30 for 30: Lessons on Life and Ministry

30 for 30 (2)There is something about turning thirty that makes you reflect. You realize that you have lived a significant amount of life, but you still—Lord willing—have a lot more life to live. You have lived long enough to learn a few things, but you still feel like you have so much to learn. You have lived long enough to accomplish some things, but there is plenty you still have yet to accomplish. You have lived long enough to see some wins, but you have also tasted a fair share of losses.

In keeping with this reflective mood, I decided to count some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way about life and ministry. I’ve learned many of these lessons by watching the men and women God has surrounded me with throughout my life. In fact, I am today who I am in Christ and in ministry because of my parents, siblings, pastors, small group leaders, teachers, friends, bosses, co-workers, fellow church members, etc…. God has used each of these people to shape me into who I am today and teach me the lessons that I’ve learned. I share these lessons not so much because I have learned them myself, but because of whom I’ve learned them from over the course of my life.

  1. Nothing of eternal value is done apart from the Lord. “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Prov. 19:21). Abide in Christ and you will bear fruit that will remain (John 15:1-11).
  2. Start your day with God. Nothing sets the trajectory of your day like hearing from God and pouring out your heart before God. Find time to be in God’s Word whenever you can, but don’t underestimate the value of starting your day in it.
  3. Don’t lose sight of the gospel and how it has changed you. God has given you a story, don’t ever get tired of sharing it. The truth is our story is really about His story and how He has transformed us. Daily obedience and life change should always flow out of the gospel. Martin Luther said, “It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
  4. God’s Word is central to discipleship. This seems obvious, but it is easy to make discipleship about going through classes or working through various resources. All these may have a place. However, nothing is more valuable than teaching people to read God’s Word on their own and apply it to their lives.
  5. You will only lead others in Christ where you yourself have gone. Otherwise it is just a game. Lead yourself before you lead others so that you can lead others where you yourself have gone.
  6. Entrust ministry to others. You are not called to be everything and do everything. In fact, as a pastor, God has called you to entrust ministry to others. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Give ministry away and watch God use His people to accomplish His mission.
  7. Hard work isn’t everything, but not much gets done without it. So much of life and ministry is about who is willing to do what it takes to see something through. Whether it is a degree, a project, starting a ministry, planting a church, or making disciples. Hard work isn’t opposed to grace. We ought to work hard at what God gives us because of His grace and trust Him with the results.
  8. Community is essential to healthy Christian living. God designed us to know and be known by others in the body of Christ—no leader is except.
  9. Involve your family in your ministry. Many struggle with the illusive balance between ministry and family. The best advice we received early in our marriage was to do ministry as a family as much as we could. This means having people in your home, traveling together when you can, including your spouse in conversations, and inviting people into the life of your family. There will be sacrifices, but you do not have to sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.
  10. Keep short accounts with God and others. All of the Christian life is repentance. Your sin will find always find you, better to share it now with God and others than be crushed by it later.
  11. There are no insignificant people. Every person God puts across your path matters. There will be difficult people. There will be needy people. But there are never insignificant people.
  12. Sometimes just being there is what matters. Being there is often just as great if not greater than what you said while you were there.
  13. Make time to listen to others. People want to be heard. And if you want to be heard, you need to listen. Nothing communicates you care more than your willingness to hear someone out and understand what they are going through or facing in their life.
  14. Be slow to speak, but mean what you say. There are some Proverbs about this one (Prov. 12:18; 17:28; 26:19; James 1:19). It is often our default to rush into sharing our opinion, but there is wisdom in waiting to speak and weighing your words. Better to be slow to speak and mean it, than to be quick to speak and regret it.
  15. If you can, don’t do anything in ministry alone. Sometimes the best discipleship happens as you go—on a car ride, running an errand, including someone in a meeting, or having someone over for dinner. A lot of ministry is better caught than taught.
  16. Nothing compares to seeing others come to know and follow Christ. If heaven rejoices over one lost sinner who repents, so should we. Celebrate the salvation and life transformation God is doing among you. Yes, it is strategic in encouraging others. But it is also why we do what we do.
  17. Regardless of how many people come, be committed to excellence. It is easy to be discouraged when an event or ministry does not go as planned. Don’t let a small crowd, keep you doing what you are called to do or what you said you would with excellence. Regardless of the size, serve, lead, and teach with excellence. If you don’t do it now, what makes you think you will do so later.
  18. Books are your friends, most of the time. Leaders are learners. But don’t stay in your books all the time. Apply what you are learning and don’t forget you are called to love and serve people.
  19. Good theology should lead to doxology. If you’re studying makes you stuffy, you are doing something wrong. The study of God (theology) should lead to the worship of God (doxology).
  20. Not everyone will always like you or your decisions. That’s ok. If you don’t live for everyone’s approval, you won’t be crushed by their disapproval. With that being said; however, always listen to criticism and learn what you can.
  21. Unchecked fear of man will stifle faithfulness to God. If you fear man, you will boast when you are approved and despair when you are not. If you fear man, you will use and be used by people. Faithfulness to God looks like fearing God and loving others.
  22. Have a plan. Nothing happens by accident. If God has called you to do something, spend time preparing to do it.
  23. The best way to grow in prayer is to pray. You will never arrive in this area, but the best way to grow is to keep at it. Pray until you pray. Be real with God, pray the Scriptures back to God, adore Him, intercede for others, make your requests known to God, and remember that He delights to answers the prayers of His children.
  24. Do hard things. I’ve wasted too much time putting off hard things. It is always better to get the hard things done first. So, go make that call, have that conversation, or finish that project.
  25. Always lead with vision. People respond and give to vision. Remind people of the vision first whether you are making a request, recruiting a leader, or leading a ministry.
  26. Enjoy the life God has given you. Life is too short to waste it away by wishing for another lot in life. God has given you this life. Live it for Him and enjoy what He has given you.
  27. Joy is not dependent on your circumstances. Joy is found in the unshakable character of God not the changing circumstances of my life.
  28. Always leave room for grace. Loving covers a multitude of sins. Assume the best. Show the same grace and give the same forgiveness that you have experienced in Christ. Bitterness will empty you and wound others. Grace will fill you and heal others.
  29. Never stop being a servant. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. Surely, we are not greater than our Master.
  30. You are limited. You will not always accomplish your to-do list. You will overestimate your abilities. You will attempt more than you can handle. Be faithful, work hard, get some sleep, and rest in the fact that you serve an unlimited God who can do more than we can ask or imagine.

I hope these lessons encourage you and spur you on wherever you are at in life and ministry. May the Lord allow what is helpful to remain and what is not to fade away.

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