So You Want to Be in "The Ministry"

When I was in college, a lot of my friends were preparing to go into “The Ministry.”  Some were full of holy zeal for mission work, some had plans for pastoral ministry, and some were simply caught up in the whirlwind of surrender. The “Preacher Boys” dated and married the girls called to be “Pastors’ Wives” and we all dreamed of future service. Somehow when the dust had settled, I found myself married to one of those “Preacher Boys” despite no pressing need to be a "Pastor's Wife" or to be in vocational ministry. Our first years together were spent finishing up school, going through the process of ordination, and eventually launching out into “The Ministry.” But nearly a decade and a half later, I’ve learned a few things. And most of them bear no resemblance to what I thought I knew.

I was reminded of this today when I read this piece from Jared Wilson about watching one of his parishioners waste away in hospice. Wilson is a popular blogger and author, but he spends most of his time in the trenches as a pastor, and this piece particularly captures the realities of ministry. The pain, the heartbreak, the inexplicable hope of the gospel. The joy of watching people triumph over death through the power of Christ.

We didn't talk about these things in college.

So to those you who want to go into "The Ministry," let me offer a few words of unsolicited advice: What you think is “The Ministry” probably isn’t.

  • ”The Ministry” is not carefully crafted schedules and specific days off. It means working holidays, late nights, and weekends.
  • “The Ministry” doesn’t read the popular blogs, know the latest buzzwords, or buy the best-selling books. It doesn’t always understand things like “small groups” or “missional living” or all those marks that you plan to evaluate a church by.
  • “The Ministry” does not consist of praying several hours every day, talking with other folks in “The Ministry,” or having your nose in one of the 1,542 books that flank your office walls. You’ll do those things, but in between the hospital visits and Wal-mart runs and counseling sessions.
  • “The Ministry” is not a source of affirmation for your own insecurities.
  • “The Ministry” doesn’t mean making a name for yourself, working the network, or using people as stepping stones. If you’re not content with obscurity, don’t go into “The Ministry.”
  • “The Ministry” does not inoculate you from suffering and your own sin.

Today, my husband and I have a bit of unconventional advice for people weighing the call to ministry:

Do anything else that you can do—try everything else—for heaven’s sake, please, please, make sure this is the only thing that you can do.” You see, none of us chooses to go into ministry. We are sent. Sometimes kicking and screaming. And eventually, surrendered and docile because we understand that there is no use resisting the King of the Universe. But when the King calls, you go.

You go because nothing else fits. You go because He has placed a love for His people and His word deep inside you and to resist it would be to resist your own self. You go because you know that despite the challenges, despite the struggles, you will be happy no where else.

And when you do, you realize that “The Ministry” is better than all your pre-conceived notions and pipe dreams. It is more layered, more challenging, more beautiful than anything you could have ever envisioned. It is more because He is more and the people being transformed to His likeness are more--more than objects, more than templates, and more than spreadsheets, charts, or trends.

So what is “The Ministry”?

It means tie-dying t-shirts at VBS and occasionally dressing up like Elijah.

It’s packing backpacks of food to send home with at-risk kids.

It’s poring over the Scripture, crafting a sermon, and then teaching with the passion and care that only someone who has been changed by the Spirit can.

It’s taking your life in your hands to ride the curves and twists of the mountains with an 88-year-old man who wants to take you to see a model steam engine.

It’s rearranging your family’s schedule because you must preach a funeral.

It’s having the courage and love to approach a member/friend about an area of sin.

It’s being humble enough to confess your own short-comings and failures.

It means sorting out the details of who misplaced the key to the janitor’s closet and grabbing a bucket when the roof leaks (again).

It’s carrying the sadness of your congregation, sitting with them in the hospital or crying with them when a wife leaves. Just sitting and bearing. No Psalm 23, no platitudes, no answers.

It’s rejoicing with the angels over each soul that comes in repentance, each new job, and each new life swaddled in Dreft-scented blankets.

Sorry folks. There are no pedestals. No boys' clubs. No making a name for yourself. But there is a lot of giving and loving and serving. There is a lot of Jesus and very little of you. There is a lot of dying to yourself so that others might live. And this girl who never had any intentions of marrying a “Preacher Boy” wouldn’t trade it for the world.