I was so young. So green. I guess I still am. I guess the older I get the more times I’ll think that about my past self.
But I was so young.
I entered full-time ministry at 21. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. It was a whole new world. I learned a lot. I learned to juggle responsibilities. I learned to teach, to perform administrative tasks, to cook better.
But more importantly I learned to listen. I learned the reality of grief. I learned what it is to feel helpless, and yet continue. I learned just how beautiful and priceless joy is.
I learned how to have hard conversations with co-workers. I learned how amazing it can be when your team works together, and how difficult it can be when your team seems to be falling apart.
I learned what it is to fail, to overwork myself, and to take that frustration out on others. I learned to be flexible and I learned to put my foot down.
I learned just how hard it is to love people, trust God, and work in full-time ministry.
And I am still learning.
But here are 7 things I wish someone had told me when I started out.
1. You can’t “save” anyone.
It took me a long time to admit this. Sometimes I still have the urge to fix and save and make better. But it doesn’t work. I can’t do it. The fact is that Jesus is the only one who can save, the only one who does save. I can’t take His job, it won’t work, I would be a terrible savior. All I can do is point the people around me toward the one true Savior.
2. You can’t be more than you are.
You will be asked to do so many things, no matter what your ministry is. You will, to some degree, learn to be a “jack of all trades” (or Jill). Because in ministry, things change. In ministry everyone has to pitch in and do things they didn’t sign up for. But even in the midst of this, you cannot be more than you are. You will stretch and grow, yes. But you cannot be someone you’re not. You can only give 100% of what you have, not 110% of what you don’t have.
And that’s okay. It’s okay to admit that you can’t do it all, that you’re weak and can’t carry anything else, or can’t do what’s being asked of you. Why? Because even if others think that you can and should do what’s being asked of you, you can only do what you’re able to do.
And let me tell you a secret: the success of the ministry does not rest on your shoulders. It is held in the hands of God. And He is the only one who should ever measure the “success” of your ministry. No one else is qualified to do that, not even you.
3. Others, some of the people you love most, will fail you. And you will fail them.
This is a fact. Even in “normal” life. You will never be blameless, you will never be perfect. You will be flawed and deeply loved. And you will not always understand either or both of those realities.
And those people you depend on, that are down in the trenches with you? Sometimes they’re going to fail you miserably. They will throw down the shovel they’re holding, scream at you unnecessarily for mistakes you or they may have made, and give up trying to keep the trench from filling with water. Some days they might throw a little dirt in your eyes, on purpose, because they’re having a hard time and it’s cold in that trench.
But don’t give up on them. Don’t give up. Unless God calls you elsewhere, remember that He has called you to work with these flawed, imperfect people. And there’s a reason for that.
4. You are responsible for you, for your decisions and choices.
You are not responsible for your coworkers. You are not even ultimately responsible for the people you minister to. You are, however, responsible for yourself. You can choose how to respond to people, how to love and encourage, or how to kick them when they’re down. You’re responsible for how you spend your money and drive your car and everything you decide to do with your life. Others are not to blame for what you do or don’t do. You have more control over your life than you may realize. And you should own that and take it seriously.
5. You need rest.
I learned this one the hard way. I took on too much, I got sick, I let go of stuff and practiced self-care, got better, and then I did it again. If you don’t rest, if you don’t spend personal time with the Lord, if you don’t exercise and go to the doctor and eat right and sleep – you will burn out. Fast. And you will hurt. And you might hurt others in the process.
So rest. God rested and He commanded His people to do the same, to spend time with Him and depend on Him. Don’t neglect your health. Don’t forget to have fun. Fun is important to health. Don’t ignore your passions and hobbies. They’re a part of you, things that God has given you as gifts. Enjoy them.
6. You will feel alone.
I wish that I could take this one down. But I can’t. It is reality. Especially if you are young and single. There will be times when you feel completely and utterly alone. Times when you feel helpless and at a loss for words. Times when people will come to you and tell you awful things that have been done to them, awful things they have been through, and you won’t know what to say. Your heart will break more times than I can explain.
Ministry has a way of breaking people. But you have two choices in that: become hard and desensitized, or soft and compassionate. Choose the latter. Cry out when you feel alone. Find those one or two people who will listen to you and pray for you and encourage you. And cry out to Jesus. Wrestle with Him. Don’t remain silent. It will be hard, but it will be an adventure, and it will be worth it! And then it will be hard again…so don’t give up. Even when you feel alone, know that you are not.
7. Love truly is the greatest gift of the Spirit that you can ever possess. Ask for it.
Some people will just be hard to love. There’s no denying it. Sometimes it will be as simple as a personality difference. Sometimes it will be much more complicated than that. The best thing you can ask for isn’t patience, it’s love. Pray for love and compassion and kindness. God will answer. And within that love and compassion and kindness you will find the much needed patience. People will not better know God because of your organization skills or because you can speak in tongues or even because of your impeccable teaching. They will better know Him by your love. And sometimes that love will mean hard conversations, honest and blunt. Sometimes it will mean keeping your mouth shut.
And you know what? Sometimes you will fail to love well. And that’s okay. There is grace for that. Within your search to love others, never forget that you are forever loved with great love, no matter what you do or how badly you fail.
This post is specifically geared towards those who, like me, are young, inexperienced, and scared. You are all of those things. But you are also called. It will be hard. But it will be worth it. You do not and never will have all of the answers. But, again, you can’t save anyone. Only Jesus can. And you need to lean on the Holy Spirit, asking for guidance and wisdom. And when you don’t know what else to do or say: pray.
Some will despise you for your youth. Others will focus on your relationship status. Still others will focus entirely on your gender. But you, you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the greatest lover of your soul, and His approval is the only one you need. And He is with you, no matter what.