NOTE: Today on iPreach, Dale Jenkins and I kicked off the iPreach Summer Series with some words of encouragement for preachers of different ages. I spoke on encouraging preachers who are no longer young, but who aren’t quite “old sages” yet, either. As usual, I typed out my lesson, and I thought you might enjoy it. If you’d rather listen to the program, click here.
I am 34 years old. To some listening to this, that’s just getting started. To others, that’s a few years away. There is something about this age, though, where a change in ministry seems to happen. You realize you aren’t really young anymore, but you aren’t an old sage in the ministry, either. As with any time in ministry, it is a unique time. Our summer series on iPreach is dealing with encouraging older and younger preachers, but I thought I would take a few moments to encourage those of us who are more in the middle; who don’t really fit either description and who can sometimes feel like we are just treading water until we are considered an older, wiser preacher.
I love ministry, but there is something to hitting a point at which the realities of life and the strain of ministry take its toll. If you are married or if you are single, there are specific responsibilities and difficulties that come with either of those, too. And if you are married and have children AND are in this stage of your ministry, your energy level, time, and passion can all seem to be getting less and less if you aren’t careful.
Now that I am where my dad was about 25 years ago, I talk to him regularly. My dad is the greatest preacher I have ever known and the biggest influence in my ministry outside of Jesus Christ. But I look at my little family and I wonder how in the world dad did it all. He preached for a congregation that was pushing 400 and going across that number. He was doing a radio program and TV program. He directed a week of camp, and a preschool. He was writing for the bulletin. He visited like nobody’s business and still does (if you have a twisted ankle, I think he visits you in the hospital!). There were other ministry hats he wore, that I don’t remember or may never really know. Oh, and he was doing all that while never missing a ball game, band concert, choir performance, and while still sleeping every so often.
However, it was a tough time. He’ll admit that. That’s a lot on one’s plate, and I took away a lot of lessons that I am trying to apply in my own life as I enter and go through that stage in my life. I want to share 6 things to help those of us who are in this arena of life.
- Rededicate yourself to ministry. At this point in a ministry, it is easy to burn out. That is especially true if you have been with one congregation for several years. Your honeymoon with ministry and with that congregation are both long gone, and you have been in the work long enough that many of your ideas have been shot down or even ridiculed. You have probably become somewhat comfortable in your preaching style and in your schedule. While that is fine, it can also lead to complacency, and that is not good. Sometimes “comfortable” is the worst thing you can be. That doesn’t mean you need to look to move. What it does mean is that you need an extra measure of wisdom and strength to push on and rededicate yourself to your ministry. If you are list maker, write down some goals you have. Be honest with yourself and write down some things you know you need to improve, then set out on a path to improve in those areas. Take a class if you must, or just get into some better study and reading habits. Get back out and be with people more. If you are really in a rut, see if you can’t start a new program or something else you enjoy. If you have a good relationship with your elders and your congregation, ask for an extra week of vacation, but that time is to be used just to study, read, and plan. Whatever it takes, don’t get into a rut. As the old saying goes, “A rut is just a grave with both ends kicked out.”
- Realize your need to both influence and be influenced. It just happens one day. A preacher younger than you, though you think you are still young, calls and needs some advice. Maybe he needs to meet and talk, or maybe he just needs you to help him over the phone. Then an email comes and another one needs your input with a text, a sticky situation, or even full-blown counseling. At that moment, you realize you aren’t as young in this work as you thought you were. However, with that realization can also come a danger. If you aren’t careful, you can begin to think that you don’t really need any more counseling and influence yourself, since others are coming to you for advice. Nothing could be further from the truth! No matter where you are in ministry, you still need advice, input, and the positive influence of fellow ministers. At this stage of your life, you need very strong influences from those who have gone through this transitional time, and you need to listen to them. For several years, you will be considered the guy in the middle, and you will feel pulled in both directions. You need to do all you can to still seek out wisdom from those who are older, but also to make yourself available to those who are younger. Guard your time, but not so tightly that you are never available to help. After all, someone helped you as you were starting out. Now it’s your turn.
- Read new to you and old to you books. I think this needs to be a constant, but I find myself going back and re-reading a few books that I know quite well again in the last year or two. Not a lot, but a couple each year. Of course, we often speak of the importance of expanding our knowledge and reading both broadly and deeply, and that needs to be the case. You and I need to be readers, but don’t forget to go back and re-read some old favorites that help you stay grounded the truth, or that helped you as a young preacher, or that just gave you some strength. If you keep a list of books you’d like to buy or just that you’d like to read, I suggest adding 1 or 2 old favorites to that list, so they don’t always get “put off” by newer books.
- Rehearse your vows with your wife. If you are married, your ministry is going to enter a time where your schedule is going to be crazy. While that is true at all times in the ministry, you are going to be pulled in more and more directions. Just as it is easy to get in a rut in the ministry, it can be a major problem to get into a rut in your marriage. If you have children, this is doubly true. Everything else will pull you away from the woman you claim to love more than any other. Don’t let that happen. You may not literally restate your vows, but you do need to take another look at how your marriage is going. After all, you’ve preached the sermon that far too many marriages aren’t growing…is yours?
- Recite this word: “NO!” It is okay to say no to something. Now, that’s ironic coming from someone who preaches, teaches, blogs, podcasts, writes, tries to visit, is a husband and dad, is over VBS, and does lots of other things. However, I have had to say “no” at times, and that’s okay. As you go through this period of life, more irons are going to be in the fire naturally. Don’t add too many more that you don’t have to. Nothing is worth losing your soul or your family over. And, if you are married, listen to your wife. She is usually the best gauge of when you should say “no.”
- Reset your vision. By this, I don’t mean that you should stop dreaming. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a dreamer (thus, John Lennon wasn’t the only one!). I’m not always on the cutting edge of things, but I dream big. After a few years of living with our feet firmly planted in reality, though, we can lose that ability to dream and to cast a vision. You still want people to be saved, don’t you? Then tell people that, and get to work on it! You still want marriages and families to be strong, don’t you? Then show people that dedication, and work on your own marriage and family harder than ever before! You still have a dream for the congregation that may seem pie in the sky, don’t you? Don’t you??? Then share. Get enthusiastic again. You might have thought of other dreams, or you might have dropped a few over the years. Both are okay, but to not have vision anymore is unhealthy and damaging.
Keith Parker likes to say that if he had 100 lifetimes, he’d live every one of them as a preacher, and if he had 100 sons he’d want every one of them to be a preacher. I agree, but there are days when that is more true than others! In this season of life, slow down a bit and find that energy and drive again. Don’t give up on your work. The best is yet to be!