Lessons From Past Employers That Helped Me Grow in Ministry

Posted by Aaron Buer on November 4, 2019

One of the questions I always ask in an interview is,

“Tell me about the worst boss you’ve ever had.”

I just used the question yesterday. I like to follow it up with,

“What did you learn from that person?”

How can you learn from a bad boss?

Well, I think learning has more to do with me and my attitude than the person leading me.

I’ve been thinking about this idea. I’ve been thinking about all the bosses I’ve ever had and what I’ve learned from them.

Here’s an abridged list...


My first boss was my Great-Grandpa Bob, in our family business.

What I learned from Great-Grandpa Bob was resilience. He was forced to drop out of school to provide for his family right around the depression.

This dude never gave up and always did a job right and to the best of his ability.

Create Vision

My first year of football, my team finished 1-8. We weren’t good.

The next year, we got a new coach, his name was Buzz and the first thing he did was walk to the chalkboard in our first team meeting and write 9-0.

He painted a vision of who we could be and we believed him. We won our conference that year.

Lead Through Challenge

Early in high school, I hated my youth group.

It was tiny and boring and I didn’t have friends in it.

I told my dad I wanted to quit and attend a youth group across town where I had a bunch of friends from summer camp.

My dad’s response: You’re a leader. Make your youth group better.

So I did.

My Dad taught me to lead through challenges instead of running from them or choosing the easy road.

Believe in Your Abilities

Everyone hated Mrs. Boncher. She was the hardest teacher in our high school.

I loved her.


She taught me to believe in my skills as a writer.

Before her class, I had very little confidence in writing. After her class, I breezed through every college writing paper and have built my career around communication.

How did this happen?

It started with Mrs. Boncher believing in me, continuously giving me actionable feedback and holding me to the standard of my abilities.

Sometimes it's the Small Things

My least favorite job ever was at a men’s clothing store called Structure on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

It wasn’t a bad store, and they weren’t bad people.

It was simply the wrong fit for me. I quit after just a few months.

However, my boss taught me how to fold clothes correctly. To this day, I’m still a ninja at folding my shirts.

Details Matter

In college, I played volleyball.

My coach was a former Army drill instructor. He took the intensity to a whole new dimension.

He was harsh! I spent a lot of afternoons hating this guy.

But, Coach Mick taught me that details make the difference.

Our team was usually smaller and less talented than our competition, but we stayed competitive by doing all the little things perfectly.

For example, we spent hours and hours perfecting our serves to land in the very corner of the back row.

Our commitment to the details won us a lot of games that, talent wise, we had no business winning.

Social Media Requires Thoughtful Communication

What I learned from Doug was that social media is not the place to process what you are learning, especially when you are a youth pastor.

Yeah...that’s a conversation that we had in my mid-20s and yeah, I learned from it.

Words Matter

I never heard Don say anything negative about anyone.

This is a guy who led a large and influential 100-year old church through multiple building projects, a move across town and a denominational exit.

There were people who were mad. There were people who said hurtful things. There were people who left.

Did I mention that Don succeeded one of the most famous preachers of his denomination?

I never heard Don say a negative thing about anyone.

Servanthood = Spiritual Maturity

One of my bosses in student ministry was a pastor named Brady.

His understanding of spiritual maturity deeply impacted me.

He told me once that he measured his spiritual maturity in how willing he was to be interrupted by the needs of others.

At the time, this was big in my journey because I was coming from a place of “Bible knowledge = spiritual maturity.”

What Brady modeled was “servanthood = spiritual maturity.”

Ask the Right Questions

Brian taught me the value of asking the right questions in leadership.

He was deeply interested in shaping the ministry toward what families actually needed.

Under Brian’s guidance, I became less interested in how we’ve always done things and more interested in dreaming of how we could do things.

Develop People

When Edward became my boss, he taught me how to lead people.

Maybe things have changed since I was in college, but back in the day, this wasn’t part of the ministry training and preparation.

This became a critical deficiency for me when I took leadership of a large student ministry and a twelve-person team spread over multiple campuses.

Edward taught me how to develop the people under my leadership and something else that is hugely important: How to navigate hard conversations.

Focus on the Core Purpose

Rich taught me to focus my ministry around the core purpose.

Under his guidance, I learned to organize everyone and everything around a central mission.

If you’ve ever been part of a team or organization where everyone is running after the same thing with a singular focus...then you know that it is a beautiful and exhilarating experience.

Make Connections

Jeff has taught me how to connect with people through preaching.

Not just to connect intellectually but to connect the message of the Bible with the hearts of people. I never would have figured this out on my own.

Wrap Up

So, here’s the point: I’ve learned at least one thing from every boss I’ve ever had regardless of whether they were a good boss or a bad boss.

It doesn’t matter what role you are in or who is leading you, there is something to learn that has the potential to shape who you are becoming.

Maybe you’re currently not in your favorite job ever. Maybe your boss isn’t your favorite boss ever.

All I’m saying is that there is something to learn here.

What if God desires to shape you through this experience?

I challenge you to make your own list of every boss ever and at least one thing you learned from this person.

You might be surprised by what you learn.

Topics: Advice

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