Mistakes in Ministry
Over the last few weeks I have written, deleted, rewritten, and deleted blog posts over and over again. There have been numerous topics I have wanted to write about but just couldn’t seem to find the right words to say it in. Somehow today I began thinking about the mistakes I have made in ministry and it somehow brought everything I want to write about together. So here goes…
Mistake #1: Being a “know-it-all”
I have B.A. in Biblical Studies with a minor in the History of Ideas from the College at Southeastern Seminary. I consider myself very well educated in the field of theology. Southeastern was an exceptional school and a “cut above” the rest when it comes to theological education for an undergraduate degree. I had many mixed classes with seminary students, learned Greek from a UNC graduate who was fluent in 16 languages, and had the privilege of listening to many men preach the Gospel in chapel from churches all over the country. Southeastern was very rigorous and demanding, and I am very thankful for my time there and what I learned. Unfortunately what you don’t always learn in seminary is how “to do” church. I left Southeastern thinking I could go to any church and pump teenagers full of right theological teachings and have everyone on board and ready to live for Jesus in no time. Any pastor who has been at it for a while knows that to be an “EPIC” misunderstanding. Reality is that not everyone is to the point of wanting a deep understanding of the scriptures. I have learned to try to avoid two pitfalls that come from this understanding. The first one is to never allow so much shallow teaching that you never provide people with the meat of God’s Word. The second is to carefully guide people to a deeper understanding, realizing that most will have to crawl before they walk.
Mistake #2: Bigger is not (always) better
In the world of youth ministry your success is almost always judged by how many youth are in the youth group. It is easy to get caught up in the numbers game and feel good about yourself if you had “x” amount of kids at youth group. Numbers are important insofar as you make sure you shepherd the ones you have and you are constantly striving to reach out to those who are not saved. Lots of youth groups grow as a result of teenagers hopping from one church to the next in search of the best band, programs, and friends while very few youth groups grow as a result of fulfilling the Great Commission. I have known many small youth groups that have done great things for the Kingdom of God while many large youth groups have done very little (and that’s not to say there aren’t any large youth groups who haven’t done great things…just an observation). I have learned that what matters in ministry is faithfulness to do what God has called you to do and to do it in such a way that leads others to Christ. Growth then becomes the natural result of fulfilling The Task rather than creating a better program than the church down the street.
Mistake #3: My preaching/teaching will be what really drives youth closer to the Lord
I never want to, nor will I, downplay the role of God’s Word being taught in a large group setting, but I am beginning to realize more and more the importance of discipleship. I have learned that the more time I invest in people one-on-one or in small groups the more fruit I see from their lives. I believe Jesus modeled a good example of discipleship for us.
Mistake #4: An “event driven” ministry doesn’t work…
…people investing in people does. All too often we have events geared at bringing in large groups of people in hopes of reaching the masses. Unfortunately these large events that are often flashy do nothing more than bring out consumers who are looking for a good time. I’m not the least little bit opposed to fall festivals, movie nights at the park, or block parties because relationships are often formed out of them. However, many depend on these events to drive church growth or gather a list of contacts that is often ignored. They are results oriented and are critiqued on how many “decisions” were made at this or that event. I’ve heard churches advertise on local radio stations that they will be giving away a new car to a visitor if they come to church and fill out a visitor’s card. Last year I went to a church festival that had a very large Easter egg hunt with plastic eggs full of various amounts of money that added up to $1000. It was advertised as “come find $1000 at our egg hunt” (or something like that anyway). The church knew good and well that no one person was going to find every single egg that had money in it and win $1000, come on folks! I often wonder why we have become more like used car salesmen than people on a mission to win converts, baptize, and teach. Jesus did some pretty cool miracles that attracted a lot of people, so did Paul, and so did the others (mainly for the sake of validating the ministry), but their ministry was not “event driven”. If it was I’m pretty sure Jesus would have come with all the bells and whistles behind him and had a stage with lights and all sorts of cool stuff, like an iPad (hey, Jesus knew about the iPad before Steve Jobs did, just sayin’). Jesus and his followers had next to nothing and invested what they did have (the love of God) into the lives of people around them. As Christians (and youth pastors) we must learn that events are good, but events should not be the driving force of our ministry. I have to constantly remind myself of this. People are our ministry, and we don’t always need an event to meet people and build relationships…we just need to be willing to “go”.