4 Pieces of Advice for My Younger Self
What advice would you give your younger self? Thinking through that question can allow a new generation to learn from the journey of those who have gone before and have the scars to show for it.
Several years ago Episcopalian priest Peter Wallace published 52 things he would have told his younger self. Among those:
It's a good thing that we don't know everything that's going to happen to us. (2)
Your hard work in school will be worth it. But come on, don't kill yourself. (4)
Engage in self-reflection, but don't let it become self-deception. (30)
You can't pray too much. (38)
“Things I would tell my younger self” is another way to say “here as some things I’ve learned along the way.” Those of us who are older need to remember how much we can teach younger people if we will do it humbly.
If I could go back in time, here are the four things I would tell my younger self.
First, be cautious with whom you choose to work—an unhealthy Christian organization will impact you as well.
Why would I mention this point as my first? Simply put, your time is irreplaceable and you are to steward it, so chose wisely with whom you will partner and work. I would have saved years of challenges if I had known then what I know now.
Too many people remain in unhealthy working environments because they think in doing so they’re accomplishing something good. This is especially true in ministry and in Christian organizations, too, unfortunately. You will suffer long-term harm if you remain with a leader who runs roughshod over people and destroys lives. Value learning and value those that are a part of God’s process of refining you, but don’t be part of a system and a culture that hurts people.
My advice, bearing in mind your own prayerful consideration, would be to just get out of situations that are unhealthy. When what you do changes who you are, you need to change what you do.
Second, don’t worry so much about what people think.
Be more concerned about the Lord who is to be honored above all in your life. God alone is the judge of our life and His Spirit is the measure of our hearts, motives, and actions.
When we want to please everyone we have a hard time saying no to requests. This can quickly lead to burnout, as well as hurting your close family and friends. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but a gracious person can decline requests to focus on those areas of ministry to which God has specifically called them.
Third, learn all you can and never cease to be a student of life and the Word of God.
I got married at the age of 20 and simultaneously decided to move to the inner city of Buffalo, New York to plant a church among the urban poor. I thought I had figured out so much in life. It took me around two or three years before I understood that I didn’t know what I was doing and had so much to learn. In fact, I should have figured this out in a matter of weeks, but I was young, stupid, and arrogant.
Today, I there are people who have the freedom to challenge and correct me. I have elders in my church who speak into my life, who hold me accountable and ensure that I stick to God’s mandate for my life and ministry. I have a boss at LifeWay who speaks into my life and values me for more than the work I produce.
In addition to learning about life and leadership, don’t forget to remain a student of the Word. The moment you think you’ve learned all of God’s word you need is the moment you begin re-creating God in your own image. Scripture tempers us constantly throughout life if we remain steadfast in it.
Fourth, temper ambition with a concern for others and a passion for Christ.
Many of us can attest to the fact that unrestrained ambition can be disastrous all around; we've witnessed it. We should seek to be the kind of servants God desires—servants who will lead with Christ-like integrity and character.
We can never get so busy doing the work of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the work. As I grew in ministry, I had to continuously remind myself that God is not honored when I’m running around trying to serve Him if I’m not actually spending time knowing Him. I found that my own ambition was, at times, more about me than Jesus.
There’s a lot more to say on this topic, and I am sure other Christians can add to this list as they reflect on what they’ve learned from their years in the ministry. My prayer for young Christian leaders is that, as you persevere in ministry, you will mature, grow and be stretched to the full. You will make your own mistakes, but hopefully you can learn from those who have gone before you.
What are some things you would tell your younger self? Feel free to leave a few in the comments.