Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went into Ministry

Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went into Ministry January 31, 2024

Minister studying
Minister in study. Photo by Mikhail Nilov:

I’ve spent all of my adult life in Christian ministry. Sure, I have had side jobs and now run companies that I own or cooperatively own with others, but my consistent, primary job has always been ministry. I didn’t know many ministers starting out. As a result, I didn’t know much of what to expect.

Like many ministers, I went into ministry wide-eyed and hopeful. I anticipated a life full of meaning and purpose, expecting God to work everything out for my good. I had a decent understanding of the “divine” part of ministry, but not nearly enough understanding of the “human” part of the work. Too often we assume God will fix the difficulties of ministry and don’t consider that some situations are for our learning as much as for the practical aspects of ministry growth and development.

As ministers, we must learn how to handle people, our difficult days, and our ups and downs. We manage hard days if we expect for them, recognizing the “negative” thoughts and feelings of ministry aren’t abnormal. These realities don’t mean we should quit Christian ministry or that we aren’t cut out for it. It’s just a matter of learning to face the all-too-human problems we will often encounter.

1. You’re going to feel unappreciated

When people think about ministry, they think about helping people and doing good. Ministers seldom mention that much of the time, the things you do aren’t seen by many. The things we do, most don’t regard with much relevance. While this is not true all the time, it is true enough of the time that the minister of God should prepare for some days of feeling unappreciated.

For one, the majority of Christian ministry isn’t done in the pulpit. Most of what we do is behind-the-scenes: preparing for sermons, classes, overseeing committees, making pastoral care visits, and so on. It’s easy for people to assume “it’s a job” or more relevantly, “done for the Lord.” As a result, they might not think about courtesies (such as saying thank you) or the inconveniences ministers face (cancelled nights out, interrupted holidays, etc.). It’s also common to assume a minister can take their hurts and offenses to God, without considering the need to talk to someone else.

Bad days do pass. This is why pastoral appreciations, birthday celebrations (even if it’s not done as a service), and common courtesy are important things when someone is in ministry. It’s also essential ministers have networks of support, including communal leadership that can provide insight and a listening ear on difficult days.

2. You’re going to wonder why you ever wanted to do Christian ministry

New ministers love the idea of serving God in ministry. Preaching is new…counseling is new…having people rely on you is new. It’s exciting to be of service.

Don’t be surprised if, after awhile, things “get” to you. Ministers don’t always see the best in people, and it’s difficult to combat feeling down when everything in a day is depressing. Days can be long, giving is down, and sometimes you never want to see another person again. Preaching on Sunday doesn’t always seem like a fair compensation.

Wondering why you ever wanted to do ministry in the first place means it’s time for a break. Every church should have, according to Biblical protocol, associate leadership to help when a leader needs some time to themselves. There’s nothing wrong with taking a day or two (or sometimes longer) to reset your spirits. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries. Appropriate professional hours, scheduling calls and counseling on certain days, and deciding not to take calls after a certain time of day can all go a long way in feeling better about ministry work.

3. You will be asked for money…all the time

We know the first culprits are often from overseas…and we learn how to ignore or handle such requests (hint: there’s nothing wrong with saying no). We can be far less prepared for the number of inboxes, GoFundMe requests on our feeds, or emails from one person or another asking for money to get to church, pay bills, meet rent, or just help out of a tough situation. If there’s one thing not lacking in this world, it’s causes.

Many think you will provide cash at request because you are in Christian ministry. Whether or not you choose to give is your choice, but you also should know you don’t have to do so. Jesus Himself said we will always have poverty among us, which means none of us can resolve it by bankrupting ourselves. It’s perfectly acceptable to inform that you already have causes to which you give, while pointing others to agencies that can assist them in a time of need.

4. Prepare to listen more than you talk

It might seem like ministry involves much talk, but this is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, public preaching and speaking are a requirement for most ministers. As I said above, however, this is not the majority of what we do. A large part of ministry involves detailed listening, especially to the issues people have. This is part of how others connect with you as a minister. It’s a great thing and definitely a gift as you move in realms of greater pastoral care.

The only downside is that always listening can become a burden after awhile. Confidentiality is a requirement. Listening to people sort through their personal problems can be tedious, especially when you don’t have an outlet for your own thoughts.

Echoing what I said earlier, community is essential – not optional – for ministers. We need to belong in fellowship. Ministers need spaces to be heard and embraced. In this spirit, make sure you have people who support you through your bad days and are there in both good and bad seasons.

5. Your own devotional time is essential

Christian ministry, as a service-based calling, can easily feel overwhelming. The demands, needs, and matters commanding attention can feel endless. Noise is a thing, as is hearing the same voices over and over again. The solution to this, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t getting somewhere with more noise. It’s making sure your own relationship with God is secure. Quiet time with the Lord spent in Scripture or prayer (or just quiet, period) is essential to balance life and ministry demands.

6. Ministers don’t keep “normal” hours in Christian ministry

Yes, I advocate every minister to maintain normal business hours (and I will speak more on this in a moment). At the same time, ministers often deal in many areas of spiritual insight and creativity that can cause strange hours of function. For example, I often receive spiritual inspiration at night – thus I’ve spent the night writing, studying, praying, or waiting for divine insight. Sometimes a minister will be up all night due to ministry problems or issues with a congregant. Ministry is more than just praying away matters. It’s also waiting for those powerful moves of God, problem-solving, figuring, and thinking. These are in addition to the spiritual aspects of the work that keep us up late into the wee hours of the morning.

Because we already can maintain odd hours, setting boundaries is important in ministry. Everyone always thinks their problem or situation is an emergency (when often, they’re not). While yes, being available for emergencies is a thing (death, illness, disaster, etc.), there’s nothing wrong with turning your phone on silent after certain hours so you can get some rest. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with saying “no” to repeat problems or matters that can wait until a later time.

7. Someone is always going to think you are doing something wrong in christian Ministry

We live in a forum-based world. It’s not a secret that people are free with their opinions, reviews, and thoughts on social media…whether any of those thoughts are relevant, or not. In keeping with this reality, expect someone is going to take issue with something they don’t like. Whether it’s that your skirt was “too short”…your hair is the “wrong” color…you use the “wrong translation” of the Bible…your blog topic is “wrong”…you should give your books away free…you preached “too long”…your topic “is wrong”…your prophecy “was boring”…you have the “wrong gifts”…you “shouldn’t” have gone to school…they don’t like the name of your ministry…or they dislike your title…someone is always going to find something wrong with what you are doing.

The good news is that it gets easier to tell people to mind their own business with time. This is your ministry, God has called you to do it, and a random person on the internet doesn’t have to provide feedback. The internet moves fast. Things tend to blow over quickly as picky people move to other things.

8. Church people can be mean

This is related to our previous point. People aren’t just mean online; they can be mean in person, too. More than thinking you’re doing something wrong, it’s likely you aren’t doing it their way. Remember, churchgoers can have specific ideas of how things should be done. It’s not a secret that church and Christian ministry are changing to align with the Spirit’s work today. Some don’t understand what God wants to do. Others think they are guardians of “true church” which they feel is lost today. Some think being mean is part of church doctrine.

The best way to handle mean church people is on a case-by-case basis. We can never go wrong with kindness, especially when setting necessary order.

Stay tuned for part 2

In my next column, we will conclude this series with 16 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went into Ministry, Part 2.

About Lee Ann B. Marino
Dr. Lee Ann B. Marino, Ph.D., D.Min., D.D. (“the Spitfire”) is “everyone’s favorite theologian” leading Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z with expertise in leadership training, queer and feminist theology, general religion, and apostolic theology. She is founder of Spitfire Apostolic Ministries, working as founder and Overseer of Sanctuary International Fellowship Tabernacle – SIFT and Chancellor of Apostolic University. Dr. Marino is author of over thirty-five books and the Patheos column, Leadership on Fire. She is also host of the top twenty percentile Kingdom Now podcast, heard in over one hundred countries. You can read more about the author here.

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