Longevity in ministry is something I take very seriously. Longevity in ministry isn’t something that I currently have. It is something that takes time to procure and doesn’t manifest itself like a gift on Christmas morning. But just because I don’t have it, doesn’t mean that I don’t understand it. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I can’t practice healthy techniques in order to ultimately achieve it.
I have spent a great deal of time sitting at the feet of a wide variety of elders in ministry from professors, to colleagues, to pastors, and so many others. I’ve listened to the unhealthy bemoan their droopy eyes and I’ve listened to the fulfilled exalt in their joy. I’ve listened to the wary warn me away and I’ve listened to the rested invite me to join. I’ve even participated in the requiems of the dead man walking and canticles of the renewed.
As a still fresh-faced youth ministry worker, I feel I have a distinct advantage over my older counterparts. I can learn from their mistakes. But I can only learn from them to the degree at which they are willing to share about them.
As I read Doug Fields’ pint-sized book, What Matters Most, When No is Better than Yes, I was relieved to see a ministry veteran sharing some of his failures in ministry. He was necessarily oblique at times, but he shared some of his terrible failures at putting his family, namely his wife, far behind the work of his congregation in his list of priorities. I sometimes hear people speak about the important work of the Church in reference to their congregational ministry. I want to interrupt them mid-sentence and remind them that their time with their family is also the work of the Church. The family unit is the primary vehicle God uses to bring faith into the hearts of His people. This isn’t my idea. It isn’t Fields’ idea. And it isn’t Luther’s idea, despite his great contribution to its proliferation at the time of the Reformation. This is an idea seen throughout scripture in Deuteronomy chapter 6, where parents are urged to impress the love of God’s law on the hearts of their children (NOTE: not the congregation, temple, or community group) and in the New Testament accounts of family baptisms. It is seen statistically in the National Study of Youth and Religion that parents are the “single most important social influence of the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents” (Smith, Christian. Soul Searching. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, page 261). As youth workers, neglecting our family life isn’t just tantamount to neglecting our primary institution for spiritual growth; it is neglecting our primary institution for spiritual growth. How can we possibly continue to stimulate growth at the expense of our own?
Right, you’ve heard it before. Now hear it again.
Doug Fields’ book is less than 100 pages. It is simple–no fancy jargon, no dictionary.com necessary. It has large margins that are great for the reader’s scribbles. He writes practicably without the expectation of perfection. It is meant to be read in January or August or whenever your ministry and life is gearing up for a new cycle. It is meant to be read again when that time comes next year and the next and then the next. You don’t have to be a full time youth ministry bloke to appreciate Fields’ words. His words transcend career and vocation types and speak to the human experience of “busied to death.”
I’m not one to play the guilt card, but if you feel like you don’t have time to read this book, YOU NEED THIS BOOK. I might even threaten to call you up and read it to you aloud.
Get it. Read it. Listen to it. Chew on it (not literally though, that would be gross). Just do it!