“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” Winston Churchill
Over the last decade and a half, several wide-eyed young people have asked me what it takes to go into the ministry. They have observed the anointed messages, the successful outreaches, the packed out stadiums, the glam, and the prestige of ministry. What they don’t see is the sweat, the heartache, the pain, and the mistakes that most seasoned ministers have made to get to where they are today. In an effort to encourage the upcoming, God-appointed leaders to walk in the fullness of their calling, I am going to lay myself bare before you. I believe we can learn more from vulnerability and transparency than from a false notion that ministers are unapproachable or superhuman. So here it is, the lessons I have learned the hard way.
My Top 4 Ministry Mistakes:
1. Not always prioritizing my own “Jesus Time”.
I can’t give what I don’t have, yet somehow I’ve habitually fallen into the trap of trying to help someone in need to the neglect of my own soul. I believe many ministers can fall into this one. God has given us a special call to care for other people; however, our service to our fellow man can’t come before our time with God. The times I have found myself trying to pour from an empty cup have been some of the most miserable times in my ministry. I must keep my own cup full, in order to pour into others. Daily time in the Word and in prayer is a prerequisite for ministry service, and sermon prep does not count as my devotional time with God. I learned that the hard way too! The way Jesus stays our first love is by spending time in His presence. It’s only after spending time with God that I can truly be an aid to someone else.
Proverbs 3:6 (TLB) “In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success.”
2. Comparing myself with other ministers.
This one is almost embarrassing to admit, but the truth is, I have fallen into comparing myself to other ministers way too often. I’ve thought to myself, “Why is their church growing faster than mine? Why are their graphics, stage, program (insert other superficial things) better than mine? How can they afford that kind of vacation on a minister’s salary?”… along with all types of other jealous and insecure thoughts! The truth is, comparing myself with others is a sin. I either end up thinking I can’t measure up, or I am better than someone. Both of these things are harmful to me and my relationship with God as well as to my fellow ministers. Instead, I now try to celebrate other people’s successes and be there for them when they struggle. I know firsthand that no one is perfect and that no matter how good someone else’s life looks like, I don’t know their full story.
2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV) “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
3. Getting offended at people offended at me.
Although I am not one who gets easily offended, I sure do get mad when someone is upset with me! I was born with an extra dose of feisty, and when I feel cornered, my defenses go up as well as my blood pressure. There have been many times I have told myself to…. CALM IT DOWN. The scripture trains ministers to instruct with grace and patience and that even means being patient with people who misjudge you and your intentions. I have had to learn the hard way to hold my tongue and to let God be my defender. When I actually quiet myself and calm my spirit, I am able to see the other person’s point of view. Most often when someone is offended, they are just hurt and need to be heard. Most of the time, once we reason together and work through the issues, our bond becomes stronger than it was before.
Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
4. Giving into my fear.
Fear truly has a way of paralyzing people. My biggest apprehension is fear of failure. It may stem back from growing up with learning disabilities. I’m not exactly sure when this fear crept in, but it has been a personal battle for almost as long as I can remember. I was actually afraid to go into the ministry because I was afraid of being poor and never succeeding. This fear still haunts me. Fear is a liar and it needs to be exposed! Hopefully, my transparency will give you the courage to expose any lingering fear in your life. Recently, I have become really honest about my shortcomings and it is quite liberating! Finally, I can honestly assess my situation without fear of failure freezing me up. I realize that no matter what happens, God is for me and is going to work all things together for my good.
2 Timothy 1 :7 (ESV)“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
I certainly have way more than four shortcomings and I’ve messed up more times than I can count. Unfortunately, too often I didn’t really deal with my mess. Instead, I swept it under a carpet, so no one else could see it. I am done pretending to have it all together, and you should be done too. Now I am walking in the grace, love, and forgiveness that God so graciously gives. I invite you to walk in it with me. After all, He is still molding and forming us into his beautiful masterpiece. So join me and choose grace over perfection. It is so liberating!
Philippians 1:6 (NLT) “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”