WATCH DRURY WRITE A BOOK. – THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST Writer’s first draft of a book to be published by The Wesleyan Publishing House. as an introduction to the ministry. This web-posted copy is an early draft of the manuscript and not intended to be used as a final document. While the editors will catch minor errors if you see something significantly wrong or missing drop Keith Drury a note at firstname.lastname@example.org © 2003 Keith Drury
First Decade of Ministry
Those of us who teach ministerial students see it often. A bright student leaves college or seminary and "enters the ministry," launching their life's work assuming all their preparation is over. Then they hit the wall. Things don't go as well as they expected. Their great ideas are harder to implement than they imagined. People don't always flock to hear them speak at the church they planted. The church does not seem as impressed with them as the professors were.
Consider Michael. He launched a major community outreach program during college that reached 300 high school students while he was still a junior in college. Now Michael is pastor of a church of 32 people which has hovered around 32 for the two years he has been there.
Or, how about Christine. She had delivered the “senior message” in her college's chapel and "blew the socks off" more than 1,000 students. Last week the middle aged women in the “Women of the Word” Bible study asked her to lead a study. These women think they are “giving this young girl a break” and are "encouraging her" by letting her lead the Bible study
Or, consider Andy. He
always stood out in college and seminary. He was constantly told he was the
"most promising" student of all. Today Andy is in his third year
carving out a new church plant in
What happens when you graduate and enter ministry as a talented young minister? In the first few years many "hit the wall." They come up against the hard realities of ministry. It is not as easy to plant a church as it is to run worship on a college campus. When this happens young ministers often come to doubt their abilities. They’ve been training in college or seminary, and now people treat them like they are a “freshman again.” They wonder if the problem is this church—a church that simply doesn't recognize their superior gifts and training. Or, they sometimes begin to question their own ability or even God's call on their life. Some ministers actually give up and drop out in these early years of ministry deciding they "failed in the ministry, or "weren't cut out for it."
You can do better than giving up when it gets hard. Being prepared for these first years of ministry will help. You need to know what those first ten years might be like. Read this email to a frustrated young minister to get the idea of this chapter:
Sure you feel like a failure – this is because you have your head screwed on wrong. You think you've "entered the ministry" and things should just explode for you after preparing for the last four years. You imagine it is all downhill from graduation on. That’s the trouble here. You're acting like you've finished preparing for the ministry. But you've just started. You're out of school, but not out of preparation.
Face it: you're still a student. Act like it! Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep developing. That's your job for the next ten years or so. Learn to minister. For all practical purposes, you are still in college or seminary –this time it is just the “college of life.” You're a freshman again. If you see life from God's perspective, from the end of your life backwards, (instead of from today forward) you'll recognize you are only in the second stage of what "leadership Emergence Theory" calls "Inner Life Growth." You thought you were finished training when you left school. But you were just starting - college introduced the: "Inner Life Growth" stage. Now you are in the second half of that stage: the in-ministry half. Schooling got you started—it represents only about 25% of all your training years.
When you look back on your life at age 70, you'll probably categorize all of your 20's (and probably much of the 30's) as "preparation." From that perspective (which is also God's point of view) this 10-15 year period will be when God developed you into the servant He needed for your "Big Task" which almost always comes later in life for most people. You'll remember two parts to this preparation stage: the schooling years, and the early-ministry years. You'll tend to see them both as training.
So, how will you respond to this idea of an extended
preparation stage? The best advice from
wise old ministers is to “quit trying to succeed so hard and try harder to
develop.” Stop acting like your whole
life's ministry is going to be judged on what you do in your 20's. (That very
thought will some day make you chuckle!)
Realize this decade or so of extended training is common among leaders:
Moses spent 40 years in the desert; Paul spent a decade in
If you are in school now and preparing for ministry you might sigh at the notion that there is still more training to get even after your education is finished. But don’t be discouraged, God will use you in the lives of others while you are growing and learning. In most denominations you will have a least a few years after your education before you are ordained. During those years you will be getting more experience, making sure of your calling, and developing competence. In fact you will probably be ordained part way through the first decade of experience, sometimes as quick as a few years after your education is complete. But, even after you are ordained you’ll have lots of development ahead of you. So, what are the “courses” in this decade-long period of your life? There are at least three: developing character, sharpening your skills and deepening your content.
1. Developing character
College and seminary does not prepare you completely for the
storms you may face in your 40's and later.
Most young ministers are not even ready for "success." Few things destroy a young leader faster
than premature success. God needs more time to prepare you for your later use.
Your character needs refined. Your heart needs worked on. At 25 you may have
experienced a large amount of
temptation, but not enough kinds of
temptation. Temptation is great
preparation for future ministry. Facing and beating temptation develops the
character God needs from you for the future.
At 25 you’ve not had enough criticism, or opposition, or you’ve not
experienced a great failure even—all experiences that develop the strength God
needs in your for your "Big Task" ahead. During these “extended
preparation” years let God develop this character. Give Him a decade or more to do it—that’s
your primary assignment in this course.
2. Sharpening skills.
When you graduate from college or seminary you’ll probably think you are pretty hot stuff. After all, you’ll compare yourself to what you were as a freshman—and your growth will have been impressive. But God has so much more in store for you. How will He develop your skills in speaking, leading, managing, (and most of all) in working with people? He develops them as you use them. You try. You fail. You evaluate. You adjust. You try again. You learn. You copy others. You ask questions. You read. You make mistakes. You pick up the pieces and try again.
You’ll want to find a place of service where you can “fail
forward.” You’ll want a place where you
can develop skills by trying, failing, getting correction from wise leaders,
improving, then trying again. You should
find a place where people will help you improve. Certainly you don’t expect
your college and seminary homiletics sermons to have trained you to preach as
good as you’ll ever have to preach do you?
Those Christian Education courses you took couldn’t provide everything
you’ll even need to practice Bible teaching and group work skills for your
entire life. You are still in preaching/teaching/leading training for at least
a decade and more after you graduate. This will be your decade-long “lab
course” in the actual skills of ministry. You’ll learn. You’ll read. You’ll get
evaluation. You’ll improve. The first
ten years of your active service in the church is really a “decade-long
3. Deepening content.
When God gives you your "Big Task" what will you say? What will be the content of your message? A few years of upper level courses and seminary can’t provide all the wisdom you’ll need for your life’s major impact. It takes years of experience to discover the deepest needs of men and women. It takes years of walking close to God and understanding His plan to really know God's will for His church. It will take at least a decade to hammer out the implications of your own theology. You may know theology from college and seminary, but when you hit the real-world local church you will have to revisit everything you learned or believe in order to develop its practical implications for preaching and leading God’s church. Or, how will you become an expert on marriage and raising children at age 25? You could read and study and interview parents, but a decade of experience raising your own teenage son or daughter will bring you bonus wisdom and credibility you could never have gotten otherwise. How about Scripture? Most men and women entering the ministry from seminary have merely scratched the surface of God’s word. Nothing will drive you deep into the Scriptures like preaching to a needy people. All these experiences develop content in your life. They give you something to say to people. They supply you with the wisdom people hunger for. Of course you will keep on deepening your content through your entire life, but during these first ten years you will see a giant leap in the “finishing school” of life.
Sometimes graduates of seminary or college say to God, "Give me my Big Task now Lord, and I'll cram for it—I'll develop the character, skills and content I need quicker.” Be careful what you ask for. He may answer this prayer. You may find yourself leading a ministry far greater than your character, skills and content. And you may fail too early in life—where the consequences are too big. Instead, wise ministers go for the “long haul”—they know God develops character, skills and the content over many years, and seldom accelerates the process. So, even when you have “finished” your education there is ahead of you a decade of greater development. Developing your character, skills and content is like raising children—it takes years to get the job done, and it can seldom be hurried without serious consequences later in life.
But this first decade in the church won’t make you a “finished product.” People change. Ministry methods change. Society changes. Satan shifts his strategy. Thus you will need to keep learning and growing through all of life. This learning curve seems steepest when you are young, but there will be other periods of your life when you will leap ahead in learning. Many ministers go back to school—even after several decades in the ministry—to sharpen their minds and develop their skills. Ministers frequently attend worship services and seminars to enrich their spiritual life and to get new ideas. In answering the call to the ministry you are answering a call to lifelong learning.
Going for the long haul
As a young person it is tempting to try to cram a whole life’s ministry into the first decade. Unfortunately some actually do this! They are so passionate about ministry, so committed, so intense, that they burn out by the end of the first decade in ministry—some even before that. They tried to win the world to Christ is if they were the only soldier in God’s army. They take little time off, have no hobbies, skip their vacations, and cheat sleep. And sure enough—their ministry explodes in growth! They even start getting famous in their district or denomination. But six, or eight, or ten years later they are gone—POOF!—like falling stars the disappear burned out and cold. They indeed crammed their whole life’s ministry into a few years—then left the active ministry before they were 35 years old. This is burnout. Others flameout—they lose their heated passion and become spiritual zombies, finally abandoning their call. Still others spin out, getting involved in immorality that gets them removed from the ministry. Either way if you burn the candle at both ends you can burn up the candle of life too fast.
To avoid burnout, flameout, or spin out, you (and you alone) must learn to pace yourself. Ministry is not a 100 yard dash. It isn’t even a marathon! Ministry is a long distance trek—it is like backpacking a thousand miles or more. It requires a long view, pacing yourself, making sure you don’t break your (spiritual) ankle and be eliminated from the journey. While there are times for a burst of speed, the trek is accomplished by a dogged determined steady pace. God is more interested in your next 50 years of ministry than your next 50 weeks. Go for the long haul!
Follow up study and application
1. Talk about what you personally suspect you’ll have to still learn after you’ve finished school—and what you feel most inadequate about and what you feel pretty positive you’ll be trained to do.
2. List other professions that have a decade or more of “extended preparation” – that is, the initial training doesn’t produce a complete professional?
3. What are strategies for dealing with “hitting the wall” that many ministers hit in the first ten or so year in ministry? What can we do to survive that experience?
4. If ministry is always changing and there are new skills I’ll be needing, how can a minister stay on the “cutting edge” and not get out of touch and ineffective? What can we do to keep this from happening to us?
5. Interview an active minister and find out what their own first decade of ministry was like. Where were they, what did they do, what did they learn?
6. Make an “action plan reminder card.” Put the dates of your first ten years of ministry beyond school then list “Reminders to Me” for that decade to preserve the wisdom from this chapter.