My entrance into full-time ministry came later than I had planned. After college came seminary and then my doctoral studies, and in the midst of all of that schooling, I was married and had two children. It seemed as if my career plans and school were one and the same. Some even jokingly said that I was a professional student.
Finally, the day came when my dissertation was turned in and I could focus on the career the Lord intended for me. No longer would I be a student; now I would have a full-time job in ministry doing the work for which I had been preparing. By no means was this the first ministry assignment I had, but it was the first time I was doing it full-time. I was the new guy on a church staff, but not only that, as it became clear over the next few weeks, I was the rookie.
All my education and training at college and seminary was greatly valuable (and proved to be extremely useful), but I had to learn how to appropriate it to my new context. What I had thought about for many years in theory was now being experienced in practice daily, and it was not as easy as it appeared in my mind. Quickly, I learned the necessity of patience, humility, grace, and mercy, and that some demons are only cast out by much prayer and fasting.
I was a rookie—a well-educated rookie, but a rookie nonetheless. Operating from that role, I had to learn two important facts: heed the wisdom of experience and depend upon the Lord.
Fortunately, I was able to work with a pastor who was coming upon his 40th year in ministry (with the majority of that as a senior pastor). As the seasoned professional, he was able to encourage, critique, and help me navigate the various demands of ministry.
I will never forget the first time I was asked to preach at a funeral. It was for a man who did not attend our church or have any connection to the church apart from a close friend who knew the family’s need for a minister and asked me if I would help. Reading about funerals and performing them are two different things, but in addition, the funeral was for a family I had never met. I was quite nervous. My pastor came into my office to ease my nerves and walk me through the process based on his own experience. In a matter of a few minutes, he outlined everything I needed to do over the course of the next few days. He was spot-on with every detail, and I could not have done it without him. The pastoral wisdom he provided in this case, and in many others, proved to be essential to ministering well.
In addition to learning the necessity of seeking guidance from someone more experienced, I also learned that my dependence is solely upon the Lord. Honestly, there were times when I was resting upon my education, training, or intellect as I went about the week-to-week tasks of ministry. Well-reasoned common sense is no substitute for seeking the Lord. What is basic in the spiritual formation classes at seminary—and what is indeed basic for Christianity—oftentimes is easily forgotten. The power to accomplish the ministry of making disciples is found in the power and presence of the One actually able to make disciples. I had to learn that this is not my ministry but His. When I would exhaust every other avenue for help or strength, I would find myself where I should have been in the first place: at the feet of the One who called me to do this work. I learned that, if I was going to accomplish God’s will in the ministry He had given me, I needed to be completely dependent upon Him.
By no means do I think that I am a seasoned pro in ministry; there are many more years of learning and growing ahead. However, I do know that I would never trade my rookie season in ministry for anything. It taught me that success in ministry is found in being dependent upon the Lord and utilizing the wisdom of others whom He has placed in my life.