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Letter to Myself: Ten Things I Wish I Knew About Pastoral Ministry

In The Players Tribune, Kobe Bryant wrote a piece entitled "Letter to My Younger Self" where he reflects upon what he wish he knew when he was entering the league. It's one of many "Letters" that the Tribune published about athletes reflecting on their early career. 

When it comes to pastoral ministry, I still have a lot to learn. However there are definitely some lessons I've learned that I wish I knew when I was younger. So I reflected and came up with a list of ten things I wish I knew when I was younger and that I'd encourage any young aspiring pastor to consider. 

1) Preach 30 Minutes or Less

Tim Keller once famously said, "No matter what you do, your first 200 sermons are going to be terrible." I found this insight to be very true. However I think there is one thing you can do about it: Keep your sermons short. If you're going to make a terrible movie, at least spare the congregation and make it a short film. First 200 sermons - make them 30 minutes or less.

2) Pastoral "Jobs" Are Limited
If you're Asian and want to be a pastor, you only have several long-term options: youth/VBS pastor, EM pastor, church planter, or token Asian pastor at a large multiethnic church. That's about it. Best advice: Look at the senior pastor, not the position. Work for somebody you can trust and go from there.

3) Realize Your Kids Will Be Known as PKs

I don't know about you, but I never thought about how my career would shape my kids. It wasn't until I had a son that I realized, "Man, he's going to be a PK Do I really want to put him through that?" It made me look at pastoral ministry a bit differently & a little more seriously. I wish I'd done this sooner. Read this for more insight.

4) Every Pastor Takes a Dump
We should always respect our elders. However, young pastors tend to have an overly reverent view of "celebrity" pastors and local senior pastors. The problem with this perspective is that they will inevitably disappoint you. Just remember: They all take a dump on the toilet just like you and me. And their poop probably smells too. In other words, they're just human beings. It helps to remember this. 

4) Seminary is More Important Than You Think

As tempting as it is, don't shortchange your M.Div classes. Seminary is where you learn the fundamentals of ministry. It may be tedious and boring - but it's essential. In basketball terms, this is what separated Kobe from all of his peers. Not flashy dunks - but left-handed lay-ups and proper defensive stances. It's boring but necessary to play ball. See Greek and Hebrew in the same way. 

6) Preach to a Variety of People
If you preach to the same 20 youth kids every week, you'll gain a false perception of your preaching. They will usually like your preaching because they like you. If you want to see what your preaching is really like though, use those same sermons at guest-speaking gigs (e.g. retreats, para-churches). Then you'll see what works and what doesn't.

7) Seek Friendships Over Networks

It'll be tempting to expand your personal brand and to try to network with as many well-connected pastors as you can. You'll want to partner and plan to do big things together "for the kingdom." However those networks are often shallow and fleeting. It's much more rewarding when you find fellow pastors whom you can just be friends with. Those are rare gems worth searching after.

8) Be Careful About "Opportunities"
This may be my pessimism speaking, but I find that 90% of people who ask you to do something aren't really looking out for your best interest. Whether it be to speak at a conference or join a cause or participate in a organization - I find that a lot of these "great opportunities" often have hidden agendas behind them. Don't be paranoid because not everybody is like this; but just be careful.

9) Be Yourself

People are going to pressure you to be something that you're not. Seminary professors will push you to prioritize the Greek in your sermon prep. College students will pressure you to be "fun." Peers will try to convince you to be an entrepreneur. But man - just be you. Figure out how God has gifted and wired you and make that the emphasis of your ministry.

10) Be Willing to Walk Away
I believe that pastoral ministry is a calling. However I also believe that it shouldn't be your identity. If you can't walk away from pastoral ministry, then I think you've made it something it's not supposed to be. Rather Christ needs to be the well you constantly draw from; otherwise your righteousness will always be based on your last sermon.