Five Lessons From Five Years of Working in Ministry

This October 15, I’ll be celebrating my fifth work anniversary in the ministry. As I look back on my time here, I’ve listed down five things I’ve learned that can be applied to life and work (whether you work in the ministry or the marketplace).

#1 Serve anyway.

A lot of my work as an administrator included the dirty, messy, and invisible middle-work that most people don’t see (since they only see the end product). At first, I hated it. I wanted to be recognized. I wanted my boss to tell me good job every time. I wanted a raise for every milestone project that I accomplished. I wanted the glory.

But today I am so fortunate that God and my church leaders had corrected me on this. Because from my experience, people who are all of the above (and this is still me preaching to myself) are those that end up unhappy with their lot, resentful and bitter towards life, and/or altogether just leave their industry. And the longer I worked, the more I saw how there was really no room for ego, agenda, or selfishness in building God’s kingdom (whether it’s in or outside the ministry). In fact, I’ve noticed that all those who have exited the ministry abruptly or on bad terms have left because of any, or all, of these reasons.

And how could I be so entitled to think that I deserved all of this (even if we have the track record to prove it) when Jesus, who is God, served with no regard for Himself? He just served.

So serve anyway. Whether or not you are recognized. Whether or not you have a title. Whether or not it’s part of your job description. Whether or not your boss recognizes your work. Whether or not you receive a commendation, promotion, or a raise in the end. Ouch, ouch, ouch. All of this sounds painful, doesn’t it?

But, if we are to work for God and not man (Colossians 3:23), then the Bible tells us that serving is not a means to an end, but an end in itself (Matthew 20:28).

At the same time, we have to trust that even if our leaders (or no one else for that matter) do not see what we do—the hours we’ve put in, the lengths we took to deliver excellent work—God does. And God promises to reward those who are faithful with what He entrusts to them (Luke 16:10).

#2 Honor and trust your leaders.

A lot of work issues today arise from strained relationships between employees and their supervisors. They feel like their supervisors don’t care about them, and treat them horribly. Now I’m not promoting that you stay in a job where your supervisor abuses or harasses you. In that case, leave by all means. But what I’m saying is that there is also a place where we need to humble ourselves and trust that God is the one who has appointed those leaders over you, and this is the reason why you can honor them even if they don’t live honorable lives.

The same thing applies to trusting our leaders at work. There were times when I submitted a proposal to my leaders that I have worked and researched my butt off, but in the end, they still decide to not go with my recommendation. While it is frustrating sometimes, we still need to trust that God is sovereign and can direct the hearts of leaders in order to fulfill His plans—plans our small minds can’t comprehend (Proverbs 21:1).

#3 It’s not over until it’s over.

I only started really learning how to do administrative work in 2018. At first, I really sucked at it. I would complain to myself about it. I would ask the same questions to the same people all over again (a special thank you to those who have been patient with me). Then I started to be assigned to even more projects that forced—I mean, teach—me to do the job of an administrator. I eventually got better at it (and so did my attitude towards it), and got used to the rhythm. Now I can say that I just love doing administration because of two reasons. First, because it creates clarity where there was clutter. Second, because it forces one to think of means to achieve the goal despite the limitations set forth (i.e. small budgets, tight deadlines, limited resources, little manpower). Hence, my lesson of “it’s not over until it’s over.”

Perhaps more popular terms that can describe I’m talking about are the words “grit” and “resourcefulness.” I have learned to make the most of the resources I’m given, knowing that these all belong to God and are for Him, and that He will supply every need of mine (Philippians 4:19). I have learned to make a way, with loads of help from the Holy Spirit, where there was previously none. I have learned to ask for wisdom from God (James 1:5) when I have reached what looks like a “dead end.” I have learned to pray through my challenges and just trust in God when I have reached the end of my sanity. And I’ve done all that I could do, prayed all I could pray, and things still didn’t work out, I’ve learned to take failure humbly and (this is where it gets difficult) joyfully, surrender openly; to trust that God’s ways are always higher (Isaiah 55:8-9) and that He works all things for the good of those He loves (Romans 8:28).

#4 Fight for the relationship.

I’ve gotten into my fair share of frustrations, disappointments, and arguments with other people—both from my department and outside of it—because of work. Sometimes they happen because me and the other party are just trying to do our job well, but systems (both work and personal ones) don’t seem to agree with each other. But then there are disagreements that arise because of resurfacing former “work wounds,” the inability to clarify what the other person meant, or even the unwillingness to serve them (in other words, pride). The first type of disagreement is what I call the good kind which I easily let slide and try to reach a quick compromise with them. The second type of disagreement, on the other hand, is the kind where I just have to pray and talk to God about.

But no matter the resolution, I had to learn to fight for my relationship with those I worked with instead of the work we did together.

Don’t fight for policies. Don’t fight for rules. Don’t fight for systems. Because all of these elements can change in time, or even after just one meeting, but what won’t change are the people who you will see at the office every day. (And isn’t it just so awkward to bump into the office mate you raised your voice at the day before? Or even worse, work on yet another project with that person again?)

#5 God’s plan for you will never be what you expect. Be open to Him.

I never pegged myself to work for the ministry. When I attended the youth service, a bunch of us from there hoped to one day serve in the ministry as pastors or administrative staff. I wasn’t one of them. My plan was to instead climb the creative ladder in the world of advertising, screenwriting, or literature.

But a few months into my first job, my life took a HUGE detour when I landed a sideline that was semi-ministry related. This sideline eventually turned into the bridge that got me in the ministry when God told me that it was time to leave my first job (with no interviews or leads). And fast forward five years, two ministry units, and many job descriptions later, I still find myself here. And the very field that I never pegged for myself became the very place where I worked and (I believed) matured in.

But to even get here, I had to slowly learn to be open to God. To accept His detours, delays, advances, and even new paths. To surrender and exchange the dreams and plans that I had for myself, and trust that He always, always, always knew what was best for me (even when I didn’t initially agree). And what’s more, He always gave me the grace to obey even when my stubborn heart didn’t want to.

Because, if I had closed myself off to the option of working for the ministry years ago, then my life would have turned out so differently today—and I’m pretty sure that included more of the bad than the good. If I had put a period to the story that God was trying to write and birth into my life, then I would have probably not learned the things on this list and probably other lessons that I can’t recall at the moment.

Last December, we had to answer a self-assessment form which asked us the question that most human resources out there ask: “Where do you see yourself three years from now?”

Since this was a work question, I began my answer with the phrase: “If God still calls me here, then here.”

But, if given the chance to be asked this same question by a friend, I would’ve answered: “Frankly, I have no idea.”

I don’t know where God will take me three, five, or fifty years from now; if I would be working and retiring in the ministry, if I would still be in this church or in this part of the world, or if would be called back into the marketplace. But isn’t that the fun part about having a relationship with our dynamic yet constant God?

If you think of the greater scheme of things, five years isn’t a lot. Nonetheless, I am thankful to God for giving me the privilege to serve in the ministry these past five full, crazy, wonderful, fulfilling, challenging, and life-changing years.

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