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21 Valuable Lessons from Lifelong Ministry Learned the Hard Way



senior man reading Bible with granddaughter with little white lights in backgroundPhoto Credit: ©GettyImages/Halfpoint

I began serving the Lord when I was 11 years old, began preaching the Word when I was 21, and began pastoring a year later. At the moment, I’m a solid 80 years old. These are a few lessons this life of ministry has taught me:

1. Never tell anyone anything you don’t want repeated. The only two exceptions are the Lord in prayer or your wife in the bedroom.

2. Never put anything negative in a letter. It will still be circulating and driving the case against you long after you’re in the grave.

3. Never fail to check all the references of a prospective staff member. And then check a few more.

4. Differences of opinion—in a church or on a staff—can be healthy, but dissension should be nipped in the bud. Anyone who cannot sit in a staff meeting and disagree lovingly does not belong there.

5. Neglect your family and you will have a lifetime to regret it.

6. A sense of humor can be a lifesaver—if you know how to control it and when to give it free rein.

7. God does not send the pastor to make the church happy, but to make Himself happy. Pastors are sent to make the flock holy and healthy. Not 10 members in the typical church know this.

8. Ninety-five percent of the things you pray for, you’ll never know if the Lord answers or not. You do not know what would have happened had you not prayed. You’ll get to Heaven before you see what God was doing. If you cannot accept that, you’ll quit praying. Sadly, many have quit.

9. Preachers, Bible teachers, and those who work with youth and children will not know until they get to Glory how God has used them. If they insist on seeing immediate fruits for their labors, they will either resort to gimmicks and shallow tactics or grow discouraged and quit. Neither option is good. “Wait on the Lord.”

10. Those who place gifts in the offering at church will not know in this lifetime what God does with their offerings. They will give by faith or not at all.

11. What we do to the Church—to its ministers, its members, and the little children—Jesus takes personally. He has written the names of some troublemakers into His appointment schedule at which time they will give account of the damage they have done. You do not want to be standing nearby.

12. If you do not like change, you’re going to have trouble following Jesus.

13. Anyone claiming to live by faith must be prepared to go it alone sometimes, buck the trends often, suffer at the hands of pious people from time to time, and spend a great deal of time waiting on the Lord. Those wanting an easy life may start out following Jesus, but they won’t last.

14. Anyone who insists he does not live by faith but only science must never have eaten in a restaurant, driven on an interstate, taken a prescription medicine, or flown in an airplane.

15. The pastor who demands a 100 percent vote before he comes, or a salary raise to stay, may need to reconsider his call.

16. The church leader who demands to be obeyed because “God put me in charge” may know a verse or two of Scripture but he has overlooked all the rest.

17. Fully one-half of the criticism pastors receive about their preaching comes from people who have no problem with him personally, but are unhappy that the Bible says what it says (and not what they want it to).

18. The pastor who is disappointed because the congregation failed to appreciate him or celebrate his anniversary needs to read the mandate from the Savior in Matthew 10:16-42. He cannot say he wasn’t warned.

19. The gospel message is not that God loves us all, but that God so loved us all that Jesus died for us all. And He rose again. And He now commands all to repent and receive Him. He is coming back someday to bring all of this to a conclusion of His own making.

20. Christians who say—as many say to me—“I don’t smile” should ask themselves if they are saved, whether they believe the gospel, and just how strongly they believe that Jesus “came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

21. Only the strong can humble themselves. Only the strong can submit to others with whom they differ. That’s why so few will humble themselves, submit to others, and serve.

You’ll have your own list.  These are my first twenty-one.


Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.

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