One of the Toughest Ministry Lessons I’ve Had to Learn . . . and Why I Love Having Learned It Today

First, a caveat: I realize this post may reveal how much I’ve struggled at times with arrogance. Nevertheless, I hope it ultimately shows growth in my heart and challenges you at the same time.

I wonder what most pastors would answer if you asked them this question: “What’s the toughest ministry lesson you’ve had to learn?” Think with me about some possibilities:

    • Not everyone who is a church member is a believer.
    • Even Christians can be mean.
    • Preparing and preaching a sermon every week is hard.
    • Ministry is sometimes filled with the grief of walking through tragedies with people.
    • People you love will sometimes leave the church.
    • It’s tough to officiate the funeral of people who apparently were not Christians.
    • Some churches have a track record of hurting pastors.
    • Some pastors earn barely enough money to pay their bills (if that much).
    • Sin destroys even church families.

I could keep listing hard lessons ministry leaders learn, but the one that comes to mind for me today might surprise you: churches and ministries go on fine without us after we’re gone. No ministry I have left has missed a beat upon my departure.  

I wish I could say that’s because I did such a good job in my various roles that I set everything up for success—which ought to be the goal of good leadership—but that’s simply not the case. I too seldom thought beyond the next responsibility, the next event, the next semester; in fact, my failure in this regard in at least one ministry setting is one of my biggest ministry regrets.

It was not that I had led well into the future; it was that God’s plan was bigger than I.

It was that His people stepped up to the plate when needed, and they were often more forward-thinking than I was.

It was that God was reminding me that ministry is a gift to me—and not the other way around. The work went on not because of me, but perhaps in spite of me at times.

Why is that lesson so important to me at this point in my ministry?

    1. I realize more and more just how dependent we are on the grace of God to do anything we do for Him. None of us is as strong a leader as we think, and not one of us is effective in ministry apart from His power. The work goes on beyond us because the work was never about us in the first place.
    2. It’s more obvious than ever before that earthly recognitions are temporal. Even if believers around the world recognized our name, we would still be replaceable. Quickly, even, in many cases. 
    3. I live in the tension of wanting to give my best for God’s work while not worrying about whether others recognize my best. My goal ought to be that only the name of Jesus gets glory before, during, and after I’m in my current seat of ministry.

So, the work goes on, even beyond us, because it’s God’s work. That’s a good lesson to learn.

Posted on May 15, 2024


Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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