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7 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me Before Going Into Ministry

If you’re in ministry, at some point you probably told yourself, “I had no idea it would be like this.”

I can’t tell you the number of times I thought, “I wish somebody had taught me this in seminary.” (My friend Rich Birch has done a great job of compensating for that with his site UnSeminary.com.)

Don’t get me wrong—I’m exceptionally grateful for the time I’ve had in ministry. Nineteen years into this, I wake up virtually every single day thankful I get to this and excited to get started.

But the ‘virtually’ part is true because there are days when I think, “What’s going on?” and “I didn’t sign up for this.” And even on my good days, I find I’m having to learn things I never expected I’d have to learn.

So let’s speed things up for those of you still on the front side of ministry or early on in ministry.

And this might also help those of us who have been at it for a while but are still ready for some inside track preparation. 

Seven Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Ministry

Here are seven things I wish someone had told me before I started ministry:

1. Your character will be tested more than your competency will be.

The road is strewn with bodies of leaders who were extremely gifted but who lost their ministries because of sex, money, power or other forms of moral failure.

In ministry, your character will be tested more than your competency ever will be.

It’s great to develop a skill set, but it’s also easier to build a skill set than it is to build your character.

If you want to stay in ministry for the long haul, constantly building and refining your character is paramount.

2. Leading people is more difficult than reading Greek.

In seminary, I had to learn how to read Greek. It was difficult, but I actually won the prize for it in my class.

Little did I know how much more difficult it would be to lead people than it was to learn an ancient language. Yet we didn’t take a single class on how to lead people. Nothing on leading congregations, teams, staff or boards.

In fact, chances are your most challenging task as a ministry leader is to lead people—to help lead them in their relationship with Christ, but also to help them work alongside each other in a common mission.

That’s one of the reasons I write this blog. To help me figure out how to lead better than ever before, and hopefully to help you do that too.

3. Strategy matters as much as vision and mission.

I know mission and vision are important, but strategy is where the real payoff begins and where the vision takes flight.

Mission and vision get universal buy-in (love God, love people, change the world). But strategy doesn’t (and we’re going to play this music or change our programs this way).

Many leaders don’t think clearly about strategy, or if they do, they don’t articulate it well.

I led for years without realizing how powerful a great strategy could be. And how, as much as it can divide, it can also unite.

I wrote more about strategy here as a secret to creating a highly motivated team.