37 Things I Learned in 37 years of ministry (Part 4)


A few weeks ago I began to share 37 things I learned over 37 years of pastoral ministry. I believe these lessons are important not only for pastors but for all believers. You can read the first 3 posts here, here and here. Today we’ll hit 7 more things I learned and am still learning…

31. Don’t take yourself too seriously

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ LK 17.10

We can all be tempted to think we’re really something when we do something for the Lord. Pastors can be tempted to pride when they lead a successful church, or give a great message. All of us can be tempted if our children turn out well, or we serve someone, or share an encouraging word. But Jesus said after we have done ALL God has commanded we should say “I’m an unworthy servant, and only did what I was supposed to do.” Jesus is the one worthy of glory, not us. Along these lines…

32. Anything good that happens in your church is God’s doing

Again, a temptation for pastors or members of “successful” or prospering churches is to think, “I did this,” or “We did this.” But we don’t build the church, Jesus does. Isaiah said,

LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. (IS 26.12 NIV)

The ESV says, you have indeed done for us all our works.”

Did you catch that? ALL that we have accomplished YOU have done for us. YOU have indeed done for us ALL our works. Anything good that happens in your church is because GOD did it. 

33. Small habits shape our lives

This has been absolutely HUGE in my life. When a young Christian, I was taught the importance of cultivating the habit of spending time in God’s Word and prayer every day. I did it first thing in the morning – along with my coffee of course. I’d take a few minutes to review some Scriptures I was memorizing, a few minutes to read the Word and a few minutes to pray. That habit has been the most important habit in my entire life.

If you don’t do this, start small and try to be consistent. 5 minutes a day in God’s word is better than an hour monthly. Memorizing one bible verse a week doesn’t seem like much, but if you keep at it, in a year you’ll memorize 52 verses! Maybe you can’t give much financially, but try to give something regularly. Pick one or two tiny habits and try to do them consistently. You’ll be amazed at how God works in your life. Especially try to develop this habit:


34. Thank God continuously

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 TH 5.18

giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ  EPH 5:20

Giving thanks has brought me consistent joy, peace and hope. When I was a young, fairly miserable Christian, my Mom learned this and told me about it. “What?” I said, “I’m supposed to give thanks if I have a flat tire?” To which she said, “Well, God may have given you a flat tire because he sees a huge accident up the road, and your flat tire keeps you from being in that accident.” Now, we don’t have to thank God for evil, sickness, or tragedy, but even in the midst of these we can always thank God for his love, mercy, faithfulness and that he works all things for our good. It takes faith to do this in affliction, but if we cultivate this habit it will strengthen us and yield joy in our hearts.

One small habit I’ve done for years is after I spend some time in God’s word, I take a few minutes to write one page to God in a moleskine journal of things I’m thankful for. It could be for sunshine on the trees out back, or warm weather, or a family meal the day before. Or it might be more spiritual, like thanks for saving me and freeing me from slavery to sin. This habit kickstarts my day and sets the tone for me to thank God all day long.

35. A church isn’t built on one sermon

How many times, especially in my early years, I would beat myself up Sunday afternoon for what I considered a mediocre sermon. I tried my best to build up and encourage the saints, but revival never broke out after my closing prayer. At some point the Lord showed me that a church isn’t built on one sermon. Jesus patiently builds his church, week after week, year after year, through the work of all his people. Jesus uses the preached word, but he does so week after week, year after year.

So if you preach, lead a bible study, or share the gospel, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results or revival, or are asked to do a TED Talk. Just keep at it, and someday you’ll see your words had an effect.

36. God takes his church through trials and afflictions

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 PE 4.12

Not only does every believer goes through various trials and afflictions, but God also takes churches through storms and floods. Financial crises, leadership crises, church splits and more. And often just when everything seems to be going great. Somehow, he has a wonderful purpose, just as in all our suffering. We need to endure and trust him.

Once I said to a fellow pastor in the midst of a hard time, “Well, the good news is this – after this trial there will be another one.” God is in control. Which leads to the last point.

37. We can always trust God because he is sovereign, wise and loving

Jerry Bridges teaches this in Trusting God, which has served me for many years. God is sovereign – completely in control of everything – nothing happens apart from his will. Not only is God sovereign, but he is infinitely wise. Imagine a universe with a God who was sovereign but not wise. It would be horrible. But God always directs the universe, our churches and lives in absolute infinite wisdom. Not only is God sovereign and wise but he is infinitely loving. So whatever happens to us or our church is not an accident, but somehow in the sovereign plan of the infinitely wise God and in it, he loves us. We can’t always immediately see these things, but if we remember these truths, they help us trust God and yield peace in our lives.

Well, there you have it. 37 things I’ve learned in 37 years of ministry. I’m sure I’ve got a lot more to learn, and glad the Lord is so patient with me, because I’m a pretty slow learner. Hope they’ve been encouraging to you.

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.