“Things I’ve done wrong and things I’ve done right” – Lessons from Tommy Nelson


“Things I’ve done wrong and things I’ve done right”

This morning as we kick off our annual staff retreat, Tommy Nelson from Denton Bible Church came to bless us with lessons learned from decades of ministry.

The essence of ministry is your own personal quiet time. Do basic things well ALL of the time.

  • Tommy gets a new bible about every 18 months and begins marking it up. He sits down 3 times a day to spend time in the word. The Bible is the wisdom of God in your hand. The greatest advantage is having God’s truth. You can only be a parrot of others for a while. You need to know it.

Study in depth.

  • Read others. Read Schaffer, CS Lewis. Have a deep reading life.

Know your spiritual gifting.

  • God has made you to strike a certain key. Learn to strike it. Know what you do. Know who you are.


  • Protect your nights. Protect your days off. Protect your weekends as best you can.
  • When you go home, rest and replenish. The American culture has turned night into day. We have no rest. As a result, Americans have invented burnout. God didn’t make you to be this way.

Play every day.

  • Look forward to what you delight in. What do you love? Ecclesiastes says 7 times to enjoy life.

Lay hands on no man too hastily.

  • Don’t put someone in leadership based on initial impressions. You are saved by grace, you progress by legalism. You earn it. You can’t be 4 out of 5. A bad leader will sink you. Make certain it is the real deal.

Be friendly with all men, but don’t make friends too quickly.

  • Certain people will hide who they are to use you. People earn the right to your council and trust. Be careful with the council of your friends.


  • The reason you are in the ministry is because you delight in God, you delight in people, and you delight in bringing the two together. Do it. Don’t be too covered up in duties to do what you delight in. Invest your time in those who want to get after it.

Allow in your ministry for the stars to rise.

  • Your inside track needs to be for the stars. 1 out of 5 people in your church won’t be obedient no matter what you say. But there are some who will lead no matter what. You can’t frustrate them no matter what. Open up the inside track for them. Otherwise they will find someone who will. Churches tend to be Kmart. We only teach at the lowest level. It shouldn’t be. Parachurch and seminaries exist because the church won’t teach deep truth to those stars that want it.

Do the work of an evangelist.

  • If you aren’t winning people to Christ, you and God aren’t on the same page. If you don’t focus on evangelism, you build big heads instead of burning hearts. Make fishers of men, make burning hearts. Seek and save the lost.

Know the difference between things that must not change and things that must.

  • Don’t change you doctrine, your purpose, your standards. There are things we don’t want to be “relevant” in. You are anchored to the rock. Does the audience change? Sure. Your methods must change.

Take the position of God and draw it out.

  • Don’t avoid sections of scripture. Bible exposition keeps you honest. You can’t avoid it and you can’t hide behind it. Then put your bible into compartments, don’t build your own and shove it into.

Christianity is deep magic.

  • It is the most amazing story ever. Because of that, you run your ministry on magic. You pray. God does amazing thing. Ministry is not just imposing morality. We are asking God to open hearts and set captives free. Do you feel like you have to “resort to prayer”. You should pray first. Be in touch with the magic of the story.

Do not sacrifice your family.

  • People go to church until someone puts on a better show. Don’t sacrifice your family to put on a better show. Don’t make your kids hate your church because it took their daddy. Keep your family together. When you are home, be home.

Beware of money.

  • Money will get you in trouble. Stay away from it. Money has screwed up a LOT of ministries. Don’t touch it. You are in an occupation that is not known for great wealth. Money is the last thing on the agenda. You have to be smarter than most. You may have more money in your family tree than most. You won’t make money like other smart guys like you can make. Can you live with that? Can you go to your 20 year reunion and be ok with that? Doing ministry for money is an abomination.

Beware of the “killer d’s”

  • Deception, disqualified, distracted, division, discouragement.
  • You have to get along with people, don’t get shipwrecked.

Beware of adultery.

  • We are an occupation that lends itself to adultery. Whatever part of our brain that responds to spiritual truth is what responds to romance. Encounter leads to enjoyment which leads to expediting, which leads to expression which leads to euphoria which leads to experience.
  • If you think you can’t do it, you are in trouble. Watch your heart.

Stay conservative in your theology and liberal in your outreach.

  • Don’t be quick to change things doctrinally, but in the area of ministry we want to throw our money away liberally in mission and evangelism.

We aren’t going to establish utopia while we are here.

  • Things are going to get worse and we are going to be combatting it.

Ascend to the ministry, don’t jockey for position.

  • Most of you are going to move around. Don’t be sitting around ready to jump to a new position. Don’t do that. Move because you are so good at what you are doing and because you can grow something else with what you know.

Don’t say anything ever that you are afraid of being repeated.

  • It’s scary when you are worried about something that you have said.

Never try to cover things up

  • Christians don’t tolerate scandal. Deal with it and make it public. Don’t hide it.

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