Recently a friend told me that she was somewhat overwhelmed with the details of a particular ministry she had started and had trouble finding joy in it until she reminded herself of the reason she began it in the first place. That got me to thinking about some of the misconceptions I had about ministry over the years, and I thought I’d share some of those here. I’m not talking about “the” ministry: the paid professional, full-time minister of some sort, though some of these may apply there as well, but rather I am talking about the average Christian who participates in some ministry and then gets dismayed with it.
Here were some of my faulty assumptions:
1. Since this is being done for the Lord, everything should go smoothly. I can picture some of you smiling. Though I don’t see the devil behind every little problem, we do have an active enemy behind the scenes, and we do live in a fallen world where things break down and problems occur. The icemaker doesn’t know it’s in a church and shouldn’t fall apart just before a banquet that has been planned for months (just one of my “things gone wrong” scenarios.) The microphone makes an excruciating noise just as the soloist steps up, the babysitter forgot she should be there, etc. etc. It just happens.
2. Since we’re all Christians here, we should all agree on how everything should be done. If you read through the book of Acts, you see that the early church leaders had to hammer some things out. Even Barnabas and Paul had a major disagreement, causing them to part ways (and the Bible doesn’t really say who was right and who was wrong there. Some have faulted Paul for not being gracious, but maybe John Mark needed to know how serious his previous failure was. At any rate, they all reconciled later and God used it to multiply the number of people sent out). Leaders should not expect a panel of “yes men” (or woman), no one should be oversensitive about their proposals or ideas, we should all be open to differing opinions but be prepared to stand firm when something needs to be done a certain way.
3. Since we’re all Christians here, we should all have the best attitudes and act in an exemplary way. We should. But we don’t. We’re sinners. That’s not an excuse, but it is a truth. We fail. We disappoint each other. We display selfishness. We need to react to each other with grace, remembering our own faults and failures and need for grace. We might get our feelings hurt, but we need to take it to the Lord: we might need to go to the other person and let them know and try to explain and apologize to each other, or we might need to just let it go, but what we should not do is get bitter and drop out of church or avoid that person forevermore.
4. I should always feel joyful in my ministry. There are times when we get bogged down in details, feel overwhelmed, get tired of it, just don’t enjoy it, wish we hadn’t signed up, etc. And if we think about it a minute, we can feel that way in other areas of life as well. We don’t always respond to our loved ones with love and joy, though we want to and strive and pray for help to. We can get bogged down in the daily duties at home and get irritable about them instead of lovingly ministering to our families. A lack of joy in a ministry may be an indication it’s time to make changes, but more often than not it just means we’re human and, like my friend at the beginning, need to remind ourselves of why we’re doing what we’re doing and for whom we’re doing it. And I usually find that the joy comes not before or even during a task, but afterward.
5. If God calls me to do something, I should always feel sufficient for it. I have found just the opposite to be true. Usually, like Moses, I feel insufficient for it even before I start, but sometimes even if I am asked to do something that I feel God has equipped me for, there is always a point where I feel overwhelmed (I mean locked in the bathroom crying type of overwhelmed). But that’s a good place to be, because that’s when we learn by experience and not just principle that His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
6. If this ministry is in God’s will, there should be plenty of people willing to help with it. Not necessarily. A lot of ministries end up being understaffed because others don’t catch the vision or feel just too busy. Once when I needed to round up some helpers for a particular endeavor, I asked someone who looked to me like she’d have time, but she didn’t feel she did. Then another lady whom I would never have asked because she had so much on her plate volunteered. You just never know, but instead of getting frustrated, just pray about whom to ask. In some cases, it might need to be laid aside until enough people get burdened for it. Once when we were part of a Christian homeschooling ministry, the lady who had started it had her seventh child and just could not carry on with it. We went without it for a year, and then several ladies volunteered to take it up again, breaking it into more manageable pieces for each one rather than having the whole thing on one person’s shoulders. Praying for laborers isn’t restricted to the mission field.
Those are some myths, or misconceptions. Here are the maxims, which will overlap a bit with the above.
1. Something will go wrong, some times worse than others, no matter how well you plan. Take it patiently and pray for wisdom about what to do. God’s given me some marvelous ideas right in the midst of a crisis. And on the other side, if a lady comes tearing out of the church asking you if you’d be willing to go buy some ice because the icemaker stopped working and the banquet starts in half an hour and 100 ladies are coming — please don’t act grumpy and displeased and take 20 minutes to get going (yes, that happened). You don’t know what a balm you can be for someone in the throes of a major problem. And if you come to an event and it’s starting late, don’t be critical: you never know what has happened behind the scenes.
2. Disagreements will occur no matter how much you prayed beforehand. But don’t just dismiss them: sometimes they are God’s way of showing you an aspect you may not have thought of. Even if you can’t make a change and do what the other person suggested, you can make sure they feel heard and respond graciously.
3. You won’t always feel like doing whatever it is you’ve agreed to do. Pray for grace and do it anyway. You’ll probably feel better about it afterward.
4. Realize you can’t do it on your own. Jesus said, “without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5b), but “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
5. People will fail you. They failed Jesus, too. We have failed Him and others. We may need to discuss the specific matter with the person involved as part of their growth and training, but we also need to forgive as we have been forgiven.
6. People will surprise you with sometimes with their willingness to pitch in and help, to support you, to do what needs to be done, to have a great idea just when you can’t think any more, to say a word of encouragement to edify you.
7. Ministry will stretch you. If we never venture out of our comfort zones, we’ll never grow. It’s scary, but we can find God meeting us in our need and providing in the most wonderful ways when we let Him stretch us.
8.Get adequate rest before or in the midst of extra-busy or pressured times.
9. Delegate. Easier said than done sometimes, but pray not only for helpers, but the right helpers. Be prepared that they might not do everything just the way you would and pray for wisdom about when to insist on something being done a certain way and when to go with the flow.
10. Sometimes it is best to say no or step down. A principle instilled in me early on is not to say “no” unless I’ve prayed about it. But sometimes the answer should be No, and sometimes the desire to step down from the ministry is from the Lord. I don’t know how to tell you five easy steps to discern that, but as you walk with the Lord, He’ll show you. Don’t throw in the towel at the first sign of weariness or problems, but take it to Him to see whether he wants you to lean on Him more to carry on, or whether He wants you to make way for someone else to step in.
11. There is nothing like seeing God provide strength and ideas and and even tiny barely-significant details that make you marvel at His attention and care.
12. There is nothing like being used of God (which is what ministry comes down to: allowing God to work through you in some way to minister to another). When someone lets you know that they were blessed or instructed or encouraged through some small thing you said or did, and you know it was only through His grace that it was accomplished, it rejoices your heart, encourages your faith, and spurs you to minister for Him even more. And even if no one else notices, you can be sure that God does.
13. We’re all called to ministry. We may not be a part of an official ministry within the church, but all those who know God are called to minister to one another, to exercise the spiritual gifts He has given, whether in an official church-based capacity or just quietly behind the scenes.
14. Keep first things first. Like Martha, we can be “cumbered about much serving,” “careful and troubled about many things,” and forget the one needful thing: fellowshipping with our Savior. Serving is no substitute for engaging with Him, getting to know Him better, growing in love for Him, believing in Him. Sometimes weariness in service is an indication we’re off track just here.
A beloved former pastor, Jesse Boyd, once said:
Worship without service is a hollow farce.
Service without worship is a hectic fervor.
But worship which issues in service is a holy force.
There is much more that can be said about ministry: there are whole books written on the subject. But I hope some of these thoughts help encourage you in your ministry for the Lord.
What have you learned about ministry along the way?
Other posts about ministry here at Stray Thoughts: