15 Lessons I’ve Learned from 40 Years in Ministry

One of the members of the Church Answers’ community started a discussion that I absolutely loved. After some lengthy prefatory comments, he asked the community: When things are tough, when you feel like you have no more to give, what are some of the things that keep you moving forward?

His post created a great discussion. I jumped in with the realization that, beginning in 2022, I will have been in vocational ministry for 40 years. Those 40 years are divided almost into equal thirds: pastor, seminary dean, and CEO of a Christian resource company. Two quick thoughts hit me. First, I am old. Second, I’ve learned a few lessons.

For sure, I’ve made many mistakes. I hope I’ve learned from these mistakes more than I have repeated them. In the discussion at Church Answers, I named eight of the lessons. For this article, I added a few more.

  1. The spiritual disciplines are not only acts of obedience for me, but they are also necessary for my spiritual and emotional survival. When I am not praying, reading the Word, or sharing the gospel, I am more likely to be discouraged and even despondent.
  2. An optimistic (hope and faith-based, of course) attitude seems to be a differentiating factor for many in ministry who persevere.
  3. True friends are priceless anywhere and particularly in ministry.
  4. It’s even better that my sons and my wife are my best friends.
  5. Comparison to others in ministry is an emotional killer. Don’t do it.
  6. Laughter is a key trait to longevity.
  7. Apologize and ask for forgiveness quickly.
  8. Don’t be snarky and critical, especially on social media.
  9. Most crises are not true crises. Give it a week or so, and your perspective will change.
  10. Don’t make major decisions when you are tired.
  11. Don’t denigrate others. It is a sign of your own insecurities.
  12. Silence is often the best response.
  13. Love the church where God has you. The members are not perfect, but neither are you.
  14. Work hard and work smart. Others are watching you. Set the example.
  15. Don’t forget God’s call on your life and your ministry. It will be the single factor that keeps you going at times.

I would love to hear your perspective. When things are tough, when you feel like you have no more to give, what are some of the things that keep you moving forward?

Let me hear from you.

Posted on November 29, 2021

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • These are so encouraging! I have these saved now on my phone.
    A big one for me has been the phrase “every person is a conversation.”

    Early in ministry, I thought every circumstance and person was the same. Overtime, I realized that there is history and deaths in each person and why people do the things they do. It matters to go deep with people and walk on the journey with them.

  • Bailey H. says on

    Thanks, Thom. As a young 20-something in ministry, there is a lot to unpack and bring others along to develop.

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