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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Seven Things to Remember When You are Finishing School or I’ve got my degree, now what?

No school, regardless of how fine can possibly prepare a student for everything that person will face in life and ministry. For those of us that have been around for a few years, most of the technology that we use everyday not only didn’t exist when we were students, it wasn’t even a dream!

If I could give my 2 cents in this matter, I would like to share just a few things that I have found to be crucial to those who have competed some formal study and now are finally “out in the real world.”  Here’s my top seven, [and with it and a dollar or two, you can buy yourself a soft drink. :)]

1. Keep your personal devotional time regular and fresh. There is no substitute for digging in God’s Word and prayer, asking God to grant understanding and application of His Word in your life. Without it, you are on a fast track to failure. Have a mutual accountability partner that you can confide in and with whom you can help keep each other encouraged in Spiritual disciplines.

2. Learn to be wisely transparent. The temptation to “try to live up to the expectations of others” or “be” a particular person is tremendous. Being wisely transparent simply means that we avoid trying to be someone we are not. We admit failures, for they will come; we admit mistakes, for we will make them; we don’t shift blame to excuse ourselves of responsibility. Being wisely transparent says “I’m learning, growing, and have a long way to go. I will learn from my mistakes and continually ask God for help.”  It is not a continual beating up on ourselves, or a false humility, but an appreciation and an attitude of gratefulness to God for what He has done and who we made in His image.

Being wisely transparent is not easy. The natural response is to try to earn our worth by what we do. One of the keys to freeing us from this type of bondage is to remember that our worth as an individual is not based on our own perfection, but what God has done for us in Christ.  Otherwise we fall into the trap of earn our worth based on what we can do. Because my worth comes from what Christ has done, I am free to pursue new things,  grow and even make mistakes because it does not affect my worth as an individual. We do not have to prove our worth, God has already done that. Then why would we want to work so hard? We strive for excellence, then, not to earn our worth, but out of a grateful heart to offer to God a sacrifice of praise that is the best we can offer.                   

Another natural response is to become defensive when we make mistakes or if someone questions what or why we are doing. This is related to the first, since if we are basing our worth on how well we do what we do, then failure becomes a catastrophe to which we cannot admit. The old adage, “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet,” is a wonderful thing to remember. Until we reach heaven’s gate, there will always be room for growth and development. The often heard phrase, “that’s just the way I am, you just have to accept me like that...” is too often an indication of someone who has given up on allowing God’s work of transforming their character into the character of Christ.

3. Place a priority on your family. With all the demands of the ministry, the family is generally the first to suffer. Too many wives and children of those in the ministry would testify that their fathers always had time for church members, but never seemed to have time for them. Learn some basic communication skills, go to marriage retreats and parenting seminars, go to a Christian counselor; don’t just keep doing what you doing and hope that when the kids are older it will be easier. Every stage of life has its challenges. The greatest opportunity for discipleship you will ever have will be the children God places in your home for those 16 - 18 years. The weight of that stewardship is an awesome privilege and responsibility. A full 50% of all marriages in and out of the church end in divorce. The world is waiting to see an example of a home that can make it, and wants to know if Christ really can make a difference in their home life.

4. Prepare and plan your work, then work your plan.  I confess that I am amused when I hear students say they can hardly wait to get out of school so that they won’t have any “homework” anymore. I know what they mean, – they don’t want to have to stay up late reading and writing papers, etc. Yet, if they thought that was work, just wait until they get to their church field and are expected to do their work as well as be the part-time janitor and secretary for the church. Or that the other duties that are a part of the job take up so much time that they bare have any time to do the work that is really priority in their ministry. Learning to set aside time to plan, prepare and evaluate your work will save you from just trying to run from one immediate need to the next, and from trying to put out one fire, while another is igniting. There are some wonderful resources in this area and wise are the ministers that invest in availing themselves to those resources and puts them into practice.  As someone has said, “he who flies by the seat of his pants, will crash in the same way.”

5. Keep studying and practicing.
This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, since there isn’t anyone looking over your shoulder and giving you an exam over the material, or having to stretch yourself with new material. Time becomes such a factor, that one of the first things we give up is that time to keep reading and studying in our field and keep honing the skills that God has given. We are more likely just to do whatever it takes to “get by” until we can “get some more time.”   There are seasons of like more busy than others, but this kind of study and work is not something that will just happen.  After a long day of ministry and dealing with the problems of others, the great tendency is to collapse at home and vegetate in front of the television. Something that has helped me is to read a few pages of “one of those books I’d like to read one day” each morning during breakfast. Believe it or not, I have now read several of these “breakfast books” over the years and it has made a great deal of difference in my study habits.

6. Develop meaningful friendships, mentor and be mentored.  Someone has said, “There are only two things that are now eternal: people and God’s Word. If you invest your life in the things that are eternal, then you won’t have regrets at the end of your life.”  Invest in people more than things, relationships that you can hold in your heart more than those things you can hold in your hands.  By taking on someone to walk with you as a mentor you will be discipling by example. There are numerous examples of this in Scripture, it is not a matter of proving that it is the right thing to do, but doing the right thing.

7. Start now, begin today.  Tomorrow is promised to none. Do today what you can. You cannot change yesterday, but you can change tomorrow by changing what you do today. Even reading this is a start. The longest journey really does begin with one step. As my father told me when I was young, “I don’t care how many times you fall down; you just have to get up one more time than you fall.”  May God richly bless you as you grow in Him!

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