Lessons from my First Three Years of Ministry (Part 1)

bibleThis week marks my third year anniversary of full time pastoral ministry. On the Sunday the 5th of September 2010  I was inducted as the youth and children’s worker (later to become youth and children’s minister) for a group of three churches in Staffordshire. So far this week I have been reflecting on some of the highs and lows of my early days of ministry and I have realized that i have a lot to be thankful for. As you can imagine I have learned quite a few lessons in these three short years. Over the next week i want to share some of these lessons that i have learned with you.

Lesson 1: Jesus is Faithful

For years I felt a draw to pastoral ministry, but one thing held me back… fear of man.

I’m dyslexic and as a result for years I hated reading, especially reading aloud! Public speaking terrified me! I was afraid of ‘getting up there’ and making a fool of my self. The first sermon I preached was in Romania when I was 17, it was a train crash! I got up there and told the people everything I knew about God. After that i thought, ‘Never again!’ This held me back from taking part in many opportunities that were presented to me. Over time I began to realize the reason that was holding me back was pride… During this time some verses from Exodus were continually in my head:

“But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.'”

The battle that was going on in my own heart was to do with the faithfulness of God. I was terrified of getting into the pulpit and it being a disaster. However I was forgetting that I serve a faithful God who made my mouth, a God that is mighty and is not silent. All this was going on in my heart even when i was at bible collage, top notch bible student I was!

I remember a point where i realized that it was pride that was holding me back, i repented and prayed a prayer basically saying ‘I’ll preach, as long as you come with me.’

Not too long after that God called me to the post where I am now at.  What did i have to do on the first week of the job? Preach at the midweek service!  God was faithful! His Word never returns void.

In a way having dyslexia and some of these fears is a good thing. It keeps me dependent on God.

Lesson 2: God’s Word is Sufficient.

As I look around at the world of youth work I have the strange desire to bang my head on the table. So much of the youth ‘ministry’ that goes on is nothing more than entertainment and gimmicks. I’m not saying youth ministry shouldn’t be fun, it should be.

However if we long to see lives transformed by the good news of Jesus, gimmicks are a waste of time. What they need is the word of God! When God’s word is taught, lives are changed.

Over the years it has been amazing to see many of the young people grow in their faith and to bear fruit that is lasting. It has also been a real blessing to lead some young people to Christ during this time.

Cool Jesus Culture music, flashing lights, lots of trips, bribing young people into church with iTunes vouchers are all gimmicks that save no one.

Faith comes by hearing, God’s word is sufficient.

“It makes me feel…”

A youth ministry built on knowing Word of God, doesn’t sound sexy, or attractive but if our youth ministries are built on feelings – stories making you feel valuable, atmospheres making you feel close to God, songs making you feel loved, there will come a point when all that’s gone and our feelings betray reality.

Knowing Christ and making Him known – knowing from the Word of God, knowing you are valuable, knowing you are a sinner, knowing you are loved, knowing you are forgiven and God is faithful and close to you, then…then you have something to stand on, and in the face of the hurricane that is rejection, acceptance, failure, success, isolation, community, doubt, confidence, anxiety, security, betrayal, trust, embarrassment, celebration, guilt, forgiveness, torment, peace and many more experiences of growing up, you will have a life built on strong foundations that will endure.

I have so many conversations with young people who chase the wind in terms of experience of God. It’s a strange paradox of pain and blessing in drawing alongside them and pointing to a Life that pursues truth and righteousness not buzz and fuzz.

As was pointed out to me by good friends, feelings are important but they should be informed by truth. Iain Kennedy (Assoc. Pastor at Renfrew Baptist) said “Have the truth of the Gospel speak into every moment of life, even the feelings, be discerning: just don’t let your faith depend on the recreation of any particular feeling. The Gospel demands all of us, including our feelings.”

Kenny Rogan (Oak Hill College Student) was helpful with his suggestion to “lead to feel based on what they know is true”, or in Colin Ross'(Elder at Hillview Community Church) words “tempered and levelled out by our knowledge”.

I’m not superman, and so when I get bad news, I feel gutted, sad, angry etc… BUT when I come round to what I KNOW is good and true, then my feet are on solid ground. Thinking in the other direction, when I sing “my chains fell off my heart was free, I’m alive because of You…” And I know I’m forgiven, it should stir a greater feeling of joy and celebration than when your football team equalise in the 82min!

Truth regardless of feeling. Let’s lead our young people to feel yes, but feeling grounded in what they know.

Check out Alistair Begg nail the point exactly Knowing V Feeling from the 2009 West Coast Conference.