The following is a post from one of our amazing BigStuf 2013 speakers, Justin Warner. With the school year underway, Justin talks to those aspiring to be in ministry about tips that he didn’t learn in textbooks. Learn more about Justin at the end of this post.
Whether you are a high school or college student aspiring to be a pastor, or even a college grad who finds themselves in their first year of ministry, there are several things that I found, in my experience, that the textbooks missed. Although professors and mentors give great insight to your future in ministry, there are things that only you can discover for yourself. Here are a few of mine:
1. Build your ministry with others.
I stole this tip from Kevin Ragsdale, director of high school ministries at North Point Community Church. This was one of the first things I learned from him, and I found it hugely helpful because it was one of the first mistakes I made my first year in ministry. Leaving college I had a great passion to change the world, and I believed there was nothing in student ministry that I couldn't do. This is a lie that we must all have the emotional intelligence to face and accept. No one can do everything, and that is okay. Trying to build your ministry yourself is probably impossible not to mention when you leave that ministry, whether for another church or position, it will probably crumble. Self-awareness is key. If you are not a good communicator, accept it and go find someone who is that can step up to the plate for you. If you are not a worship leader, don't punish your students with your version of Lord I Lift Your Name on High. Finding the people who can do what you can't is the key to selflessly building your ministry. It is also the best way to build a ministry that will stand long after you are gone, and the greatest contribution you can give is building something that can live without you.
2. Fill your cup first.
So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7
All throughout life I have had people keeping my walk with Christ in check. Each day my mom would ask me if I was saying my prayers and reading my Bible. At church my youth pastor was making sure I was staying pure and loving others. Then came college, and my professors were making sure I was properly exegeting the scriptures in my quiet time. Then, I graduated. All the accountability stopped, and all of the sudden my cup ran empty. When I tried to evaluate why, I realized when you work at a church you are there all the time, and it causes you to have a pseudo-strong walk with God. Also, when you enter into ministry you begin to have a lot of people drawing from your spiritual well. Eventually my cup went dry, and with it went my passion for ministry as well as my love for people. All of the sudden I began to see only the negative things in the church, and used them as excuses for why I was not happy. But at the end of the day it was simply an empty cup issue. Being in ministry means you have allowed people to come take from you, your knowledge, your love, and your attention. But what they don't tell you is after you have done your job you are still suppose to have enough for you. Keeping this spiritual discipline may be the most important thing you do in ministry, because in the beginning when we don't know the value of saying, “no,” we tend to overstretch ourselves and our cup runs dry. Remember the words of Paul in Colossians 2:6-7 and stay rooted in Him so that your cup will always overflow.
3. Start with relationships.
When it comes to leading people, it can often be easy to fall into the role of dictator over developer. In my experience, people would rather follow a person that they have a personal relationship with over a box they find above them on an organizational chart. Although position is important, it is not the starting point of your leadership. Keep in mind that in your first years of ministry you will probably be managing volunteers more than you will staff. Oftentimes we, as staff, will feel the pressure to produce in order to fulfill the expectation set by our job title. Sometimes it is tempting to operate out of this pressure, and begin to put the pressure on other people expecting them to do it because you said so. This is the best way to lose your volunteers. People work best when they feel like they are working together for a common vision, not when they feel isolated by a boss. Keep yourself in check along the way. Ask yourself, "What is it like to volunteer or work for me?" Make sure to celebrate wins together. If someone on your team does something great, make sure you celebrate together. If someone does something not so great, use it as a coaching opportunity in private. The best tools for volunteer retainment are relationships and momentum. People want to work for people they enjoy and for a system that is working.
Justin Warner is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University and a pastor to the next generation. Justin has a deep passion for worship through the form of music as well as teaching students about the love of God. He and his wife Lauren live in Atlanta, Georgia and enjoy traveling, skydiving and the great outdoors. One of his life goals is to be the winning contestant on the TV show Wipeout. While waiting for that chance he and Lauren are enjoying spending their time working with students and watching God stir a passion for His Kingdom.