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August 2, 2011

5 Things I’ve Learned in Ministry

Rookie year reflections

Next month marks my one year anniversary of working in paid ministry. It's been a year full of joy, surprises, and challenges of all kinds. Here are five things I've learned in my rookie year:

1. If it was easy, it wouldn't be leadership.
I wasn't expecting every decision that I made to be so difficult. Despite my years as a volunteer in ministry, I was shocked by the number of variables that affected my every move. I assumed my analytical skills would help me make good choices for a program or person. Yet I was surprised to find that when I weighed the pros and cons of a decision, they often came out even. A year in, I now realize how many decisions require discernment, courage, and a desperate need for God's guidance to move forward.

2. When you make hard decisions, expect insecurity.
I'm thankful to God that he was clearly at work in positioning me for this job, because without that, I'd probably doubt it even more than I did in year one! Every time a gray decision presented itself, insecurity also reared its ugly head. Why did you take this job? You aren't qualified! This isn't a fit! You aren't made for this role! Learning to isolate and ignore the negative internal dialogue was a necessary part of growth as a leader. As I began to recognize that these voices of insecurity inevitably followed a difficult decision, I was less prone to listen to them.

3. Trust your instincts, but moderate your actions.
There have been times where I have a strong gut feeling about a person in leadership, a decision that's been made, or a direction that the ministry is heading. I'm learning to trust that this instinct is usually right. However, the real place of growth for me has been to learn not to always act immediately on that instinct. When a leader is ill-fitted for a role, when a program needs to change, when tweaks need to be made to a certain course of action, I've needed to trust the instinct that raises a warning in my spirit. But I must remain humble and willing to discern the right time and right conditions for confrontation and change.

4. The methods may change, but people stay the same.

One of my favorite things about my first year of ministry is getting to look at programs and plans with fresh eyes. I love bringing new ideas to the table and innovation to outreach, growth and marketing for our church. But it can be easy to overlook wisdom in the hunt for the next and best. Proverbs 4:5 says, "Get wisdom; develop good judgment." Anything I suggest must be balanced with a desire to learn wisdom and to cultivate good judgment. This has meant learning to listen well to my senior leaders and paying close attention to what they teach me about people's hearts, philosophies of ministry, and ways to help people grow in their relationship with God. I bring honor to them and to God when I respect their authority but also offer my perspective on fresh methods for ancient truth.

5. No leader operates alone.
My sweetest memories of my first year in ministry have been the multitude of people who have supported me as a leader. Although there have been lonely times, I’ve found that leadership has brought me to a place of rich interdependence within my community. From the high school and college students that watch my kids, the youth staff that play soccer with my husband, my friends who give me unconditional support when I need to laugh (or cry), my neighbors who keep my dog when I travel—this leader doesn't operate alone. And for that I am grateful.

Whether volunteer or paid staff, there is always something to be learned when we take time to reflect on our experiences. What have you learned over the past year in ministry?

Nicole Unice has decided to accept her status as a wrestler with God. Between raising her kids and working in Family and Student Ministry at Hope Church in Richmond, VA, Nicole likes to write and teach on the intersection of God's word and modern life. Her first book, The Divine Pursuit, A Study of Jonah, released in Fall 2010. You can find her blogging at The Stubborn Servant.

Related Tags: acceptance, belonging, community, Decision making, humility, leader, leaders, leadership


Great post. I can really relate to it, even though I'm in my 12th year of ministry. I think for me, I've learned that you're never going to please everybody. You alluded to this in points 1 & 2. I haven't struggled with my own insecurity, or second-guessing myself. I've just had issues when decisions I make don't always accommodate everyone. Usually it's scheduling a trip at a time when a certain family is on vacation. Most of the time it's not an issue, but sometimes the decisions I make really rub people the wrong way, and quite often when I didn't intend it that way at all. Thanks for sharing this.

You have paid great attention your first year. Congrats on great lessons and blessings on your next year.


3. Trust your instincts, but moderate your actions./ Love that one. I have to work at that.

This past year I have learned to slow down and spend more time with the people right in front of me, not the tasks on my to-do list. My tendency is to focus on the finish line, not the race. I get so caught up in doing ministry that I forget to do ministry. I have learned that when I focus on pouring into the leaders not only do I get more done with their help but I allow more time for God to work on both the volunteers and myself.

Short version: Slow down and give God room in the day-to-day moments.

Great observations Samantha and Jason! Thanks for sharing your learnings with me!

I'm in my first year of full-time paid ministry (3.5 months and counting under my belt . . . ). I appreciated you sharing what you learned as it is helping me through what I feel right now . . . the insecurity, the not sure of decisions, the challenge of dealing with people and tasks (and balancing them). . . Thank you for sharing!!!!

And I thought I was the only one with those thoughts of insecurity. Thanks for keeping it real. Your post has encouraged me.

awesome thoughts everyone. GFL also has a download on the insecure leader that's really helpful!

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