Our music/kids minister had to, for a class I'm teaching, write a letter to his younger self about ministry lessons he'd learned. I thought I'd give it a whirl too. So this is going to 19 year old Scottie somewhere around 2002.
Wassup! (Don't worry, in the future you'll only use that to reminisce about the past)
Hello 2002 Scottie! This is you from 2020. I know you're going through some stuff now. But what's happened will be part of how God is going to use you and shape you into who He wants you to be. I hoped this letter got to you while you're opening up those commentaries that Davis gave to you. You're wondering what's going on and why you've been asked to lead a few weeks of a small group study. Trust me, you're in for a ride. This is what God's going to use to call you into ministry.
I'll start with the personal stuff. Hang tight til 2006, you're gonna meet someone special. We've got two awesome kids and we're about to hit 12 years married. Oh, and I'm writing this with a little sunburn from being at the beach this week. You're going to end up living in Florida. It's pretty awesome. You'll also be in school way longer than you ever imagined, but you'll have a Seinfeld episode for a dissertation and you'll have alphabet soup after your name. Your church is going to be a blessing to you and your family. Here's something else crazy you won't believe: Louisville is going to have a Heisman winner. And you might want to start saving up for the 2013 Final Four. Trust me. It'll be worth it. Just don't watch the Duke game in the Elite 8. Oh, and while I'm at it, on your next shift at Starbucks, sign up for all the stock options you've got available. Trust me on that one.
You're sitting there wondering what's going on inside your heart and why you're feeling a pull towards some form of ministry. Spurgeon called it "an all consuming desire for the work." You'll get there. It'll take a couple years and some refining but it'll be a really neat a-ha! moment. So if I can pass on something to 19 year old me who might not be humble enough to listen...
First, be no one's but Christ's - Don't fall into trappings of tribes or camps. Your allegiance, your identity, your purpose, your everything, is wrapped up in Jesus. You are His. Do not compromise this. You'll run into some instances down the road where your desire to be liked and taken seriously (I know it's there) will put you in some places to compromise. Don't. Trust me. It's not worth it. Not everything is a hill worth dying on, but some things are. When you do speak up on those things, don't expect to be cheered. Some will appreciate it, others won't.
Second, buckle up - It sounds exciting now, but ministry isn't for the weak or for the timid. You'll lose track of the number of times your heart will break, how many times you'll be misquoted, how mean people in the church can be, the ugly way you'll be treated by people who you'd been close to, and how nasty spiritual warfare can be. That book you've put off reading on spiritual disciplines... you might want to dig into it. It'll be all that keeps you from going crazy, and from wanting to walk away from ministry in 2015 (Sorry man, that season is going to be bad. Wish I could change it, but you'll be sold out by someone you looked to as a mentor).
Third, find joy - I know the second one is hard. But this is a lesson I've learned in 10+ years of ministry. If you don't find joy in what God is doing around you, you'll become bitter and resentful. You might not see it now, but there will be times where your soul will be so full you'll feel it. Look for those little things in everything you do. Find the sparks of where God is working. They'll be there. You'll get emails and text messages (true story, you'll use your phone more for that than calling) from students in your youth ministry sharing the impact you had.
Fourth, be gracious - I know it's coming. You're going to hit your cage-stage Calvinism soon. Your humility hasn't caught up to your opportunity, and quite frankly it won't until you're about 30. Wish there was better news but you're slow to learn. Seriously though, don't be a jerk. Be gracious. It's not going to be worth losing friendships because you want to be right. I've watched that, not just in our life, but in others, who wanted to be right so much they were willing to bomb bridges, not just burn them. Don't be that guy.
Fifth, be an eager learner - It'll be 15 years before you're a lead pastor. You'll be spending time in what you'll learn are called "second chair" roles, and some third and fourth chairs! Wherever you are, be an eager learner. God will place people in your life who will be excellent teachers. Look to them. Learn from them. A few will teach you things not to do, and that'll pay off more than you can know. You'll be frustrated sometimes because those you're learning from won't move or do like you think they should. Be humble enough to be patient. Take notes. Learn and retain everything you can.
Sixth, love the Word - There won't be a book you read (or write for that matter - yes, you'll publish books! Don't get too excited, the sales are lousy) that will be as important as the Bible. Make it a commitment now to read it, study it, and store it away. Your "success" as a pastor isn't going to come by being smart or by being creative, it will come by being faithful to the calling. Next time you're on campus to visit with Davis, ask him to show you the front of Norton Hall. That'll stick with you.
There's so many more I wish I had time to write. Unfortunately the best lessons in ministry are the ones you have to learn the hard way. God is good though. And He is faithful. And He'll finish what He's starting in you now.
From the future!
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.