17 Things I Wished I Would’ve Known 17 Years Ago …

By / July 26, 2016 / Ministry, Pastor

lessons-learned-chalkboardThis past June marked seventeen years since I began my pastoral ministry. I began in the summer of 1999 at the ripe age of 22 years old. I had just graduated from Pensacola Christian College and was ready to tackle the Devil by the horns. I began serving as the Associate Pastor/Youth Pastor of the Mehoopany Baptist Church in 1999. Since then I have also served as a Church Planter and as a Senior Pastor in Pennsylvania and Florida. I have learned many things over seventeen years. Yes, these are things I wished I would have known or practiced seventeen years ago, but really that was an impossibility. The most important lessons in life cannot be taught – they must be experienced. Here are seventeen things (in no particular order of importance) I wished I would have realized seventeen years ago.

1.  Substance is better than Style

Am I traditional enough? Am I contemporary enough? Is that relevant enough? Is this event going to be “buzz-worthy” enough? I have gone through different seasons of life (fundamental, contemporary, emergent) but in the end I’ve learned the same lesson. Substance is better than style. It’s not just about how you do what you do, but why you do what you do. I have invested way too much time in things that didn’t matter for eternity. I wish I could take back some of those sermons, programs, and events. I have learned that being a mile wide is fruitless if you are only an inch deep. Do I preach in jeans or a suit? Substance is more important than style…

2.   Old dead guys matter….

I spent a portion of my life not wanting to learn from the old spiritual giants of the faith. Why should I be so concerned with what Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, or A.W. Pink had to say? I did not see the relevance of their wisdom and dismissed it because it was such a “long time ago.” I was so wrong. I wished I would have taken the time to read more of these spiritual leaders early on in my ministry. They have become such a valuable part of my experience now that I regret the time I wasted just learning from my contemporaries.

3.   Expository preaching is important…

It was my belief that expository preaching was ultra boring and irrelevant for contemporary life. I’d much rather choose current topics and then run to the bible to back my points up. I felt I had to make the Bible relevant. I would never have admitted that, but that is exactly what I was communicating. I cared more about what would get people “talking” or what it would take to get them to come back. There is nothing wrong with topical preaching as long as the sermon is driven by the text. I relied far too much on illustrations, videos, visual media, props and stage sets than the power of the Word.

4.   Choose your battles wisely…

Not every battle is worth fighting. If you fight the ones that don’t matter  … people won’t care about the ones that do matter. Save your fight and energy for the battles that matter.

5.   The time you spend with people is more important than what you think…

Few, if any, will remember many sermons that I have preached over the last seventeen years. I am grateful when someone does mentions a sermon that impacted them. However, that is an exception and not a normal occurrence. I have learned that the time I spend with people goes further than any words I could ever say. This is not to diminish the value of preaching, but to show that real care and energy must be exercised. A pastor, after all, is a shepherd.

6.   Numbers do not define me…

Pastors everywhere struggle with the idolatry of numbers. “How many people were in church? How was the offering? Are we growing faster than we were last year at this time?” I have allowed the success or failure of these numbers to define me. I have learned that my identity is only found in the worth given to me by God. I can not add real worth apart from the worth given to me by God in Christ.

7.   Outreach is not to market the church…

Reaching people for Jesus is not about bringing people to my church. We do not do outreach to get “our church name out there.” We do outreach because people matter to God. We do outreach because the gospel is the “power of God” to save sinners. As I look back at the many “evangelistic” endeavors I have led…it was mostly church marketing 101.

8.   The gospel is bigger…

This is really the crux of each of these seventeen lessons. The gospel is bigger, deeper and more satisfying than I ever could have imagined. The gospel must be central and vibrant in my life and ministry. Nothing else matters.

9.  The Holy Spirit is necessary…

I have written a book that will be out this Fall on this topic. I have operated a large portion of my life and ministry being ignorant of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, because as a good “Baptist” I’m too afraid of being labeled a “charismatic.” 🙂 However, I have learned who He is, what He does, and why I need Him. Stay tuned this fall for more on this lesson.

10.  It’s ok to not be ok…

This one is a lesson I am still learning. As a pastor it is hard to let people know you don’t have it altogether. But I have learned to let people know that I “bleed” like them. I am not sinless. I struggle daily as every other Christian and pastor struggles. I have learned that because the gospel is true … “it’s ok to not be ok.” God is working on me and what He’s doing in me is a beautiful work.

11. Never respond to someone when you are emotional…

I’m an emotional guy and it is easy for me to wear my emotions on my sleeves. I have said things I wished I could have taken back. I have written emails that should never have been written. I have learned that it is better to walk away and calm down before responding. Words matter…use them wisely.

12. Let people loose…

I like to be involved in everything. This is not a good leadership trait.  I have learned to delegate more responsibilities away and trust people to do what God has called them to do. The consequence of not doing this is burnout and insanity.

13. People come … People go…

In 17 years, I have seen people come and have seen people go. It is hard not to take this personal, but it hurts every time someone leaves the church. I have allowed this to greatly affect my mental state. It still hurts when it happens, but I realize that this is just reality. I can’t control what other people think or feel. People will come and go whether I do everything right or not.

14. Pray more…

I could probably ditto what I said about the Holy Spirit with this point. I have learned that you can’t pray enough. Prayer is a dependance upon God for everyday life. It is impossible to pray too little. I wished I would have prayed more and worried less.

15. Don’t let the pressures of ministry go home with me…

When I go home to my family I am not “Pastor Dan.” I am a husband and father. There are some days where it is hard to shut that “switch” off, but it must happen. My family is more important than my ministry. I must love, nurture, lead, disciple, and invest into them.

16.  Read more…

I had heard in college that “leaders are learners.” I am much more diligent now than I ever used to be about reading. Read. Learn. Grow. I have too many books on my bookshelf that I have never read.

17. I can’t make everyone happy…

No matter how hard I try at it…I will never succeed. I have disappointed many people in seventeen years. I have brought myself to the brink of insanity by trying to please everybody. I have learned that I can’t do that, and that’s ok.

 

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