To Young Pastors and Ministry Hopefuls
“Who do you love? Me or the thought of me?” -John Mayer
Recently I sat at a Starbucks working on the many crazy jobs and projects I’m known to have when John Mayer shuffled through my itunes. Oddly enough the line that caught my attention was, “Who do you love? Me or the thought of me?” It made me think of pastoral ministry and my 15+ years of working in/with churches.
I wondered to myself, “do I really love working in the organized church, or do I just love the thought of it?” If you have never worked at or for a church it may be hard for me to explain. Maybe it’s like seeing a really beautiful woman and thinking, “Wow, I would like to date her!” Only to find out that she is really stupid, uninteresting and even difficult to be around. Not to say that the church is stupid, uninteresting or difficult (ok, maybe a little difficult sometimes), but to say that what you see is not always what you get.
I can remember being a young 18 year old kid who loved God deeply & who wanted nothing more then to serve and work in the local church for the rest of my life. If I could sit that kid, or someone like him, down today I would share a few things with him.
- Accept and embrace the mess: As much as we would love to think that the Church (local and global) is a healthy, highly functional group of kind, compassionate people, you will quickly learn otherwise. The family of God is more often a mess spiritually and emotionally and can easily more resemble a family you might see on Jerry Springer then a pillar of health. This is precisely why Jesus had to come and die… for us imperfect, messed up people. You will see and hear things you would never have imagined… you will need to learn to love an imperfect bride, just as Jesus has and does. The real key is to expect and embrace the mess without compromising yourself and God’s ultimate desire to make us holy and without blemish, like Him.
- Don’t get tunnel vision: What I mean is this… never mistake your “calling” with a job! You have been called to ministry; not a job or a position. Just because your office door says, “pastor…” doesn’t make you a pastor. God, your calling and your spiritual gifting have allowed you the privilege of shepherding people, not a title and a paycheck. Don’t make the mistakes I have and assume that the only thing you can and will do is be a pastor on staff at a church. You were called into relationship with God and God will do with you and your career as He sees fit. Frankly God cares much more about the condition of your heart then he does your production on a church staff – don’t compromise!
- Protect your heart and your family: This lesson I have learned the hard way unfortunately. Far too many times early on in my ministry experience I sacrificed good for best and one relationship for another. Pastoral leadership is seductive. People “need” you, they think you know something that others don’t. The reality is that we are as lost and flawed, if not more, as anyone else. The people who know you are flawed are your family and they love you anyway. The problem comes when you we “sacrifice” for others in the name of God when really we are just sacrificing our relationships with our family. Protect your family relationships at all costs! They will be there for you and with you when your “job” goes away or when you are no longer needed at your church.
The questions God may be asking are… “Do you love me (Jesus) or the thought of me?” “Do you love ministry or do you love me?” Ultimately that is the most important question for anyone considering the vocation of ministry. We must never confuse our love for God with church activity or work.
What are your thoughts and experiences? I would love to hear from you.