Even though my name is not Joe, I am a pretty average guy.
I grew up in the capital of Kansas. My dad worked for the railroad for 42 years and my mom is going on her 43rd year of teaching kindergarten. My two older brothers pastor churches in Kansas and Kentucky. I went to a small Bible college. I married my middle school sweetheart though she is not average!
I work at a church in Kansas City, Missouri where I am not even the Senior Pastor. I have not traveled the world speaking and I have not written any books. I have spoken at a couple of camps but never got invited back, so I guess that went well. I have a wife and four kids. We live a pretty simple life. You wouldn’t notice us if you passed us in Target other than the smell of our twin freshman boys.
Don’t misunderstand me - God has been extremely good to us but we are pretty average people. Since I am coming to the end of my thirties and stepping into my forties, I thought it would be good to write about ministry life from an average guy’s perspective and contemplate what I would tell my 20-year-old sophomore in college self. Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Faithfulness is more important than flash.
In my twenties, I wanted to make a big splash for the kingdom of God. In my mind, this looked like starting a church and running thousands in a few years, traveling around and speaking at camps and conferences, writing books or going to the ends of the earth with the gospel, even if it meant death, and having people write books about my life. I did not dream about going to one church for 14 years and being faithful to love the people God brought through the church. That was not sexy or compelling. It was boring! God had called me to do more with my life than just be faithful.
Faithfulness matters more than flash. Paul told Timothy to pass the baton to “faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). I would tell my 20-year-old self that God is not looking for men and women who can make a big flash, but for men and women who will stay the course when no one but the people in the church know your name. God is looking for men and women who care more about being faithful where God has planted them than being where the latest hype is.
2. Love is more important than position.
In my twenties, I aspired to positions of leadership. I wanted to be a Senior Pastor or the Director of “such and such” organization. Being in positions of leadership would allow me to make “big” decisions for the kingdom of God. I cared less about people and more about positions of leadership.
I would tell my 20-year-old self that loving people far exceeds any position you could ever hold. Isn’t this what Jesus modeled for us in the Gospel? “(Jesus) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus didn’t seek to take on a position of leadership when He came to earth. He put aside all that so he could “demonstrate his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Loving those around me by giving of myself is way more important than holding a position of leadership.
3. Character is more important than popularity.
In my twenties, I aspired to be popular. At conferences, the venue would only be full for the speakers who were the most popular. Now, I am not saying these speakers were not men or women of character, but those things were never talked about or promoted. They were commended only for their accomplishments. Our culture fosters popularity where your worth is determined by “Likes,” “Hearts,” and “Followers.” I would tell my 20-year old self not to buy the lie that popularity is more important than character. Character will outlast the momentary popularity many of these people have. Character matters to your wife, to your kids and to the place you work. Most importantly, character matters to God. Better to be popular with God than have the fleeting affirmation of man.
4. Serving is more important than power.
In my twenties, people who had power were the most attractive. People who could walk into a room and command its presence. People who sat on the front rows of events. People who got invited to speak into situations and events. These types of people were attractive to me. I wanted to be one of them.
Jesus didn’t model this kind of life for us. In fact, He did the exact opposite of it. He came to serve not be served (Mark 10:45). I would tell my 20-year-old self that serving is more important than power.
When my Dad retired from the railroad, he went to work for my brother. You know what he does now? Cleans toilets, takes care of the grounds of the church, and serves the older people in the church. I want to be just like him when I grow up. No task is too small for someone who lives their life to serve Jesus and others.
5. Jesus is more important than it all!
I know this sounds very "churchy," but my heart’s desire for my younger self (and for you) is to make it all about Jesus, and not about yourself. Pursue Him. Love Him. Follow Him. Obey Him. Enjoy Him. There is nothing that ministry, family, or anything life offers that will satisfy you like Jesus. Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus is that “righteousness” (I Corinthians 1:30). The hymn writer got it right when he wrote - "You can have all this world, just give me Jesus."
My 20-year-old self bought the lie that flash, position, popularity, power, and success was the way to live ministry life. Every speaker was touted for these things and commended to us to follow in their footsteps. Looking back now, I know I was misled. It is far better to strive for faithfulness, love, character, serving and ultimately, Jesus. For in these things, you will find true life. If God gives me forty more years, I have a hunch these will still be the things that matter most in my life and your life as well.