37 Things I Learned In 37 Years of Ministry (Part 1)


A month ago, I retired from full-time ministry after 37 years. Here are some things I learned over the years. They are not in any particular order.

Most are pretty obvious, but I still needed to learn them. Most would apply not just to pastors, but to every Christian. I’m still learning and Jesus still has lots more to do in me. I hope these encourage you.

1. Our God is a faithful God.

Numbers 23:19 says,

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

God always keeps his promises. He may fulfill them in ways we don’t expect and in his timing, not ours. We don’t always understand how he keeps his word, but he always does.

He is faithful to help, keep, protect, provide, teach, guide and give wisdom to us. He answers our prayers. So keep looking to him, hoping in him and asking for his help.

2. We all have blind spots

None of us knows ourselves perfectly. At times others see weaknesses in us we are blind to. We need others’ input, help, and correction. We should beware of pride which leads us to be offended when others point out an area of weakness.

Knowing that we all have blind spots has helped me to receive much-needed correction and help at times. Believe me, I don’t enjoy being corrected. But I need it. Because I have blind spots.

3. The Lord is our top priority

It’s so easy to be distracted by the cares, worries, and pleasures of this life, even when you are in ministry. There is nothing more important than cultivating your relationship with Jesus by spending regular time in his word and prayer.

As Jesus told busy, distracted Martha, her sister Mary chose the best thing by sitting at his feet. Through God’s word and prayer he strengthens, sustains, guides us, and fills us with his peace and joy.

4. Our spouse and family are our top priority after the Lord

It’s so easy to neglect our spouse and children when involved in ministry or other career pursuits. But what good is it if you have the most successful church or business in the world if you don’t care for your wife and children?

What good is it if you have the most successful church but don’t care for your wife and children? Click to Tweet

Make time for them on a regular basis. Take time to listen to them and have fun with them and work with them.

5. Our example is as important as our teaching

Paul, one of Christianity’s greatest teachers said:


Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. PHP 3:7

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 CO 11:1

It is important for every believer, parent, and pastor to try to live a life worth imitating. To practice what we preach. Children are especially quick to spot hypocrisy.

Nothing has done more harm to Christianity than pastors and believers whose lives don’t match their words. People are watching you. How do you react when sinned against? How do you treat those who are hard to love? What do you do when things don’t go your way? Your example is every bit as important as your teaching.

6. Don’t be discouraged if your church is small

Our church was small for a long time, and during a time when church growth was emphasized in lots of circles. Many had to leave for economic reasons in those days – our town had been hit hard by the recession of the times.

Often I would be discouraged that we were so small. Until I heard someone say that Charles Spurgeon once asked a group of pastors of small churches “Are you discouraged because your church is so small? Let me ask you this question: Is it large enough to be responsible for on judgment day?” I was never again discouraged about the size of our church.

7. Jesus will build his church

In those early days Jesus also had to teach me that the growth of our church was not ultimately dependent upon my strengths or gifts or hard work, but upon him. As he said in MT 16.18:

…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Pastors, work hard for the Lord. Seek to grow in your preaching and leadership. But remember, ultimately it’s not you who builds the church. It’s Jesus. And if your church shrinks or remains small, rest in Jesus. He’ll build it in his way and his timing.

8. Make memories with your children

As a young dad, I read an article about a father who told his family he couldn’t leave with them on vacation would have to join them later. So his wife and kids headed out.

A few hours into the trip as they drove along the highway they saw a hitchhiker next to the road and as they drew near it was – their Dad! Of course, Mom had been in on it. What a memory this made for their kids. So I made it my goal to make memories with my kids. Be a fun dad! Spend time with your kids! Give them some memories.

9. Your church is not the best in town

Oh, how arrogant I was as a young pastor. Of course, there were other good churches, but ours just had the edge. We were the closest to a “New Testament Church.”

Our doctrine was slightly sharper than everyone else. When people left our church for others, I couldn’t understand it. Why go to an inferior church? How stupid, and ridiculously proud I was.

Fortunately, the Lord helped me see that every gospel preaching church has strengths and weaknesses. And boy did we have weaknesses. Especially the pastor. I no longer think we are the best church in town. There are lots of great churches in our town, and I can learn from other pastors and churches.

10. Rejoice when God blesses other churches

In my early arrogance, I didn’t rejoice when God prospered other churches. Especially when someone left our church for another.

But over the years Christ reminded me again and again that he would build HIS church, and that all the gospel preaching churches in town are on the same team. There is no competition.

I once called a member of our church I hadn’t seen in a while to see how she was doing. She said, “I feel so terrible! I’ve been going to The Summit. My husband and kids love it. I feel guilty every Sunday for not being at our church.” I said, “Do not feel guilty! I only want you to be where Jesus wants you to be. I’m glad you are prospering there.” Rejoice when God blesses other churches.

To be continued…

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.