7 Lessons I’ve Learned While Working in Ministry

I’ve been working in church music ministry officially since March 15, 2017. Before then, I served in internships and volunteered for years in a band and a choir. I went full-time on June 1, 2017 and let me tell you, it has been a crazy ride!

What a joy it is to work with and serve people and God. What a privilege it is to have a creative, musical job. I am truly blessed. Along the way, I have learned some lessons and in case you are feeling led to a position in ministry, be it volunteer, part-time, or full-time, here are some things I want to share with you.

  1. People are messy. You knew this already, but it can really surprise you sometimes. Like you, people’s lives are intricate and their journeys are not identical to yours. Working in ministry requires patience, compassion, and empathy. It demands that you look beyond the sins of an individual and it asks you to come along side the person and propel them towards the greatest version of their self. This isn’t exclusive to ministry “workers” also, I might add. This is part of the Christian life. It’s loving your neighbor as yourself. The responsibility just feels heavier when you work as a representative of a local church. Rightfully so.
  2. Your team is what you make it. Whether you lead a team of 3 or of 30, your team is what you make it. Those 3 or 30 people are your flock. They are the people God has entrusted you with to disciple, do life with, and genuinely care for. Pray for them. Listen to them. Build them up with encouragement. The grass is truly greener where you water it. Shower your team with brotherly love and watch them flourish. I guarantee you will as well.
  3. Goal setting is important. At the start of the year, I like to hold a meeting with my volunteers. First of all, it’s an excellent opportunity to help the team remember they’re a team. Getting everyone together is refreshing and it gives them a chance to get to know each other better. At this meeting, I ask them a few questions to get the gears grinding about where they see the future of our church as well as their own personal future. It’s biblical, the idea that where there is no vision, the people will perish. That’s true on both sides for a team. The teammates must have goals in mind, and so should the leader. For me, I set goals of helping individual team members excel to the next level in their musicianship and I set goals of pulling off certain events and I set my own personal goals. For example: I am working on ear training right now on piano and I like dedicating time at least three times a week to plunk out melodies to songs we are working on. If we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll never get there. Right?
  4. Don’t give up because the first week, month, or even year is difficult. Starting out, my team was first of all, very small in number. Not only that, morale was bottom of the barrel low. I walked into a fixer-upper, not a shiny new mansion. Going in, I was aware. I saw potential, but man….renovation was a rollercoaster. Looking back, I see that it took all of two and a half years to really feel like I was making any progress. Those were difficult years, too. But I put in the work because I knew it mattered. I knew the people mattered and I cared enough about them and the quality of what we were doing to do all I could. The work towards being better never stops, and it shouldn’t, but don’t be discouraged by that. As a previous supervisor would tell me, with a change in leadership, things can follow an interesting pattern of a downward dip, a slow climb upward, a plateau, and then another climb upward. I saw that to certainly be the case within my first two and a half years.
  5. Share your ideas. When I first came into my position, I was very quiet and just went along with what everyone else was suggesting. Sometimes I had great ideas but I didn’t feel like I’d been around the block long enough to get a “seat at the table.” But I was literally at the table! Once I started to use my voice, I used it to help others, improve services, and offered creative ideas that ultimately served everyone well.
  6. You’re going to have to get used to uncomfortable conversations. In ministry leadership especially, you’re going to have to tackle tough topics. You’re going to have to potentially part ways with a volunteer, sometimes against their wishes. You’re going to have to confront people. You’re going to have to set boundaries. You’re going to have to do what you can to protect your teammates, yourself, and your church. You won’t always be the most well-liked person by everyone. You have to be okay with this as a leader, and especially as a Christian.
  7. If you allow it, your volunteers will completely steal your heart. I’m not joking with you when I say that I love my teammates. I really do. I have invested in them, established trust, and found a sense of mutual respect with them. God has placed wonderful people on the team that I lead and I find each of them to be such a gift. Treat your volunteers (no matter how many you have) like people! They have intricate lives (see #1) and many commitments and responsibilities. They may truly enjoy serving, but simply can’t for a variety of reasons. Love them, bless them, let it go. Reach out to teammates who seem to be on the fringe and drifting out of the picture. Not from a place of you wanting something from them, but to let them know they are seen and not forgotten. Remember birthdays. Observe their preferences and take a genuine interest in them. This is how community can truly blossom. I know; I’ve seen it.

 

If you are called to this – this path of leading others within your local church, you must know by now, it’s not all sunshine and roses. You will get torrential rain and you will get the most vibrant rainbows. This journey is rewarding and this calling is important and I promise you, it will be the most rewarding experience if you let it be. There are broken, hurting, complex and wonderful people counting on your obedience. Keep seeking the will of God in your ministry and he will most certainly guide you.

 

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