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Thom-RainerIt was 30 years ago that I began serving a small rural church in southern Indiana. I was so incredibly green then; I’m glad I didn’t always realize it.

I loved those people in that church and, for some reason, they loved me too. I had to be one of the most inept pastors in history, but they just continued to show me grace and love me even more.

Three decades later, I reflect back on what I’ve learned in ministry. Some lessons came rather naturally; others were very painful.

  1. God is always faithful. Always. Always. Always.
  2. My family is my greatest gift beyond my salvation. I wish I always realized it.
  3. I spent too much time worrying about things that I can’t even remember today.
  4. I took too many criticisms personally. Most critics weren’t mad at me.
  5. I always grow stronger when I spend time in the Word and in prayer.
  6. My wife endured a lot in our ministry. I needed to minister to her more.
  7. When I can laugh at myself, I am more effective in ministry.
  8. I learned to be more compassionate through the deaths of my parents and grandson. I can now understand the pain many experience.
  9. I am always hurt when I hold grudges.
  10. I need to ask for forgiveness more quickly.
  11. I need friends to share both the joys and the challenges of ministry.
  12. I wish my sons had not seen my frustrations when I was a pastor.
  13. Life is short. Live it totally for Him every moment.
  14. Some of my most miserable days came when I grew jealous of others in ministry.
  15. Some other miserable days came when I lived to please people rather than God.
  16. Children are young but for a season. Some of my greatest joys have been with my three sons.
  17. I’m not nearly as smart as I sometimes think I am.
  18. I am always wiser when I listen to the wisdom of others.
  19. The devil is always looking for a way to trap me (1 Tim. 3:7).
  20. My success is not measured by the size of my church or the prestige of my organization.
  21. I’ve had a lot of grace shown to me. I need to pass that gift forward more.
  22. Some people who disagree with me have proved right.
  23. I need to mentor more men.
  24. I am rarely as diligent I should be sharing the gospel.
  25. Every church has some really mean people. God has called me to love and serve them too.
  26. I fight pride more often than I’d like to admit.
  27. Some of my worst moments in ministry were when I lost my temper.
  28. Encouragement works better than harsh words.
  29. I need to read more.
  30. My grandchildren are almost perfect.

What have you learned in ministry? What can you add to this list?

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

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