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Ten Things I’ve Learned (Often the Hard Way) in My First Ten Years of Ministry

Several weeks ago, I visited with a group of young men who are in the beginning stages of their preparation for pastoral ministry in the LCMS. I truly enjoyed visiting with them at Concordia University Chicago, learning from them and sharing some of my thoughts with them. As I mark my tenth anniversary in the ministry, it’s a humbling experience to look back and see how the Father’s hand of both discipline and blessing has taught me much. . . often the hard way!

Here’s what I shared with my friends at Concordia University.

1. God spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey. It certainly was God’s Word. But the donkey remained a donkey.  Numbers 22:28

I recall Luther said something like this when he started teaching in Wittenberg.  I’m grateful that God can use “donkeys” like me to share His Word!

2.  When you feel the urge to preach the Law at particular people in particular places in your sanctuary for particular pet-peeve sins, take heed. If you’re preaching yourself, you’ll quickly regret it.  2 Corinthians 4:5

If a preacher thinks, “No one is listening to my sermons anyways,” and tries this kind of pet-peeve-preaching, he’ll quickly learn that a lot of listening is going on! People are longing for you to give them the Good News of Jesus Christ! Lead with the gospel.

3. Marry up, brethren! Behind every good preacher is an even better woman (who, I guarantee you, will be the one to share Christ’s forgiveness with you more often than anyone else).  Proverbs 31:10-11

So many ministries are helped by a fantastic partnership of grace between the pastor and his bride. Likewise, ministries can also suffer if your relationship with your spouse is not intentionally nurtured each day.

4. “Life in the Fish Bowl” is a reality of pastoral ministry. Get over it! Goldfish get over it and get used to it. And, when they’ve run their course, they’re quickly replaced.  1 Timothy 4:16

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard ministers gripe about being under the watchful eye of people from both inside and outside the church. Folks, it’s not going to change! I’ve realized that Paul’s words, “Watch your life and doctrine closely,” are timeless and timely.

5. One of the best lines my favorite seminary professor told me more than a decade ago sticks with me every day in ministry:  “Don’t tell me what a friend I have in Jesus until I know I have a friend in you.”  Luke 7:34

Jesus is a friend of sinners. I am a sinner, redeemed by His grace. I’m thankful that Jesus is a friend of mine. My desire to cultivate friendships with others—both with Christians and non-Christians—flows from Jesus’ work to befriend and to save.

6. The Bible says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). This is most certainly true—even for pastors. Scratch that! Especially for pastors!

If I did not live with the daily reminder of God’s unfailing and unrelenting grace for me in Jesus Christ, my ministry would be a complete failure. Thank God for His sin-covering love!

7. Never let anyone underestimate the importance of your dedicated time in prayer and meditation upon God’s Word. God will speak to the preacher, and God will speak through the preacher (often simultaneously).  Colossians 3:16

Even when leading worship, remind yourself that you are worshiping too. In the company of saints and angels, a life of worship, study, and prayer is essential for the marathon of ministry.

8. Names matter. God cares about His name (cf. the Second Commandment). God cares about your name (cf. the Eighth Commandment). Work hard to learn your people’s names, and watch how much power is in a name.  John 10:3

Baptized into Christ, I was called by the name that saves me and claims me. Baptized families of believers are filled with a variety of names. People love it when you call them each by name. Jesus does it. We should work hard to do it also.

9. Everyone has a story to share, even if the opening chapters of their autobiographies are just now being written. Take time to hear their stories, and share your stories too! People won’t come to church simply to hear the Gospel; they will come to hear you share the Gospel!  Acts 8:35

Asking questions of others, listening to their responses, and taking to heart their personal stories are invaluable to my ministry. In Acts 8:26-40, Deacon Philip first spent time by the Ethiopian’s chariot, listening to him and dialoguing with him, and then he shared the Good News of Jesus. Telling the Ultimate Story to someone usually begins with hearing their story first.

10. The Word works. When you’re at your weakest, He’s at His strongest. Sometimes we simply need to get out of the way.  2 Corinthians 12:10

If ministry is a marathon, there will undoubtedly be ups and downs throughout. Along the way, Jesus remains faithful to His promises.




Rev. Jeff Alexander is Pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Greenwood, Indiana.

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