5 Difficult Truths About Ministry I Wish I Knew When I Started
This month I have been working 8 years in youth ministry. It seems like only yesterday I had my first job offer as a newbie fresh out of college. Growing up, I never would have thought I would someday work in full-time church ministry. As far as I was concerned, I wanted to be a teacher + hybrid version of Mother Teresa + a mommy.
As I got to college, I went with a pastoral ministry degree and it wasn't until I began volunteering a lot in a local youth ministry program that I could really see myself doing that some day. I loved God and really enjoyed teenagers and it seemed like a natural fit.
When I first started working in church ministry, I had these lofty, even idealistic ideals. I figured certainly everyone working in ministry is on the same with the same goals in mind: helping people meet Jesus, grow in faith, and reaching out to the unchurched. I thought working with church people meant we'd all get along, pray together, and it would be like a Christian version of Disney World. Naive much?
Over the last 8 years, I have a learned a crap ton about myself, made plenty of mistakes, and learned to meet people right where they are. I have learned even more about grace, mercy, forgiveness, and not being a judgmental Christian. And while there have been some incredibly awesome and amazing things, there are several difficult truths I wish I had known about before.
1. God is not impressed with your exhausting schedule.
An odd concept to American culture is how sometimes we pride ourselves on being productive, busy. It's like we are frantically working on getting our busiest beaver merit badge award (reference to The Office). Sometimes especially in the world of church, people can easily equate being busy (even exhaustion) with faithfulness.
I have had times where being busy led to being frantic which led to being cyclical at times. God really is not impressed with our being busy. He actually created the Sabbath for a reason, so take it.
2. Not everyone will share your passion for Jesus.
This was a difficult, even sad lesson I have learned the hard way many times over the years. It was heart breaking when I observed bitterness, resentment, even apathy from some in ministry. The church is a human institution. And with humans involved, there is brokenness, pain, and its not always a beautiful stained glass window.
Early on, that used to bother me a lot. But I learned that all those people are on a journey too. Not everybody will share my passion or faith and that's why I think I am still in ministry; because I want to help point them to the well of God's mercy, grace, love, and faithfulness.
3. Ministry is not a competition.
I used to think ministry was like a sprint. Work really, really hard to build it up fast. And then continue to build it better and better. It was easy to compare what I was doing with what that other church was doing for young people.
I don't think God called me into ministry to build our church. He called me to build THE church. We are all on the same team, and comparing what I'm doing to someone else's beginning/middle/end never ever ends up well.
4. Learn what it means to have a "pastoral heart."
This is the greatest lesson I have learned and I learned this from my Dad. Dad is a deacon and works in our diocese but I always remember him telling me the importance of loving and meeting people right where they are; no matter if I don't agree with their choices or it is contrary to what we believe.
Always, always love and show grace first. I have heard many stories from my Dad where has needed to be that pastoral heart to many people over the years, and I am grateful I have grown more in the ways of grace/mercy rather than judgment and legalism.
5. Be willing to sound, dumb, be wrong, and apologize.
I can and have been wrong on many things. Learning how to apologize has been a dose of humility, admitting when I have been or done wrong has shown me I have to be willing to get out of my own way. I may sound dumb or even contradict myself, but I have to own up to it and embrace my limitations. God doesn't expect me to be perfect. He expects me to pint people towards His perfection.