Last week I had the privilege of addressing the first-year students at the Baptist Theological College in Randburg, Johannesburg. I spoke to them about things I wish I knew before diving headfirst into vocational ministry. Truth be told, if anyone had told me these things, it probably wouldn’t have had much impact – but just maybe it’s helpful to some future-pastors.

Below is a very abridged summary of that talk:

1. Ministry is lonely

The expectation upon pastors, real life disappointments and feeling like we’re not making the difference we wanted to lead to some pretty dark, lonely times.

2. It’s more practical than spiritual

We all sign up to change the world. We want to see miracles happen, people saved, lives transformed. A lot of the time, though, a “win” means we managed to get through hundreds of emails, fixed the database, got the blown speaker back from the repair shop and survived the 30minute conversation about table cloths.

3. People can be exhausting

The average person probably deals with the “stuff” or 3 or 4 people in any given season. At any given time, pastors are dealing with emotional and spiritual struggles of many, many people. Most pastors are not robots. We feel. Deeply. And so your pain exhausts us too

4. Most people don’t get it

Any pastor learns really quickly to smile through the “but you only work on Sundays” chirp and the “what do you do during the week” questions. Our role, especially for pastors in smaller churches, is so varied, it’s really difficult to explain what we actually do.

5. Pride is your worst enemy. Really

Most of us want to be the smartest person in the room, but we seldom are. There’s always someone that knows more than us, and until we learn to be okay with that, we stifle our own growth.

6. Your boss probably won’t be a saint

We all end up working for people. And, you guessed it, people are exhausting and people make mistakes. Including your pastor slash boss. Learning to separate the guy on stage teaching you on a Sunday from the guy in your performance review giving you a hard time is an important lesson

7. Envy is a thing

I also want a big church where every person on stage has wireless in-ears. I also want to drive a new Range Rover. I also want to take Sunday night off for a date night with my wife, or decide at the last minute on a Friday to take a little weekend vaycay. So yes, sometimes, envy is a thing.

8. You really are as strong as your team

Most pastors don’t get to choose their team. We serve with volunteers who give their best, who sacrifice time, but who have their own stuff happening in life. Training volunteers and helping them see the bigger picture of why what they do is so important, goes a long way

9. Balance is a myth

It just is. I gave up living a “balanced life”… Discipline is what it’s all about

10. Character matters more than you think

I was told when I was young that people will forgive a bad sermon, but they won’t forgive you for not being there when they needed you, or for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s more true than I ever imagined. Who you are when no one is watching counts for more than your 4 years in seminary.

11. People will love you; People will hate you

Guard your heart! People will love you – sometimes in a weird way. Learn to put boundaries in place and walk in integrity. Don’t let the love get to your head. Aaaaaaaaand, people will hate you. Sometimes even if they haven’t met you. It is what it is.

12. Admin is your friend

If you’re not good administratively – figure it out! You won’t remember everyone you meet or counsel. You won’t remember every coffee meeting you agreed to. You’ll forget what was decided in a meeting. Find a system that works. Sidenote: We are currently using Asana in our organisation and I’m loving it!

13. Seminary is not enough

When I spoke, I said “BTC is not enough” but I’ll generalize here. There is more to ministry that what any seminary can teach a student. Get ahead and learn! Find out about budgeting, leadership, tax laws, conflict etc before you need to learn those things the hard way.

14. Only a pastor knows the feeling

Only a surfer might know the thrill of being in the middle of a wave – but only a pastor knows the sheer joy of being part of what God is doing in someone’s life. There are often no words to describe how we feel after a time of ministry. It makes all the other stuff so worthwhile!

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