My first paid position in ministry was as a part-time youth pastor while I was in seminary. The church had been outstanding at one time, but it was in a long, slow decline. While the pastor was kind to give me the job, he became a negative role model for me.
Young ministers don’t always realize they may be able to learn as much from a negative example as from a positive one. Even though an early experience in ministry might be negative, if they can survive, they will be OK. They just need to make sure they learn not to be like their first “mentor.”
The pastor I first served under was a great preacher, but he had a strong ego. Everything in the church was his. There is a legitimate use for the expression “my church,” but with him, it really meant that everything belonged to him. He even introduced me by saying, “I want you to meet my youth pastor.”
I confess to having a rebellious streak that wants to push back at things I don’t like. And I would be saying under my breath, “I am not your youth pastor. The reason this church is in trouble and declining is that everything is yours. I am the Lord’s youth pastor; this church is His, and it’s not yours.”
Obviously, I didn’t stay there for long. But I never took issue with him in public. My job was not to undermine his leadership. If you ever find yourself somewhere that you just can’t live with the authority in place, you need to get out.
My negative experience helped shape a good habit in me. When I became a pastor, I tried to avoid using the first-person singular personal pronoun. It was “our church” or “the Lord’s church.” I introduced staff members as “our youth pastor” or “the youth pastor of the church.” I avoided any nomenclature that suggested everything is mine.
Even bad experiences are good experiences. You may feel beaten down, worn out or even rebellious because of a negative situation, but it offers you a chance to learn. God refines and teaches us through having to submit, for instance, to someone who is unfair, egotistical or self-serving. By humbly accepting a less-than-desirable state of affairs, you can grasp valuable lessons that might not sink in as well under better circumstances.
George O. Wood is the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.