7 Lessons from 10 Years of Ministry

Larry WitzelLife Lessons

Ten years ago, my life changed.

Back then I had big plans for my life. I had tried pastoring early in my career, but found it stifling. (I was also pretty bad at it.) So after working in public relations for a few years, I earned an MBA and went to work in high-tech product marketing. I worked for a Fortune 500 company, as well as some little Internet startups with big plans. My goal was to hit a home run, retire young, and go start a church plant.

God had other ideas. And ten years ago, almost to the day, instead of just letting me pursue my own plans, he drew me into a job where I got to serve pastors and local church leaders. I loved it. And out of that experience, SermonView was born.

As I reflect on these last ten years of serving local churches, here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Effective is more important than innovative.

There are always better ways to do something. The world around us is constantly changing, so we have to continue to innovate in order to keep up.

Personally, I enjoy innovation, and in the beginning I pushed churches to do things in more innovative ways. But I came to realize that the ultimate goal is not innovation for its own sake; the goal is effectiveness. Just because it’s a new way, doesn’t mean it’s a better way. Maybe I’m turning into an old fuddy-duddy, but I now believe that if something is working, don’t change it. Especially when you’re dealing with volunteers running ministries on a weekly basis, there had better be a good reason to make a change. If it’s going to make you more effective, then make the change. Otherwise, leave well enough alone.

Similarly, I had some ideas for marketing evangelism meetings that were really innovative. But we tested some of them, and they didn’t work as well. I never in a million years thought I would ever say this, but if the beasts of Daniel and Revelation on the cover of a mailer are effective (and for some prophecy seminars, they really are), then use them.

That said, you must continue to innovate, or your effectiveness will drop over time. But I no longer innovate for its own sake; the goal of innovation is effectiveness.

2. Problems are God’s, not mine.

God is a whole lot smarter than me. It took me a while to figure it out, but when I let God work through me to do His work, things get a whole lot easier.

A few years back, I read about an encounter someone had with Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. As the story is told by his son, a reporter from a Christian magazine asked him, “Dr. Bright, share with us a problem from your life that the average Christian could relate to.”

“I don’t have any problems,” Dr. Bright replied.

The reporter pressed, “Don’t over-spiritualize this. We all have problems.” The reporter repeated the question several different ways, to the same response.

Finally, Dr. Bright looked him in the eye and said, “Young man, you need to understand something. I am a slave of Jesus, and a slave doesn’t have problems. It is not the slave’s responsibility to be successful, but simply do what the Master asks. When you understand this, you realize you don’t have problems. All that’s left are opportunities to see the Master work.”1

That idea continues to transform my life. SermonView is God’s ministry. It allows me to really live the words of Paul: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Phil. 4:6, 7). I don’t need to worry about anything, because God has already worked out solutions to the challenges we face as a ministry. I just have to obey.

3. Money follows ministry.

God has access to financial resources I can’t even dream of—and I have a pretty good imagination. As God said through the psalmist, “I own the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). If I’m doing the work he is asking me to do, then He’ll take care of paying for it.

Early on, we had some pretty dark days, as we grappled with the financial needs of SermonView. And a couple of years ago, as the global banking crisis caught up with us, we lost several key lines of credit all within a few months. My instinct as an MBA is to focus on the financials. The fundamental purpose of a business is, after all, to make money, and I was trained to look there first.

But I had to quit thinking like that. It was only by focusing on our ministry to local churches that we were able to push through these times. Yes, we had limited resources, but we looked at how we could use them to maximize our impact on those we serve. And God has blessed. Oh man, has He blessed. The last 18 months especially have been an absolute rocket ride, because we focused on the ministry, not the money. We don’t ignore financial issues; they just weren’t our primary concern. And I can testify that in my experience, money follows ministry.

4. Growing churches invest money in marketing.

By marketing, I don’t mean the sinister lies of materialism and vanity propagated by Madison Avenue. I’m simply talking about systematically communicating with the people around your church.

We began to shift the focus of SermonView toward printed visual communication when we saw how big an impact it can have on the life of a congregation. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because we’ve written many previous articles on the topic. And if this sounds self-serving, then don’t use SermonView if we’re not meeting your needs. But please, do something.

The churches who are really committed to reaching the lost—and who are most successful at it—use every tool at their disposal. I’ve been surprised at how effective bimonthly postcard mailings can be for a local church. And for major evangelistic events, I’ve seen that a complete, coordinated marketing plan, including handbill mailings, posters, banners, and tactical media advertising, can really bring people through the doors.

5. Persevere.

My best friend in high school used to say, “My hobby is starting hobbies.” I was right there with him. I wasn’t really known for sticking with something and finishing well.

That has changed. When asked the secret of his success, Andrew Carnegie said, “Put all your eggs in one basket, then watch that basket.” Well, for me SermonView is that basket. It wasn’t until our 5th year that we really hit our stride, and I’m so glad we didn’t quit when it got hard.

Peter included “patient endurance” as one way we respond to God’s promises. Then he wrote, “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8). It is only by persevering through adversity that anything of substance is accomplished.

6. You can’t do it alone.

Halfway through our first year, we decided not to fill an open position to save some money. So for about 6 months, I handled all our shipping. At first, I was pretty good at it. But after a while, I was barely functional. I would get a headache thinking about coming in to do this job. I was cranky. No one wanted to be around me. One day, after I exploded over some little thing, Vince took me aside and said, “Maybe it’s time to bring in someone to handle shipping for us.” Good call. I was so stuck in the mire, I was blind to the fact that I’m not wired to do shipping every day.

This team that God has brought together at SermonView is simply amazing. I love the work our design team does. Our customer service team actually cares about our customers. Vince’s sales and marketing leadership is exactly what we need. Each one brings unique gifts and talents that together are far more than the sum of our parts.

Beyond that, it deeply moves me to think of all the people who have supported this ministry in the last ten years, from pastors who champion what we do to my family and close friends. There’s no way we could be here without them.

And every time I see someone else doing shipping, it makes me happy.

7. I love pastors.

I have always had a desire to support pastors in ministry, but it wasn’t until I was actively serving them that I discovered how much I truly love pastors.

Bill Hybels has said, “The local church is the hope of the world, and its future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders.” I agree. Jesus called every local church into existence to be His body, to share His love, to tell His story. Without believers regularly coming together, He can’t do that. And without leaders, there is no coming together.

We founded SermonView to help pastors communicate more effectively in a visual world, both with their congregations and with their surrounding communities. I have such deep respect and admiration for these men and women who get up week after week to preach, who are interrupted daily by needy people, who can only do what they do because they let God flow through themselves as broken vessels. When I think of all this, I feel my heart burning with a desire to help, to take something off their plate, to use my gifts to serve those who serve so selflessly.

If you are a pastor, I just want to say this: THANK YOU! Thank you for everything you do. And thank you for letting my team and me be a part of your ministry. I’m humbled and honored by the trust you put in us, and it is my true delight to serve you.

It’s been a terrific ten years. I can hardly wait to see what the next ten will bring.

Larry Witzel is Founder of SermonView. A former pastor, Larry has 18 years of marketing and public relations experience, and for the last 10 years has used his gifts to help church leaders communicate more effectively. Larry earned his MBA in marketing from the University of Washington, and lives with his wife and two children in Vancouver, Wash.

1Brad Bright, written in the forward to Bill Bright, My Life is not My Own (Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2010), p. 11.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.