This post is a continuation of what I wrote last week. It describes a letter that I would write to the me of ten years ago.
6. Local church ministry is more difficult than you can imagine, but you must stick with it. Right now you have an optimistic view of the church and of pastoral ministry. Seminary has filled your head with many exciting ideas. You are thinking about leading a congregation to participate in international missions, church planting, and local social work. I must tell you, though, that you are about to fall hard. Pastoral ministry is more difficult than you can now imagine. Some people will resist change simply because they have an ownership mentality of the church; they will view any new proposal as a threat to their influence and control. Others will intend well but will be uncomfortable with something different. In the end you will be pressed but not broken. By staying committed to the local church you will progress in your sanctification. You will learn how to forgive those who hurt you. You will learn how to love the unlovable. You will take up pastoral ministry with the intention of changing a church, but you yourself will be the one who is changed—and ultimately for the better.
7. Remember the practical. Theology is important, but you cannot live in an ivory tower. Out in the real world most people are not debating the issues that now seem so important to you and your friends. Focus on connecting what you learn to what is happening “out there.” Each day there are people who are losing their homes, struggling to pay their rent, trying to raise their kids, fighting to save their marriages, and burying their loved ones. You must have something to say to them.
8. Pursue what really fascinates you. Life is short. You do not have time to chase a research topic simply because your supervisor finds it interesting or because it provides you with an opportunity to receive attention. Focus on the topic about which you are passionate. Study what you love. The rest will take care of itself.
9. Consider another degree. The job market for theology graduates basically does not exist. You can pastor, but few churches have openings. You can teach, but there are many PhD graduates who will compete with you. You must have a way to care for your family. Doing a non-theology degree is not selling out. You are not letting down the cause if you pursue bi-vocational ministry.
10. Relax and enjoy God at work. Christ is building his church each day. Trust him that this fact is true. You do not have to carry the burden of changing the world. The success of the Gospel does not rest on your shoulders. Be faithful with what little you will be given. Do not seek to be great but enjoy the small things in life. God often speaks not in a loud voice but in a still and small whisper. If you travel with worry and ambition you will miss it.