministry puts on your family.  It doesn't teach you how to love your church even when it's hard.  It doesn't teach you that sometimes you just have to break away from it all, find a place where you can be alone, and just be with the Lord in silence. It can teach you to preach but it can't teach you how to preach at a nursing home full of those the world says aren't valuable anymore only to have them forget every word you said 5 minutes later.  And the list goes on.  Seminary just can't teach those things.  Only experience and leaning on the Lord and the promises of His word can.

I have learned so much this year, and I am grateful for every moment.  I'm grateful for the moments of rejoicing as well as the moments of comforting those the mourning.  I've made a lot of mistakes and will make plenty more.   This work is my calling, and there is no way I could do it without leaning daily on the Lord.  He began this work, and He will complete it.  Until then, I will do the only thing that any of us can do, which is trust Him, follow Him, stay in His work, repent often, pray without ceasing, and keep living and sharing the gospel until He returns or calls me home.

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