When I was 20, I had the privilege of being the youth minister at First Christian Church of Owasso, Oklahoma. At the time it was a church of approximately 300 people. Today, it’s the largest Christian Church in the state of Oklahoma.
Here’s what I wish I knew back then …
1) I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. I thought I knew it all and just needed people to ask me. I’m a lot wiser now. How did that happen? Wisdom. Where did that come from? Experience. Where did that come from? Doing the wrong things.
2) I wanted to hear the great preachers and leaders but wasn’t ready to listen to or learn from them. I heard a lot of them but didn’t really listen. I had no idea what a privilege I had right in front of me or what I was missing.
3) I wish I’d taken advantage of the time I was given to be in the presence of great mentors. I’ve been privileged to have some of the greatest mentors any preacher has ever been privileged to have. God gave me some incredible mentors. I wish I would’ve spent more time with them, learned more from them and just enjoyed every moment getting to be with them. Some are already in Heaven. Others are separated by many miles. Find some great mentors and spend all the time you can with them.
4) Get to the Holy Land as soon as you can. I wish I had gone to Israel at the beginning of my ministry rather than towards the end. It would’ve made such a difference in my preaching, teaching, understanding of the Bible and my passion in communicating it.
5) Most of our problems are self-inflicted. At least 95% of the problems I’ve had to face were my own fault in one way or another. It was either something or someone I tolerated or something I created. Either someone I hired or allowed in leadership, an issue I didn’t confront, a dumb decision I made or something else. Here’s some pure gold for you: Don’t go looking for trouble. It’ll find you fast enough. Here’s one more nugget: Stay out of other people’s problems.
6) Some days you’ll earn your paycheck. Most days you won’t. To get to serve in ministry is a phenomenal privilege and the good times far outweigh the bad ones. I used to think I worked so hard. That’s rarely true. There will be days you earn your paycheck, but most days you’ll realize you should be paying others for this privilege.
7) The importance of money management. I wish I knew in my 20s what I know now about $$. The 10/10/80 plan can’t be improved on. Give to God first. Save more. Spend less. Have a plan and stick to the plan.
8) Share the ministry with other people. Don’t try to do it all yourself. The first 19 years of my ministry I was out four to five nights a week, knocking on doors, visiting people, dealing with conflicts, doing ministry. Then I finally discovered Ephesians 4:11-16 and realized my role was to equip the saints to do the work of ministry and more could be done if I didn’t try to do it all myself. It didn’t take long to learn the more I gave the ministry away to others, the more we accomplished.
I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but I wouldn’t do it the same way I did it.
9) Leaders lead. Managers wait to see what others are doing or for someone to tell them what to do. Be a leader, not a manager. When my kids were growing up I would tell them regularly, “Be a leader, not a follower.” If all you do is maintain things/ministries, you’re a manager. The church needs more leaders not more managers.
10) How important it is that you choose the right friends. I look back today at people who used to be friends and won’t even speak to me now. Why I ever allowed them to be close to me, or we allowed them in leadership positions, is still a mystery to me. I wasn’t careful enough how I chose my friends. Speaking of friends, here’s another nugget: Spend time with people who’ve been where you want to go or want to go where you want to go.
11) How important fundraising and raising leaders was going to be. I had no idea how important and essential these two things were going to be for everything I wanted to accomplish in ministry. We weren’t taught how to raise funds or how to lead men in Bible College. I had to learn both of those the hard way. If you’re going to be a leader in ministry, you’ve got to be willing to make the hard decisions and make the hard asks. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.
12) The importance of investing time and resources in my own personal development. John Maxwell changed my life on this deal. He taught me how to invest in myself first because if I don’t improve, no one else will either.
13) Hire workhorses, not show horses. They’ll both leave stinky stuff in whatever arena they’re in, but the workhorses will do what you need to be done, while the show horses will simply strut around, trying to draw attention to themselves. In every church I’ve served, every time we hired show horses we regretted it. Don’t do it.
14) Don’t make mercy hires or create jobs for people you like. I’ve regretted every one of those, too. Don’t create jobs for friends or people you feel sorry for.
15) Don’t cave in to the critics. The opposition is never as big or powerful as they profess and pretend to be. In my early years I mistakenly believed the whole church, or a large number of people, must be upset when a single critic came after me or the church. It’s rarely more than a handful and usually one person, their spouse and close friends.
16) Don’t chase after people or try to talk them out of leaving. I wish I had all the time back I invested over the years, chasing after people. (Most of the ones we talked into staying eventually left.) If someone is leaving, there’s a reason and they need to leave.
17) No one is irreplaceable. You have to be able to say goodbye to people or your ministry won’t grow. Every time you think the church is going under because someone is leaving, you’ll be wrong. No one will stay forever, including you. (Think about that.)
18) The devil’s favorite attacks aren’t attacks. They really aren’t. The main way he comes after us is disappointment and discouragement. I can't tell you how disappointed I have been over the years watching people fall away or walk away. And discouragement comes right on the heels of that every time.
19) Have fun doing what you’re doing or do something else. If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’ll hate every day of work.
20) How fast it was going to happen. I had no idea it was going to fly by so fast or I would’ve enjoyed the moments more.
A pastor friend recently said if he could do it all over again, he would and wouldn’t change a thing. I agree with half of what he said. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but I wouldn’t do it the same way I did it.
Finally, one of the best things I’ve learned in all these years since I was 20 is this: Keep showing up. Keep doing what’s right. Watch what God does!
© 2018. Barry L. Cameron
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.