Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ministry: It's not for everyone...?

                                 (Harding School of Biblical Studies, Class of '98)

I remember hearing chapel devos, when I was a preaching student, that seemed discouraging.
Sometimes, local ministers would speaker in chapel, and being well-intentioned I'm sure, several of them repeated a similar theme: If you can do anything else, do it.
In other words, if you can do anything else with you life other than preach, go now, run, don't wait, flee!

Well, there's some truth to the concept that ministry isn't for everyone enrolled in Bible college.
It's not for the weak of heart.
It's not for thin-skinned people.
It's not for people who can't deal with rejection.
It's not for conflict-avoidance type people.
It's not for people who aren't self-motivated.
The list goes on.

BTW: Each christian has a ministry to fulfill, and we are all a priesthood of believers.  But what I'm addressing here is the role of what we commonly call "full-time" ministry as in those who dedicate their career to serving with churches.

Today, for no reason, I tried to remember why I wanted to preach so bad.  After all, I grew up unchurched and within less than a year and a half of becoming a Christian, I was preaching regularly.  I wanted to recall my call to ministry, and after I thought it through, I felt like sharing these thoughts.  Not because today where I'm at I'm questioning my role in ministry or even remotely having problems with our current church, but I wanted to think "out loud" so I could capture it and share a few thoughts of encouragement with A: those thinking about full-time ministry or struggling with remaining in it and B: remind the Universal Body of a responsibility to those who dedicate their lives to ministry.
Stepping out in faith: I remember people in our home congregation nudging me out the door into smaller local congregations, to preach for churches who needed men to "fill" the pulpit.  Ted Mathews asked me to preach first.  He was the most powerful mentor I've ever had; his influence on me is still strong.  If he called today and said he needed my kidney or an eye, he wouldn't have to ask twice.

I remember Gary, who baptized me, and his influence on my life.  He was magnetic and charismatic, he mesmerized me with his sermons.  He made all kinds of time for me.  He helped me to study my Bible, and helped me to be a better family man.

And, the people we ministered to on the weekends were very receptive.  It's not that I was a well-polished communicator, it's more so that their love and patience with a young stumbling minister was undeniable.  Being a new christian, simply filling the pulpit, I stayed in a perpetual honeymoon phase with people, it was almost utopia...

All in all, my drive to be a preacher was in a vacuum though.
It was outside the real mechanics of church-life. I was sheltered from and unexposed to the real inner workings of the nature of church-dynamics.  When I hit a few bumps in the road and had run-ins with less than cooperative people, I was clueless.  I was, disenchanted.  Years ago, when I hit that wall where I thought, if there's anything else I can do, I want to do it NOW -- God brought us through that.  But I learned a lot along the way.  Some of the guys in the picture up top, my classmates, they hit that wall and chose different paths for different reasons.  I don't blame them nor am I critical.  It is, what it is.
We've all read at one time or another essays on how our churches are massively hemorrhaging -- major numbers of young people are leaving the fold.  We also have seen good articles about preachers leaving the ministry too.  As someone who has come from the "outside" and sees the inner workings of church life, I think I can see what's going on.  I think we haven't done the best job preparing our young people for the transition into adulthood, and, I think we've devalued the role of a lifelong pursuit of ministry.

Only one example of what I mean by how we've devalued the ministry: Just because you can swing a hammer, that doesn't make you a carpenter.  Most congregations have a lot of talented people in our churches who can put a sermon together, and deliver an excellent message... This could create an illusion that "preaching" is not all that hard.  Preaching isn't all sleeping on a bed of nails, by any means, and it's very rewarding, but please think about your guy who is preaching week in, week out, month after month, year after year.  He's trying to write sermons in the midst of all the other responsibilities we've placed on the minister too.  I'm not whining, I love this life, and I know your world has its challenges too, but if you've not given this notion of "value" some consideration, you might find yourself being inconsiderate...

Most churches want to nurture and cultivate their ministers, but sometimes, simply don't how to.  Consider, then, providing sabbaticals and retreats for your ministers; not to pamper them, but to allow them to recharge.  We also need to warn people better how rough ministry can be too, there are "clergy killers" out there who make your job hard, so be realistic...  We share this Not to scare them off or away from ministry, but to prepare them so they are never blindsided.  The reason we are losing ministers, and I think young people along the way (yes I see a correlation here) is that we as churches are not taking care of those who take care of us, and in the process, we all suffer.  Too simplistic?  I'm open to hearing your thoughts, always.
Let me finish off with some good news.
The church I'm in isn't perfect, but we are doing a lot of things right.  If you are floundering in ministry, there's real hope, know that there are great churches that care for their ministers.  Your ministry might not feel rewarding at the moment, not right now, but number one it can be one day, and secondly, God can lead you into the "right" fit.  And you should know, like us, there are churches who are concerned about helping our young people transition into adulthood too.

I know our congregation cares about our family and they want me to succeed in ministry.
And how do I know?
They tell me this.
And, I believe them.

What message are you sending to your preacher?


Tad Martin said...

Craig, thank you for your example of hard charging coffee slugging preaching. Thank you Tammy for tolerating Craig and being at his side in ministry.

God bless,


Craig Cottongim said...

Thanks Tad :-)