This year this month marks 30 years since I accepted a call into ministry. I did not grow up thinking that “minister” was a career option. When and where I was raised, if you were a boy who liked church, people would say that you might be a minister one day. If you were a girl who liked church, people would say that you could be a good church school teacher one day. This wasn’t an insult because I had the most amazing church school teachers and superintendents. They were the ones that fostered a love of church in me. I just didn’t know I could be a minister. I wasn’t yet 20 and had very little idea of what I was getting myself into. Since then, I’ve had amazing experiences in predominantly Black churches, predominantly white churches, denominational and interdenominational ministry contexts, national and global ecumenical circles, digital religious communities, academia and advising.

Thought it would be fun to share 30 lessons I’ve learned in 30 years of ministry. Here goes:

  1. The church or denomination does not call you; God does
  2. There’s no correlation between your age and the age of the people you are called to minister to (i.e. being a young-aged minister does not mean you are called to Children’s ministry)
  3. One’s marital status says nothing about one’s effectiveness in ministry
  4. You can be called to ministry without being called to pastor a local congregation
  5. You will be asked to “say grace” more than you ever imagined when you started
  6. Preaching is the most public part of ministry, but it is not what ministers spend most of their time doing
  7. For many people, what they see and hear in Sunday church service is all they know about God and religion
  8. People often remember the music more than the message/ sermon
  9. Within the same congregation or community, there are several beliefs about who God and Jesus are and why they are important
  10. A good part of ministry is not looking shocked when people say shocking things to you
  11. The call to teach and train religious leaders is ministry
  12. So much of ministry is showing up – often, regularly, quietly
  13. The call to teach pretty much anyone – but especially preschool and middle school – is made possible by a ton of grace and love
  14. A lot of ministry happens in student-advising sessions
  15. You don’t need to own a clergy collar to be seen as a minister – but sometimes it helps
  16. There’s no one way to be a woman in ministry
  17. Black people preach in a variety of styles and they’re all valid (even if there aren’t three points)
  18. You have to give people food
  19. You need friends who are ministers and who understand this part of your life
  20. You need friends who are barely connected to religion and love you whether or not you are a minister
  21. When one’s humanity, freedom or equality in God’s view are up for debate, it’s time to split the church
  22. There are wonderful people around the world who claim the same faith and have very different ideas about Jesus and salvation
  23. Doubt is an indication of taking faith seriously (thank you Paul Tillich)
  24. Culture is powerful: i.e., Black Baptists and Black Methodists often have more in common than Black Baptists and white Baptists
  25. When in a new or foreign contexts, it’s oddly comforting to hear songs and liturgies you know
  26. You have to share what you consider to be good news about God – but that may or may not involve a cross
  27. The childcare provided by old school Vacation Bible School (one week-long during the day in the summer) was the basis of an ecumenical movement among children
  28. Keep some part of your spiritual life private
  29. You can yell at God, scream at God, stop talking to God, tell God no and bargain with God. God can handle it
  30. Losing faith is part of the spiritual life