Browsing in a Barnes & Nobles today, I saw a book titled Lies My Teacher ToldMe. Apparently the author takes issue with some historical stuff he thinks is misrepresented in public education. The title of that book got me to thinking about my seminary experience. While I would not accuse my professors of lying to me, I did learn that there are some lessons seminary never teaches you.
Ministry can be lonely. Nobody prepared me for the isolation of single staff ministry. Seminary campus life provides a rich mix of faculty, students and organizations in a collegial atmosphere. But when I left seminary to take my first church, there were long afternoons when I wished I was on the campus again.
You can’t please everybody. I guess I knew you couldn’t please everybody, but I thought good pastors tried to. Or at least tried to get along with everybody. I quickly ran into agendas about church, community and family that I never anticipated. We made lots of friends in those early churches, but we realized we couldn’t please everybody.
Not everyone sees your vision. I had lots of ideas for my first full-time church, and we put a lot of them into practice. But not everyone thought new people were a blessing to our church. Not everyone thought we ought to spend money to improve our Sunday school. Not everyone was thrilled when we set new records on high-attendance Sunday. Not everybody got it, but enough did that we made significant progress.
There are not enough hours in a day. Or days in a week. Or weeks in a month. As a new pastor, I tried to do it all. I made pastoral promises for my time and attention that stretched me too thin. Some days I resented the intrusion into what I thought was my “personal” life. It took a long time to find a rhythm of public ministry and private life that was both challenging and encouraging.
You have to manage yourself. Managing time is one thing, but managing your emotional response at times of great disappointment or opposition provides a real challenge. I don’t think I ever heard a professor talk about “self-management” in difficult moments. I learned some of those lessons the hard way. Fortunately, churches are forgiving of a young pastor’s missteps. However, those lessons need to be learned early, as later pastorates might not be so generous.
Well, there you are. Five things I never learned in seminary. I’m sure there are more. What are some of your post-seminary lessons?
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.