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Q What advice would you offer seminary graduates for them to be successful pastors—at a time when more and more ministers are being separated from their congregations?

A Thanks for asking. The last time I was privileged to address seminary seniors, I told them that they should walk with God, love their people, and get a life.

As for walking with God, I shared with them how most of my prayers have been with my eyes wide open. Like the time I was driving to find a member of another church in our neck of the woods. I had to inform him that his young toddler son had been killed in a terrible accident. Ministers get invited into people’s lives at critical moments and thus need to literally and steadily feel the presence of God in their own.

Along the way I’ve met some wonderful people. Folks I loved to be on our life’s journey with. But I’ve also had some I just couldn’t stand. People who complained about everything and never spoke a positive word. Those who were fiercely critical, even to a young, tender soul just starting in ministry. Words can hurt. Yet I am called to love even those I don’t like—to love my own secret enemy. It’s been that way in every charge since my first.

Now the most important thing. By “getting a life” I mean that successful ministers typically have a delightful sense of humor. They do not take themselves overly seriously. They’re able to relativize things, to see the situation from many different perspectives, not just their own. A good sense of humor is not a matter of being able to tell a good joke in every sermon. Rather, it’s to see the ironies and the surprises and laugh, yes, even at ourselves.

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