In part 1 of this series on ministry, I discussed eight specific things I wish I’d known before going into ministry. As I stated, I didn’t know very many people in ministry back then and I went in rather wide-eyed and unassuming. To say the “human component” of ministry was sometimes a shock is a bit of an understatement. As one who has spent all of my adult life in ministry, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) that God doesn’t fix every difficulty we face. More often than not, we must face the humanity of ministry for the sake of our own growth and development.
As ministers, we must learn how to handle people, our difficult days, and our ups and downs. We manage hard days if we expect for them, recognizing the “negative” thoughts and feelings of ministry aren’t abnormal. These realities don’t mean we should quit ministry or that we aren’t cut out for it. It’s just a matter of learning to face the all-too-human problems we will often encounter. Here, I’ll share eight more things I wish I’d known before going into ministry.
9. People ask weird questions and say weird things
Some people see ministers as endless founts of useless knowledge. Just count on the fact that if someone has a strange question…you’ll probably be the person they’ll ask about it. Looking back, many of them seem funny. There was one time I was asked if the Wise Men followed a UFO to the manger. Another time, someone asked me about Robin Hood, who he believed was a Biblical figure. Weird questions and comments are part of the job. When you recover from the shock…laugh.
10. Ministry doesn’t always feel meaningful
Much like any other profession, ministry doesn’t always feel like a deep spiritual moment. We work hard to ensure our congregants can have their spiritual experiences. Some of ministry feels like bookkeeping, paying rent, writing, counseling, listening, thinking, and general work. Doing these things regularly means they are part of everyday life. With the everyday comes the feeling of ordinary…of nothing special.
This isn’t to say God isn’t in our ordinary. If anything, God is as much part of our ordinary as He is our extraordinary. We can find God in the mundane as much as the spiritual mountaintops…but we must be open to His presence. No, every day of ministry is not a trip to heaven or a deep vision…but that doesn’t make the ordinary days any less relevant. Taking care of ordinary things is spiritual because we do these things to ensure the way for God’s greater works.
11. Be prepared to become a “jack of all trades”
Ministers today have three options. The first is being a self-made millionaire with the ability to pay many employees. The second, which is more feasible, is learning how to do things yourself. Third, which is most optimal, is developing community connections to have help for some of what needs doing. In this day and age, ministers must have websites, business cards, and a social media presence. I learned how to do much of this myself, as I didn’t have help years ago. While learning to do much of it yourself is often required, it’s also important to delegate when possible.
When we know how to do many practical things, it creates opportunities for us to be a resource for others. We also know what to expect when we receive help from others.
12. You won’t have as much in common with other ministers as you would think
Sometimes we assume that “being in ministry” should unite us to other ministers. This is a nice idea, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Having said that it won’t always happen, this also doesn’t mean it never happens. You will meet some ministers and develop deep friendships. Some will probably become your best friends. But as I just said, this doesn’t happen all the time.
Ministers are different, as are ministries. Networks and organizations all vary. Even though a ministry might seem to be the same from an exterior perspective, this may not always be the case. It’s hard to be excluded; it’s even harder to feel like you’re deliberately overlooked for some reason. Finding your community – your people – makes such situations less painful. It also helps to offer a hard-to-swallow perspective: not every ministry association is for everyone.
13. People will tell you that you said things you didn’t
Once upon a time, our church had a member who wouldn’t convey information correctly. She either eliminated details (especially if they made her look bad) or would state things in a manner to cloud stuff in her favor. On a few occasions, I called her out on it. She was saying things both others and myself never said, thus causing confusion and dissension.
It’s been said that we see things not as they are, but as we are. This means that things are easily clouded or confounded by personal wants, perceptions, and desires. The way people perceive things often varies. There’s nothing wrong with clarifying what was said in a situation, especially if such clarity is required.
14. Many people no longer regard ministry as a legitimate profession
It’s easy enough to blame the public perception on the numerous church scandals, such as the one that hit Hillsong Church earlier this year. Scandals are definitely relevant, but I don’t think they are the only thing to blame. Television preachers haven’t helped the image of ministry. Many Christians throng to famous preachers like groupies, seeing them more as celebrities than humble servants. Smaller ministries have leaders who also hold down secular jobs, dividing their time. Christians griping at one another over minor disputes online doesn’t make the cause of Christ seem reputable. Lack of accountability, hostility, and divisions (though part of the human condition) aren’t helping matters, either.
This doesn’t mean all is lost. If anything, it ensures those of us who stand are here for such a time as this. It’s all the more relevant we treat ministry as a professional endeavor. Yes, we are called to do this, but we are called to do it decently and in order. The more we do things right – the more we stand as witness to the legitimacy of ministry.
15. People will be uncomfortable with what you do (without even knowing you) in ministry
Before anyone overreacts to this point, it isn’t due to persecution. It relates to the last point: many no longer see ministry in a positive light. Disgraceful ministers, unkind Christians, and non-relatable messages have left people with the impression that Christianity doesn’t have much to offer. Many assume ministers feel certain ways about things, not considering we are individuals. As a result, some might be intimidated, uncomfortable, or keep a distance. This is true in both a general and specific sense; it can be true among family and friends as well as potential dates or partners.
The best thing any minister can do is maintain their sense of self. Yes, you are a minister; you are also a person, a human being. There’s nothing wrong with having interests, friends, thoughts, and feelings that don’t relate to ministry. Don’t sacrifice yourself for the sake of playing a role.
16. Your life and your plans will be permanently interrupted by ministry
Ministry requires both boundaries and flexibility. We need to allow for time to ourselves, but we also have to understand that emergencies arise. I can’t count the number of times I planned on having a day or weekend off, only to encounter an emergency need. Sometimes we must consider priorities. Personal time doesn’t always happen when we desire. Sometimes we have to adjust our days off or personal time. It’s not a fun fact of ministry, but it is a reality.
The best thing we can do in such a situation is take the time later. Not never…but later. As soon as the matter is resolved, that personal time or time off must become ours. It also helps when those in our lives are also flexible, because it creates less conflict and guilt.
Ministry definitely has its ups and downs. If you are called to this work, expect the downs as well as the ups. Take the necessary steps to avoid burnout and encourage community. Set necessary boundaries to maintain self-care and personal time. Embrace friendships and connections. Know you’re a person and never forget how amazing it is to be part of this journey. More than anything, remember God is for you. He’s equipped you for the work ahead. Ask for help when you need it, and never forget that you need rest sometimes, too!