What I Wish I’d Known, Part 2

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This third installment of the blog series, begun March 5th, asked three distinct Disciples pastors to reflect on what they wish they’d known upon graduating from Seminary and being ordained. In addition, LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicked off the series.



Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 2
–by Courtney Richards, one of the pastors at Harvard Avenue Christian Church, Tulsa, OK

“Mama gives you money, go to Sunday School/You trade yours for candy after church was through….”

The always-great Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” sets me groovin’, anywhere I am, anytime I hear it. And this line always makes me laugh, because really – what kid doesn’t want to pocket their offering money and make it a thank-offering to the M&M/Mars gods instead?

When I graduated from seminary … 

I wish I’d known that learning, retaining, and living are three entirely different things.

Ministry isn’t about quoting theologians, citing historical events, or grandeloquent preaching or perfect chapter-and-verse recall. Sometimes, it’s about knowing where to look things up. (You know it’s true. Don’t act like you remember everything you learned in 90ish hours of grad school. Seriously. Don’t) Like galleries and museums, newsreaders and headline feeds, ministry is curating: taking what you read, wrote, saw, heard – and what you read, write, see, hear – and connecting the dots with the people you serve, teach, preach to, worship with, care for.

I wish I’d known that I was as talented as I am.

Before this sounds too ‘me in ten years, that’s my hero’ acceptance speech-ish: I spent the first week (let’s be honest, the first … ok, a long time) of seminary convinced that I was entirely too stupid to be there. How did all of these people know all of these things on the first day?! Didn’t the semester just start? Oh. They’ve already been here a year, two, several. You can do these classes in various orders. A-ha! Ministry? Much the same. There are people around who’ve been doing it; doesn’t mean my first year, fifth year, 15th year, I’m not still bringing some serious gifts to the table. And it’s okay to think so.

I wish I’d known that BuzzFeed was going to be a thing. 

For the love of all things holy, I wish someone had told me that the secret to life is found in random quantified lists – 13 ideas for the care and feeding of teenagers; 19 things to ask before you take your next job; 37 places to visit before you die; 43 changes to make before your 43rd birthday. That would have saved me so much time.

There’s no silver bullet. There’s no one size fits all. There’s no secret compartment, magic spell, special sauce, hidden key, or encrypted file. There is the God who loves you … this call on your life and spirit … the people with whom you serve … and the mission and witness of living life in the world. Feed THAT buzz.

I wish I’d known that the people who got you through seminary are the ones who will keep you in ministry.

There’s this stretch when you first start ministry, right out of seminary, where you feel oddly invincible and desperately terrified all at the same time. Like you can say all the words and do all the things, as long as no one asks you to say or do anything different. And it’s in those moments that the people who saw you sit in the floor of your student apartment and lose your absolute mind are the very same people who are going to tell you that the board chair does NOT think you’re an idiot, that you will baptize your first student without losing them to the undertow, and that it’s endearing when your voice cracks when you decide it’s a bold move to preach from Song of Solomon. They’ll also buy you a beer at General Assembly, be a reference when you go to Search & Call, and lay a hand on your shoulder to pray at your installation. They will matter in a way you never could have known.

I wish I’d known that sometimes you’ll still want to hold on to the gift you’ve been carrying and trade it in for something else.

Even for as wonderful as ministry is – has nothing reminded you lately? have you not reminded yourself? how miraculous it is to be invited into people’s lives, to be the one they feel safe asking questions (even the hard ones), to see that light go on behind their eyes when they hear a text for the first time again, to discern and ask and encourage and even cajole and then to see God’s faithful flourish and take flight – sometimes it’s hard, and tiring, and you’ll want to just sit and keep your thoughts and your gifts to yourself, and trade your offering for candy and call it a day. But I hope you won’t.

Because the biggest thing I wish I’d known is that saying yes to a God who knows me and calls me anyway, every day, all the time, is the very best thing I could have ever possibly done.