I was cutting my teeth in ministry, full of youthful angst, longing for more opportunities to grow and serve when a local pastor approached me to lead worship for his congregation each Sunday. He didn’t have any money or musicians, but it was a chance for me to learn to plan, recruit players, and lead a church weekly.
But I wanted more. I wanted to be full-time. I wanted authority and recognition. And I began to believe I deserved the position, the pay, and the platform.
“Not yet,” a veteran pastor told me. “You still have a lot of growing to do.”
That stung—a lot.
Looking back, he was absolutely right, but I didn’t have ears to hear. Instead, I went on a long journey trying to prove I was good enough. I sprinted after applause and recognition, and learned many difficult lessons. I ignored the wisdom of others and missed out on the beauty of the race.
Along the way, I learned five lessons that taught me ministry is a marathon and not a sprint.
1. Embrace obscurity.
We live in an age where one can easily be thrust into the spotlight without being tested and approved. The toxic fumes of entitlement often disqualify leaders after they leave the starting blocks. No one likes paying his dues. But that process of growth and character development is vital. We must embrace it.
Why don’t we see much of Jesus’s life until he’s 30? I wonder if, in part, it’s to teach us that obscurity is okay. Jesus often kept his miracles a secret. When crowds gathered, he withdrew to be alone with the Father. He warned of practicing our righteousness before others in order to be seen.
Young leader, you will make mistakes and say foolish things. Perhaps obscurity is a gift from God in an age where wins are written in sand and failures are carved in stone. It’s never good to aim at getting on stage or taking the mic. It’s better to ask God to make you a minister he can trust with influence. The Lord exalts the humble, and does so according to his flawless timing. Don’t rush the process.
2. Embrace correction.
No one likes being told he messed up. We want to hit a home run every time, so when we strike out it’s discouraging. But these failures are opportunities. Growth does not happen easily. It requires listening to older, seasoned mentors who can point out our blind spots.
In ministry, there will always be authority figures with whom you disagree. They’ll ask you to do things you’d rather not, and tell you when you didn’t get it right. You can be offended and get defensive—which will only stunt your growth—or you can embrace correction as a gift from God. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov. 12:1).
3. Embrace normalcy.
I recently encountered a young worship leader prior to a church service. He spoke to me in a non-descript American accent. When he began to lead worship, his voice changed to a South African brogue. Those who’d spoken to him earlier were bewildered. It seems singing and speaking naturally isn’t cool or novel enough anymore.
But Jesus doesn’t need you to be cool. He uses ordinary people to change the world—he does supernatural things with the natural attributes he’s given to normal people. Embrace the person God made you to be rather than trying to fit into some ethereal mold or cultural expectation. That’s the fast track to losing your joy and perhaps the clarity of your calling.
4. Embrace community.
I’m increasingly approached by pastors in search of worship leaders who want to be plugged into a local community and help shepherd sheep. The allure of a ministry that includes a “fan base” who thinks you’re something special is appealing to our sinful nature. Once you get a taste of applause, it can be addictive.
Contrast that with serving a church community where people aren’t impressed with you. They see you every Sunday, when you’re not at your best, when you forget the lyrics or fail to change your capo. They are not your fans, but they are your family. They may not care if you drop an album or win a Grammy, but they care about you, your wife, your kids. They help carry heavy couches when you move. They bring your family meals when you’re sick. They know the real you, and because of this, they can truly celebrate your wins and mourn your losses.
Don’t exchange the beauty of life together with a family for all the “fans” in the world.
5. Embrace Identity.
Ultimately, handling our struggles well rises out of finding our identity in Christ. We are created in the image of God, purchased by his blood, filled with his Spirit, adopted into his family, called to his mission, and guaranteed his return. It is impossible to create a better identity for ourselves. All else pales in comparison.
We can embrace obscurity because we know that we are fully known and fully loved by the only one who truly matters. He made us, fearfully and wonderfully. He sees our every move and knows our every thought.
We can embrace correction because God already knows our every fault and failure and yet, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He sees our darkest parts and still says “Mine,” because Jesus paid it all.
We can embrace normalcy because we know God looks not at our outward appearance, but at our heart (1 Sam. 16:7). He hears every foolish word. He sees us struggle with wanting to be made much of. Yet he is a gracious and compassionate God who knows our frame and remembers we are dust (Ps. 103). Our worth is not based on cool accents or fashion sense, but in being hidden in Christ.
We can embrace community because we know we’ve been adopted into a family for our good and God’s glory. We were dead in our sin, but he raised us to life and calls us sons and daughters. He has given us spiritual brothers and sisters. We can be faithful to shepherd the local flock since we have all the approval we need in the Father who meets our every need.
Nothing to Prove in Christ
Young leader, you are loved. You have nothing to prove. Jesus is your proof. You have value and worth. If ever you doubt that, just look at the cross.
Stay faithful and run the race to finish well, but remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. God will do his sanctifying work in you over the long haul. He will finish what he’s started.