There are two images of ministry that are very different. There’s the glamorized image which is projected in many books. You know the ones… great stories of fast-growing churches and high profile pastors, innovative visions and the ten key moves that every other minister needs to take his or her church to the next level. Then there’s the other image that seldom gets spoken of, or at least it’s not featured on the shelf in that Christian bookstore.
Before I say a word about this other image, let me say that I’m happy for those ministry stories that become best-selling books. That’s because behind all those stories has been a lot of hard work and difficult leadership that led to the accomplishments that we read about in those books. Nevertheless, this image of ministry is not the norm. The other image of ministry that seldom gets spoken is one of ups and downs, celebration and struggle.
Reality check #1: Most churches in America are less than one-hundred members. Think about that for a moment. Those who are called to lead churches as ministers/pastors will most likely serve in one of these small churches.
Reality check #2: There is a reason why churches are less than one-hundred members. Whether the church has never grown beyond the one-hundred mark or it once was above that mark but has since declined, there is a reason for this. Usually that reason isn’t pretty but it’s part of the church’s story and therefore will be part of the ministry experience.
These are the churches that many seminarians will be called to serve among. Besides preaching and teaching, there are many other great aspects of this ministry that include baptisms, weddings, child births, ministry projects, helping broken marriages heal, being in the hospital room with families during very difficult times, and so on. But in between all these great moments are some very difficult moments too. Serving and leading among churches with such a variegated history of good and not so good times, will keep you up at night on more than a few occasions. Sometimes doing what is right means doing the difficult things and doing so knowing that may disappoint some people — people you have grown to love and care about. This is the burden of ministry, the heartache that stays with you. It’s the burden that you will keep rehearsing in your head, the burden you will bear whether or not it’s your burden to bear.
The bottom line is that ministry is very enjoyable, it isn’t always fun. And for those who think that church planting is easier… Think again! For every successful church plant, there are plenty of other churches that never last beyond five years after being planted. That’s quite a burden to ponder for the planters of those church.
So what is it that keeps one going through the tough seasons of ministry?
I believe it is the sense of calling. Ministry isn’t just a job, it’s a life . . . and it’s a life that comes with a calling from God. For those who receive the call, the response is to go in faith as God sends and trust that God will provide. Along the way there will be plenty of times when ministry is exciting. Like most adventures, it’s easy to go at it when the good times are rolling. But when they’re not… Remember the calling!