It’s been 5 months already working in church. It’s passed by so fast. I’ve been on 5 camp/retreats. Wow! Some time of reflection is definitely in order. In this post, I like to explore how my expectations of ministry life during bible school compares to reality. This may be interesting to the lay person who wonders what pastoral life is like or for the bible school student who’s ready to enter ministry. I’m far from being an expert, but rather a beginner who wants to share his experience.
Lesson #1: Bible school only teaches you how to make high-quality bricks not build a beautiful house.
I thought I was ready to ROCK and ROLL after bible school but it couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s so much stuff they don’t teach. Using my analogy, Bible school only tells you how to make good material (brick, sand, cement). All the theology lessons give you a solid foundation which is really crucial (a.k.a. how to make great bricks). But they don’t tell you how to draw a blueprint, how to work with contractor or workers, how to handle conflicts, how to transform a house to a home, how to budget costs. You could have the best Christology, hermeneutics and homiletics and still have no idea what you’re doing. In other words, giving you high-quality bricks doesn’t guarantee you can build a high-quality house! The key is to keep on learning new skills.
Lesson #2: Don’t Give Up Too Fast
Linked to the first point, don’t give up too fast. It takes time to get good at something. It takes time to get to know people. It takes time to prepare and preach a good sermon. It takes time to know how to program. I admit that I get impatient when things move too slow. And in the midst of these challenges, you may feel that you’re not cut out for this. That the problems seem insurmountable. Listen – it takes time to be good. I read an interesting line from Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: “If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsmen mindset (“what can I offer the world?”)” What does he mean? When passion is flagging because you’re not good at something is not a reason to quit. Get good at whatever skills you need to do your job well and the passion will come. It’s a paradigm shift! In the words of Bishop Dale Bronner: “Don’t kill yourself, skill yourself.” Get good at your work and you’ll love it.
Lesson #3: Watch Your Interior Life
It’s possible to go through the motions of church without having any spiritual life. People may think your charisma equals a strong spiritual life. Not so! It like those props that you see being used for skits. From the front the scenery looks so real but take a walk to the back and you’ll see it’s just a thin piece of cardboard. You may look good from the front but there’s nothing to show for it on the inside. You may cover the lack of a spiritual life through being busy for the Lord. But some day the cracks will show. You get angry over a simple thing. You choose the selfish option that benefits you. You become critical and judgmental. This facade of a spiritual life may fool people but you can never – I repeat – never, fool God. He sees into all our hearts. If you need to reclaim your first love, do it (Rev 2:4). You have to watch your interior spiritual life closely.
Lesson #4: Working in Church isn’t that much Different
If you think working in church must be like a second version of heaven, think again. We aren’t angels, but sinners redeemed by God’s grace. There are conflicts, struggles, challenges and even politics too. Where there are humans, there is humanness. That’s why some who come in with unrealistic expectations get terribly shocked and scarred. Another thing – churches can’t close for a week like companies can. They got to keep their doors open 52 weeks in a year. It can be tiring.
Lesson #5: Lead and Love your People
This is key in any setting that greatly relies on volunteers. While churches do have paid staff, we cannot survive without the help of volunteers. That’s where the greatest test of leadership lies. Will they follow you? I wrote about this in a previous post – Leadership: Rise and Fall. As John Maxwell said, “If no one is following you, you’re just taking a walk in the park.” There has to be a balance between leading and loving your people. Like a shepherd, at times you need to care for the sheep while at other times, you’re pulling them away from danger. Leading with a firm hand is also a loving act. The shepherd often sees what the sheep cannot see. A good shepherd leads and love the sheep. I realised that the subtle desire to remain popular and liked would cause me to stop leading them. I would love them and give in to what they want but not lead them to where they need to go.