Four Lessons I’ve Learned From One Year of Vocational Ministry

In Christian RealTalk, my musings by Antwuan Malone

It’s been a year and a little bit since I began a life a vocational ministry, and already I’ve learned a ton — which is to say way more than four things. But for those out there who are looking into vocational ministry, here’s a few things I think you should know. And for those of you who are served by ministers, there’s a few things in here for you too.

Okay, four lessons I’ve learned about vocational ministry in the last year or so. Here we go.

4.  Authenticity just got harder.

This particular blog post is a perfect example of this. As I pick four things to write about ministry, I have to be careful about what I say because the wrong eyes may read this. Because, if I say anything too scandalous or crazy, then I may lose my livelihood and the livelihood of my family. In the past year, I’ve nearly carved a hole in my tongue for biting it so many times. Let’s just be real about it. Often times, ministers don’t have the luxury of being honest about what they think with you… all the time. You think you want that, but you don’t. And the minister has everything to lose if things go too far.

I’d personally like to see this change, but it’s systemic in the American Church culture. The moment you become a pastor or minster, you lose the right to access your “negative” emotions. You know, like anger, disappointment, fear and doubt. When you’ve been misunderstood, the member will be right. When someone goes to your “boss” about things, and they are wrong, your role is affected. The real is sacrificed for the nice.

I’m thankful, however, for the team of pastors I work with. Because, with them, I have authenticity. That’s what’s makes LegacyChurch such a great place to be. I love working with the pastoral team. I love all of those guys, and I see that they are a talented, called, and committed group of people. But more than that, they are human. Which, as it turns out, so am I. And with them, I can be real. What a treasure! What a gift!

If I ever get to the place where I lead a team of pastors and ministers, I want for each of them what I have experienced with this team. A sense of camaraderie and team, the likes of which I have not felt in a long time.

3.  What God has for me, it is for me…

Young minister out there, let me assure you of one thing. The calling God has for you, he gave to you. He didn’t give it to the church body. He didn’t give it to the church staff. He didn’t give it to the Pastor or Ministry Director you work for. He gave it to you. In the last year, I’ve learned that sometimes, you have to encourage yourself with knowing that God called you.

I’m so often encouraged by David’s story. As a young man, David was anointed the next king. But he was an unlikely leader by the world’s standards. He was even unlikely in the eyes of Israel, God’s people. There will be times when your situation will challenge your resolve to be obedient to God’s call in your life. There will be situations and people who will question the vision God has laid before you.

Be encouraged. God is not mocked. He will finish what he set out to do, if you don’t faint. I’m encouraged often by Philippians 1:4-6, which says “he who began a good work in you will finish it to completion.” Be prayerful, obedient, humble, yet confident in your calling. You’re going to need all of that in your journey!

2.  Sometimes “Christians” are difficult to trust.

The church environment is a tricky one. Look, I tend to carry my own baggage of not trusting people wherever I go. I’m not proud of it, and I hope to be rid of it. But truthfully, many people in my life have proven to be untrustworthy.

It should not come as a surprise that church folk are sometimes untrustworthy. After all, we’re all sinners saved by grace. That means there’s at least a few of us who are still working on our trustworthiness. Not to mention the wolves in the sheep clothing hiding about in just about every congregation. Do not expect, young minister, for those in your congregation to be experts at conflict resolution. Do not expect that they will always shoot straight with  you, or that they will talk to you (as opposed to your boss, the head pastor, or some elder or leader board) when there is a problem. Recognize that, even in church, people are flawed. Recognize that, even when people mean well, they over-volunteer sometimes, and under-deliver.

Please know that I am not saying this to discourage you. No, no. I mean to encourage you! When Moses was called to take God’s people to the promised land, he (and his flawed congregation of people) would have to deal with the uncomfortable elements of the desert. And such discomfort unearths the murkiest of dispositions. Ministry is largely about dealing with people. And people, like yourself, are flawed. Be realistic in your approach.

1. The Illusion of Easy Street.

Some of the hardest working people I know serve in ministry. But the perception is that ministry is an easy job. Work on a few sermons, gather some volunteers, but together some lessons… how hard can it be?

Well, friends, quite hard. And I don’t say this because I want some medal of honor for hard work, or because the ministry profession is usually one of low pay, high effort (though it is). No, I say this because your perception of how your ministers fill their day invariably affects the way you treat them. Because you think most of the day is spent twiddling thumbs, when you have a problem or issue, you think it should be immediately responded to. Because you think the job is “easy” you are slow to say thank you, and quick to point out flaws. After all, we’ve got all the time in the world to dot every i and cross every t.

Let me tell you. Ministry work is a fast paced, 100 mph run that requires you to be thinking about 10 things at the same time. Every week there’s a production. Every week you need to be ready. There’s always more to do.

What I’m saying is, it’s a thankless job sometimes. And because of that, you may hit valleys where you feel used and underappreciated. But, be encouraged! I heard someone say in a leadership conference last year that ministry is a burden. It’s not a dream job. It’s not an aspiration or the object of ambition. Ministers of God serve because they are compelled to. Ministers of God carry a cross, are often crucified by those they are serving, and must pray “Father forgive them…”

That’s my encouragement. There are great days. There are tough days. But Jesus has been through it all, and he will finish the work he’s called you to.

When’s the last time you told your ministers “thank you” for how they serve?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.