We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8
Over the years of serving in ministry, it seems that the church has had too many people leaving professional ministry too soon AND too many people that stay in professional ministry too long. The question then becomes, “What do you mean by that?”
First, think about those individuals you have known who are early on in their ministry career and have found themselves in situations where they feel a lack of support or even opposition from their co-workers, the hours are much longer than what they expected, there is a division within the church or school that they are drawn into, they have to deal with over-entitled members, a meager budget, and so forth … and they emotionally, physically, and spiritually just burn out. Though they feel they have been called to ministry, the negatives are overwhelming and they check out way too soon.
On the flip side, you probably have worked with individuals who lost their passion some time ago. Though they may have felt called to the ministry early on, they would have a hard time articulating anything about that calling now. They don’t want to leave their position because there isn’t anything else they feel they can do at this point, they are comfortable, they just want to make it to retirement, and the list goes on. The routine of “going through the motions” begins to serve as a detriment to those placed in their care. They have possibly stayed too long.
So how do we address those individuals who are at the extremes to some degree, but also focus on those who are somewhere in between and help them from ending up at those extremes? How do we help to establish and/or strengthen the foundation of professional church workers who have been called into ministry and thereby give them the opportunity to have purposeful longevity in ministry?
To start, I want you to articulate why you are in ministry. Before you read any further, take some time, think about it, and then write it down.
If someone were to have asked me early on why I was in ministry, I would have probably responded with the fact that I loved kids and I loved God. And both of those statements are absolutely true. But to some degree they are very general, kind of a blanket thought, or maybe slightly superficial. I really do love kids and I really love God, but why am I in ministry. What is my deeper purpose?
Were your earlier answers kind of the same? How deep did you go when mentally processing why you are in ministry and what your purpose is in your calling?
To process that question more fully, I want to utilize the idea of a garden. And I know at some point the analogy might fall apart, but walk with me mentally through this illustration and see what you can draw from it with regard to your own life serving in professional ministry.
My wife and I love fruits and vegetables. At times we will be watching a cooking show on TV and get inspired to actually grow our own fruits and vegetables. We have the space in our backyard to do it, we like the idea of saving some money, the thought of accomplishment is nice, and eating healthier is also a positive for us. But no matter how much we resonate with all of those benefits that come from growing our own fruits and vegetables, we never even get started.
The question then is “Why?” What does it take for us to move from sitting in front of the TV with what seems to be a great idea to actually stepping outside and begin tilling the soil, planting the seeds, watering the area and cultivating the garden day in and day out? Is my superficial desire supplanted by something deeper inside of me?
So go back to my earlier question, “why are you in ministry?” Can you go deeper in your thought process to really get at the heart of it?
For me, after some deep reflection, I can honestly say that I have been called into ministry. This is where God wants me to be right now in my life and I truly love being a part of the lives of my students and their families. There is a joy that I receive on a regular basis from serving in my calling.
Along with that, God has placed a longing and passion within my heart to:
- Teach and guide students and their families as they grow personally and spiritually.
- See parents growing in their God given role as leaders in their home.
- See families strengthen and to in turn impact their school, work place, church, and neighborhood.
- Serve the needs of others especially “the least of these.”
- And, to set an example for others through my words and actions.
(Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ – 1 Corinthians 11:1)
And all of this is rooted in my love for my Lord and Savior and my love for His people.
That is what moves me from the couch to the garage to get the shovel and start preparing the ground for a garden to be planted.
So where are you? My hope is that this begins to stir within you some deep soul searching. The more you understand who you are as a child of God and what his specific calling is upon your life, the more you will garner (and return) from your time in professional ministry. God’s best to each of you, my co-workers in the kingdom.