They don’t lie, we just don’t believe them. All through Bible college, we are told that things will be completely different than what we are learning about in the classroom. We learn the theories and practice writing lessons but we don’t fully understand just how different it is out in real-life ministry…at least I didn’t.
My first full-time ministry position gave me the feeling of trying to drain the ocean with a bucket. There was so much that I wasn’t taught in school that I now had to figure out how to handle it. My Bible college taught me so many amazing and important things. I learned how to better exegete scripture, how to use word studies to my advantage, how to craft a curriculum that urged students into a deeper relationship with Christ. What I didn’t realize is how much more there is to ministry outside of all the amazing things I learned. Even some of the things I did learn didn’t fully sink in until I was able to put that theory into practice and develop myself as a leader in practical ministry.
Take that Sabbath!
In the first six months of my ministry are where I truly learned how important having and defending a sabbath is. I would joke and say “unless you are actively on fire, don’t call me” meaning – unless it is an emergency, it can wait. Now that I’ve been in ministry, that is no longer just a joke. I quickly realized that if I didn’t defend my sabbath and take that time for me and my relationship with Christ, others would quickly fill that time with what they needed or wanted from me.
Working towards a year in ministry, I now silence emails on Wednesdays (my day off) and ignore calls/texts unless it is a church/student emergency. Teenagers rarely fall into a crisis at a convenient time, so of course, there is an amount of flexibility needed but by and large, elders, staff, parents, and students don’t hear from me until the next day.
A huge part of defending your sabbath and keeping your sanity in ministry is the ability and authority to say “No”. That magic word will protect you from one day looking up and wondering how you ended up leading the Underwater Basket-Weaving Ministry when you don’t even know how to swim. This can be a struggle, especially for those of us who love to serve/help or just fear disappointment. It’s hard to say no to ministry. It can be hard to tell those super sweet old ladies who have a curriculum from when Moses was a boy that you don’t think you can use it.
I’ve found it is hard to say no to donated items. Does the youth group want this old nasty half-broken couch I can’t get rid of? Sure! Thanks for thinking of us! That inability to say no has left me with four broken gross couches I have to get rid of (true story). Saying no to what people ask of you and your time is difficult — and I’m almost sure it always will be — but if we want to be excellent at our craft, we must say no to some things so that our spiritual health and ministry can thrive.
We have heard it said “failure is not an option”, but I would like to argue — failure is a requirement. We learn best through failure. I know that’s a scary idea but I truly believe we best learn what works by figuring out what doesn’t work. We try out different events, different programming, different curriculums all trying to figure out what works best in our context of ministry. It takes a lot of failure to start to figure out what works best for you, your students, and your community.
It can be discouraging to learn through failure. It isn’t easy to keep stepping up to bat and striking out. However, when you finally get the win, when you finally figure out what works and your students get it and there’s an “ah-ha” moment from your students and maybe even one from you because you finally figured out what works with your ministry. So hold on, keep pushing, fail one more time. It’s worth it.
I’m the youth pastor at Marysville Christian Church in Marysville, OH and a graduate of Kentucky Christian University (Go Knights!). When I’m not hanging out with students I love to hike and hammock, pretty much anything outdoors! I think I may be the only youth pastor to hate pizza and think that middle school students could rule the world if they didn’t have an early bedtime!