Today July 1st, 2016 marks my 5th year of being a pastor at The Bridge Church. This is significant due to the reality that statistics show only around 50% of pastors make it out of their first five years. It has been a wild, fun, up and down, crazy journey the last five years.
I am a very reflective person. I enjoy looking back and thinking about what the Lord has done, what He has taught me, how I have grown, etc. For me, being reflective leads to gratefulness and joy in the Lord. So, here are some things that stand out to me as I reflect on my first five years in the ministry:
There is a huge difference in my life and ministry when I am primarily pursuing Christ. It can be easy as a pastor to think you are pursuing Jesus just because you are doing “ministry work.” Nothing is more dangerous and deceiving. The fruits of my life and ministry see a stark difference when I am in seasons where I am diligently pursuing the Lord against seasons where I am not. My ministry must come as an overflow to what God is doing in my own life. It has to be a fresh, new work. Old crumbs only go so far.
The primary thing that has to change is me. Much like marriage, the ministry quickly and harshly reveals my need for sanctification. Ministry idolatry, balancing family and ministry, functioning out of the flesh instead of the spirit, and many other things are daily heart battles that I have to wage war against. It does the Lord, me, and the church no good if I am not walking in the Spirit, killing my idols, and truly living as an example of what it means to follow Christ. A lot of things in my church need addressed, but none are bigger than myself.
Ministry is 10000X more fun and refreshing when my marriage is healthy. Early on in the ministry one of the primary things the Lord did is show me my need to look at my marriage, really look at it. From the outside everything looked fine, better than most even. Thankfully, we have had our closest friends tell us the major differences they can see in our marriage from now to five years ago. It took a lot of confession, repentance, forgiveness and grace between Meredith and I, but since those things have become the norm and our marriage has been transformed it has made the ministry a lot more enjoyable. I simply learned I can’t have a great ministry without a great marriage.
I truly believe I serve at the greatest church in the world. I hear horror stories from friends and online about what pastors have to deal with and they constantly make me grateful for The Bridge. We have our issues, for sure, but comparatively speaking I am at a dream church. The primary pressure I feel is from the Lord in desire to advance his Kingdom and serve his people, not unruly church members who seem to hate life and everything about it. Bridge family, thank you.
Ministry is truly about what the Lord chooses to do, not what I can do. I know how blessed I am to get to serve at the church I serve, with the people I serve with, and how I have gotten to see the Lord work. Most churches never see the type of fruit we have seen at The Bridge in their entire existence. I have gotten to see the Lord move in, around, and through me in my first five years in unique and powerful ways. I am incredibly grateful and praying for even more. My first five years cannot at all be explained by how incredible I am; it can only be explained by how gracious God is.
I truly believe I am on the greatest team in the world. Josh Howerton and Craig McKown were already at The Bridge before I got here and all three of us have gotten to stick together over the last five years. We have failed together, laughed together, grown together, and got to see God do amazing things in our midst. We have now added a lot more staff and the joy I feel in serving on this team hasn’t changed a bit. Our entire team is full of humble men and women who joyfully pour themselves out for the sake of Jesus. It is a team marked by joy, love, and humble confidence.
I almost didn’t make it five years. Without getting into details, there were two instances in my first three years at The Bridge that I thought my time in ministry was going to be very short lived. Being in ministry is a really exposing work: it highlights all of your weaknesses, brings insecurities to the surface, and has a unique way of showing you how inadequate you are. I simply didn’t think I was “cut out” for the ministry like I thought I was. I reached a breaking point twice. In very different ways the Lord spoke to me, encouraged me, helped me take heart, and graciously helped me. Thankfully, now I embrace the reality that I am not “cut out” for this work, but I am called to it and it is the Lord who graciously gives me perseverance and encouragement. I am just so glad I am still where I am. Thank you Jesus for meeting me in my brokenness and sustaining me in the ministry.
Ministry and myself are both different than what I thought they would be. You go into ministry thinking you have a good idea about what you are getting yourself into, well you don’t. At least, I didn’t. Ministry is very different than I thought it would be. It isn’t just ministry though, I am much different than I thought I would be. The first five years have revealed a ton to me about myself. I thought I knew exactly what I was good at, where I would thrive, etc. Come to find out I am much better at some things than I realized and what I thought would be my best thing isn’t even close.
Seminary/Bible College is not the best training ground for the ministry, the local church is. I am grateful for my theological education and my time in school. The Lord used it powerfully in my life and I will always be grateful. With that said, I now encourage anyone who wants to go into the ministry to first find the local church they most want to learn from, go there, and then figure out theological education. Find the church first, throw yourself into it, and figure out seminary as secondary.
I absolutely LOVE what I do and am so incredibly grateful the Lord has called me to this work. I love people, I love seeing God work in their lives, and it is an incredible blessing to get to sit in the seat I am in.
Lord willing, I am looking forward to many, many more years.
Matt Svoboda is a Campus Pastor at The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, TN! He is husband to Meredith and father to Caleb & Calvin. He loves to read, golf, and cheer for his Huskers.