Article by Jeremiah Riner
This month begins my thirteenth year of my life as a minister of the Gospel. This is easily one of the most rewarding, but humbling aspects of my life. I love growing in what the Lord has gifted me to do and look forward to each opportunity to serve Him and those He's placed in my path. As I look back on the last several years of ministry it's overwhelming at how kind God has been to me and the priceless memories that have been made. The Lord has certainly been far better to me than I deserve and I can't praise Him enough.
The Father's grace has been sufficient, His promises have been faithful, His provisions have been unmatched, and His love has been unwavering. To all of my family, friends, pastors, teachers, mission partners, church members, and countless others who have impacted my life for the better I say a sincere, "Thank You!" Your prayers, kind words, support, encouragement, and love have meant more than you'll ever know. However, I'd be a fool to not put all the true gratitude on our Lord and Savior. It's by His grace that I am what I am, I'm doing what I'm doing, and I'm going where I'm going. To God be the glory for these twelve years and many, many more to come.
In light of all this, I wanted to share some thought from my experiences in Gospel ministry and my hope is that you can glean from them as well as I have. By no means am I a "veteran," but God has been gracious enough to teach me some profound truths along the way and I think it would be right and proper to pass along these nuggets of wisdom. Not only do I want to be a faithful steward of what the Lord has given me, but also what He has taught me. That being said, here are 12 lessons from twelve years of ministry I've been blessed to learn.
1. Preach the word
If there's anything the Lord has not called anyone to, it's the ministry of opinion giving. On the contrary, God has raised up men throughout the ages to preach His holy word and to do that we must be in the text and not in our opinions. The world simply does not need what's on our heart (Jeremiah 17:9), but it does need a clear, convicting word from the inerrant, infallible, inspired Scriptures. If there's anything that will bear Gospel fruit it's the preached word of God. Ministers, this is our duty and the Lord has not granted some of us leeway in this matter. Preaching the Bible is not a suggestion from God, but a commandment (2 Timothy 4:2). Obey it.
2. Prayer isn't optional
One of the most overlooked and under-appreciated aspects of the Christian life is prayer. It's amazing how arrogant we can be in neglecting this essential discipline. Jesus prayed and prayed often and I can't help but think how amazed He is at times in our lack of prayer. Wherever we got the idea that self-reliance is spiritual maturity needs to be erased from our memory and never repeated in conversation again. As the inspirational Holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom so effectively said, "Prayerlessness is sin."
3. Sanctification is real
Perfectionism is one of my many terrible flaws. I have to admit that I often obsess over the idea of making my Lord proud or pleased with my efforts. The hard reality is that I, like all other believers, am still a work in progress. Our Lord is not looking for perfectly polished, robotic-like Christians. Are we saved? Certainly! Are we perfect in every detail of our lives? Far from it. This is something I try to keep in the forefront of my mind anytime I stand behind a pulpit to deliver God's holy word to His people or counsel with those who may be struggling. The Scripture is clear in Philippians 1:6 as Paul wrote, "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." What a spectacular hope that passage is for all God's people and what a humbling reminder that we are all still being molded into a better image of Christ each and every day.
4. Performance in the pulpit is laziness
I recently heart H.B. Charles Jr. say, "A passion to preach without a burden to study is a desire to perform." I couldn't agree more and yet I have to say "ouch" at the same time. You see, when I first began in ministry as a very young and naive 22 year old, I was far too concerned with projecting myself to congregations as someone worth listening to and not as someone who had been listening to the Lord. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe ministers should grow in their calling by expanding their vocabulary, crafting a sermon which is able to be followed, learning to illustrate the text in a legitimate fashion, and preaching with real conviction. However, simply being able to spin a phrase, raise the volume of your voice at the right time, telling emotionally charged stories, and manipulating a response by large numbers of people during an altar call is not preaching, it's performing.
5. Stop taking so much credit
As believers in the sovereignty of God we should be the most humble, grateful people walking this planet. Sadly, pride is a terrible tool in the hands of the enemy and he loves cultivating hearts of arrogance where hearts of thankfulness should exist. Seeking the approval of others is a habit-forming drug which often leads us to forget just how instrumental God has been in every facet of our lives. Every salvation, every message preached, every broken family restored, every encouraging word spoken, every prodigal brought home, every building built, every missionary journey, and every gracious gift ever received has been from the hand of a loving Father. How dare we try to take credit for anything good in or through our lives when Jesus clearly told His disciples, "apart from Me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
6. Friendship and fellowship are essential
I can't image living a Christian life alone and separated from other believers. The reason for that is because we weren't designed by our heavenly Father to do such a thing. We need one another (probably more than we realize) and Godly friendships are something I've come to value more and more. Time would fail me to tell you of the special friendships I've had the privilege to make during my time in ministry. Brothers and sisters from near and far and everywhere in between have been so encouraging and needed in my life. I'm amazed when I meet individuals who cannot name close Christians friends in their lives. I simply don't know how they get through days and weeks at a time without a bond with God's people. Proverbs 17:17 says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." How true that is and I've been so blessed to be able to call some of the finest people this world will ever known "friends."
7. Family isn't your second job
Of all the people who could really give the true spiritual temperature of your life it's your family. I wish I could say I've been a model husband, father, son, and brother, but we all know that's not the truth. However, it is my chief duty to be faithful to these folks above all others. I love ministry, don't get me wrong, but my first calling is to those under my roof. My beautiful wife, Morgan and my daughter, Everly are the greatest gifts I have from God outside of my salvation. Christians, and minsters especially, hear me well when I say this: your family is not your second shift. They are top priority in your life and they deserve your best. What good what it do me if I could preach well, but didn't love my family well? What would it matter if I were known by thousands as a gifted minister, but my wife and child barely knew me? How can I say I follow God by leading a large congregation, but I couldn't lead my own home? When dwelling on this topic I often think about the words of former President Teddy Roosevelt who once said, "I'd rather be faithful than famous." I would like to echo that sentiment and pray that I too would be found faithful at home long before I'd be found famous in this world.
8. Disappointment comes with the territory
Life is hard. That will come to no surprise to anyone reading this. However, there are days where hardships and disappointments are unexpected. As much as we know we live in a fallen world with fallen people, it still catches us off guard at times when those close to us or those we look up to let us down. I'm sure we could all swap stories of moral failures, heated arguments that got out of control, and a host of other issues that have put some dents in our armor along the way. This is not a lesson in "just get over it" or "toughen up," but this is a lesson in grace. You see, as much as we've been disappointed at times in our walk with Christ, we must first realize how often we've let our Lord down. Yet, grace upon grace upon grace has been lavished on us in spite of sinful, selfish dealings at times. So, the next time you're ready to throw stones at someone else for what they've done to you, just remember all the times Jesus got down in the dirt with you, just as He did with the woman caught in adultery, and caused the rocks to hit the ground and offered grace instead.
9. The devil doesn't take days off
Spiritual warfare is all-too real and it would behoove us all to be more mindful of this. There's not a moment that goes by where there aren't plans, schemes, traps, and God only knows what other tactics being laid out against us. Jesus said in John 10:10 that "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy." This should sober us all up into staying on guard over our minds, hearts, eyes, ears, and every other gateway where the enemy might try to get a foothold into our lives. Make no mistake about it, we have a real adversary and he and his army of demons want nothing more than to see God's people brought to ruin and destruction. Therefore, if the enemy isn't taking days off, neither can we! The good news is that we fight from the winning side because our Lord doesn't take days off either. John reported this for us in1 John 4:4 when he said, "for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
10. This is a privilege, not a profession
Even though my experience as a minister has been bivocational in nature, it's easy to get caught up in the rat-race which can accompany any line of work we're doing. Meetings, phone calls, text messages, funeral, weddings, long commutes in the car and I could go on and on, but the point is that ministry has its fair share of demands and tasks. However, we can't see this as exhausting "busy work," but as a gift of God and a privilege to be able to serve our King in multiple capacities. When I begin to think of all the other things that could occupy my time besides serving in the ministry roles I do, it brings about a sense of gratitude because I know I'm where I'm supposed to be and doing what I'm supposed to be doing even if it seems mundane at times. I've learned to value these roles and opportunities because it's in the unseen, seemingly insignificant things that God does some of His greatest works. Now, I no longer say I have to do this or that for the Lord, but I get to do those things and it's the honor of a lifetime.
11. Fruit is often delayed
Instant gratification is something we all desire, but seldom get. I think that's a grace of God though. That type of instantaneous fruit can keep us from learning the spiritual fruit of patience, self-control, and joy. If there's anything I've had to learn the hard way in ministry it's that most of the spiritual fruit I will produce or will be produced through me will not be seen immediately. As odd as it may seem, I used to beat myself up over the fact I didn't see multitudes of people flocking to the altar after my messages like I had seen from certain prominent ministers on TV or online. Hindsight is a great gift and now that I can see through those corrected lenses I've learned just how foolish that line of thinking is. I don't draw people to God. I can't save anyone and I'm certainly not the Holy Spirit. Nor can I plant seeds of the Gospel today and reap a major harvest of grace tomorrow. This is simply not how the Lord operates. Yes, God is working to produce great and mighty things for His glory and our good through ministry efforts, but just as He told Moses in Exodus 23:30, this will be done "little by little."
12. His grace is sufficient
I can't tell you the number of times I've felt spiritually low or that I was at the end of my rope when it came to fulfilling my ministry obligations. Here is where the Lord has shown Himself repeatedly to me in ways I could never have imagined. Grace, that unmerited gift from a holy God to unholy people, never ceases to amaze me. It's new every day. It's sweeter and sweeter each passing year. It never runs dry and God never tires in extended it to us. Sure, we've all tried His patience with grace more than we'd care to admit, but the fact remains that His "grace is sufficient" (2 Corinthians 12:9). I rest in that promise more today than I ever have and it has made quite the difference. I no longer see myself as the solution to any issue or problem, but now it's God's grace that takes first priority because apart from that I'm useless and the situation at hand would be insurmountable. But praise God for His marvelous grace which saves us, sustains us, and supplies us for every moment and season of life.