Thursday, March 5, 2015

Musings On Ministry

These are just some random thoughts on a life called to ministry.

Ministry comes with a high cost. The hardest part of my life in ministry is the cost to my wife. I'm on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. I work a lot. There is no clear line between my personal and professional life, no way to mark off where one ends and the other begins. And so it is so easy to make my job all-consuming. This is just the way it is. It is hard to turn off the pastoral thing even when you're out and about. If you see someone in pain, or you discern some spiritual conflict, you respond naturally. If people know you are a pastor, they reach out to you when they are in pain. They seek you out. If I am out and about and someone finds out I'm a minister and spends the next three hours crying in my arms, is that 'work'? What is it? Think about how hard this can be on a spouse.

My job can be extremely challenging. I am often confronted with situations I have no experience with and no expertise in. People look to me for answers, for wisdom, and for my attention. All of these are finite resources for me. And then there are the physical challenges. I go on mission trips and dig ditches, I have to do light plumbing at my church...there are many times I'm called to do jobs I'm just not good at, comfortable with, or have time for.

Additionally, much of my work is with youth. That has its own special challenges. It can be so hard to work with troubled youth, especially. But even those that are not in crisis are dealing with all these emotions they don't have the inner resources to control or often even handle. And you're there, often as their only adult spiritual influence besides their parents. You know the risks of them losing their faith, and you're constantly trying to challenge without pushing them away. Think about this. The average time a youth minister stays at a job is 18 months. Let me say that again, most youth ministers don't make it in this vocation more than a year and a half! That isn't to mention the through-the-roof burnout rate among ministers in general.

But my job is a blessing beyond measure. I stand with people at the most pivotal moments of their lives. It is like spending moments outside of time itself, and feeling God staring right at you. Baptisms, funerals, marriages, personal crises and personal joys. I get to be a part of all of them. Everything I do feels so substantive, so meaningful. Helping people see God and have a relationship with Jesus Christ is just, so, powerful. I get to bask in the glory of divine relationship each and every week. I have had people tell me that I'm the reason for their faith in Jesus Christ. My heart is raised up daily. I live in the presence of the glory of God.

Just last night, I sat in on a youth group meeting that was something to behold. There were all these kids exploring scripture and spirtual and moral matters in the most personal of ways. It had it's own timeless quality, like that room was floating in eternity. That meeting is what the Holy Spirit is all about. It gives me strength and peace. I saw the face of God last night.

My job can be a blast. I'm paid to LARP with youth, to play D&D, to go places I never thought I'd go and to get the opportunity to do things I'd never thought I'd do. My ministry is animated in part by a theology of play, something I've written about extensively. Play is one way we experience God, and it is a big part of my ministry, and what a wonderful part it is. It is false to think that youth ministers simply get paid to play with kids, it is a small part of what we do, but we do sometimes get paid to play with kids, and that is an important part of what we do.

Paid ministry can put you in a strange place spiritually. You don't want to get paid just for being a Christian, but on another level, the willingness of the church to pay people to do what ministers do is a statement of value. And the simple fact is that I could not do what I do without extensive education, training, and copious amounts of time and I need to be compensated for that. When you've given your entire life for something, there does seem reason to be aptly compensated. As the Bible says, "the laborer is worthy of his hire." But the truth is I feel guilty about getting my hire. And I feel particularly guilty about the way I feel I should be paid for my time and talent. If I had a book that took off and I becamse wealthy from that sinful? Is the pursuit of compensation on my part wrong? I think these questions all the time. Ministry is contradictory.

In the end, you have to be called to it. The real reason youth ministry is so volatile is that most people who get into it think of it as a job. It isn't. It's calling. If you're not called to ministry you will either fail or become exploitive. If you are called to it, God finds a way.

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