I was pouring a cup of coconut-mocha-flavored coffee recently when it dawned on me that I have now been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years. Wow! That sure gave me reason to stop and ponder the great things God has done in the past … [gulp] … quarter of a century of my life! It’s really been a life of learning. As I think back over those years of ministry, here are some things that God has taught me through the past twenty-five years:
1) Most people are in great need of authentic love.
Not everyone knows it, and not everyone admits it, but they are in great need of being loved. When a person lives without a close “tribe” of people in his life who really cares for him (or her), then many other problems begin to emerge in that person’s life. I believe that is why God made love so central to the Christian faith. God knows we need that love in our lives, and that can be so beautifully experienced through life in the Church.
2) Commitment Ain’t What it Used to Be.
People just aren’t all that “into” commitment these days, it would seem. Early in my ministry, it seemed like the core leaders in the church normally attended church about eight or nine out of every ten Sundays. Occasional attendees would attend maybe one or two times per month. My experience today, however, is that even core leaders seem to average attending two-to-three times a month. I believe our “busy-ness” today has caused many to drift from those commitments that could bring the most benefit to their lives and families.
3) You can’t make people change who do not want to change.
Early on in my ministry, I thought it was my fault when people would continue in poor patterns of behavior. But God eventually showed me that people must want to change if they are going to be able to change at all. My job was to give them God’s truth. Their job was to commit to obeying God’s truth.
4) People know shockingly little about the Bible.
I am regularly surprised at the low amounts of Bible knowledge people seem to have today. In the midst of so many controversial issues in our culture, it’s no wonder we often hear Christians arguing for positions that are antithetical to biblical principles. Many people who claim to be speaking from a Christian vantage point are merely expressing their own opinions with no biblical basis at all. Imagine how different this would be if people actually took time to learn God’s perspectives through the Scriptures.
5) Every person, in one way or another, is fighting a big battle.
We often assume that we are the only ones struggling while others around us have it easy. But the reality is that all of us struggle, and those battles are often very similar. When you take time to get to know “people without problems,” you find out that they struggle just like everyone else. With this in mind, we should maintain a spirit of grace as we interact with others each day.
6) God takes great delight in using under-qualified people.
It has been such a joy over the years to see God doing extraordinary things through ordinary people. When someone tells me they don’t think they really have much talent or many skills for serving the Lord, I think, “Perfect, you’re exactly the type of person that God loves to use! That way, he gets the credit.”
7) God can rescue/change any life. ANY LIFE.
In twenty-five years of ministry, I have seen God rescue people from just about every type of destructive lifestyle imaginable. Alcoholism. Sexual addictions. Those who abuse or become abused in relationships. Even murderers have discovered forgiveness and restoration through Jesus. God can change you and me, too.
8) You can’t change your past, but you can change your future.
Some people spend their lives staring through the rear-view mirror. All they can think about are the mistakes they’ve made in the past. I am so thankful that we serve a God of forgiveness and restoration. The reality is that I cannot do anything to change the messes I’ve made in the past. However, I CAN make changes in my life that will ensure that my future is a completely different story.
9) It’s best to invest your greatest resources in that which will still be around in ten thousand years.
This world is so temporary! There is no real use in putting your greatest energies and resources into life on this side of grave. We will get the greatest return when we invest in that which is spiritual: our relationship with God and the souls of others around us.
10) The last chapter of history has already been written.
I have discovered that I do not need to get stressed out about what I see going on in the world around me. The reality is that the last chapter of history has already been written. For those of us who know Christ, it ends well, no matter how difficult things may get in the interim.
For further reading, growth, and encouragement, check out some of these great sites and blogs: