I have been doing vocational—OK, paid—ministry for five years, and I received some of the best training available that any of us crazy enough to do ministry for work can find. I went to Moody and learned the Bible and how to preach; I went to Wheaton and learned how to make disciples that, you know, are actually disciples. I was mentored and coached by dear, dear people who were and are tremendously fruitful in ministry.
But there is no class, no book, no seminar, no sermon, no conversation, no Tweet, no Bob Goff Instagram pic, no conference, no anything that can prepare you for how hard it is to persevere in ministry.
I’m a full-time pastor doing what I love: I get to preach and make disciples and lead and cast vision. I planted a church at 26 and have been a lead pastor for nearly two years—and now I lead not just the church I planted, but another beautiful church as well. I really am tremendously fortunate (or even blessed) to do what I do each day, and be gainfully employed to boot.
Here’s the thing: some people read that sentence and thought, his life must be great. I know this because I look at other pastors’ lives—pastors who are doing great work and making real progress and, can you believe it, helping people far from God discover Jesus—and I think, her life must be great.
Then you get to know them, these ministry wizards, and you find out that church ministry is hard, and it’s hard for all of us. It’s hard because, as a pastor, you are constantly scrutinized by the people you serve. It’s hard because you’re constantly torn between managing status-quo expectations and calling people to live beyond themselves. It’s hard because people you thought were right there with you drop out, or even worse, go for your Achilles tendon and disappear. It’s hard because you watch people take huge steps forward, and then take enormous steps back. It’s hard because there’s a million books and conferences out there telling you how to do it better (which implies you aren’t doing it well at all). It’s hard because you dump your heart and soul into this thing, and far too many people just. don’t. really. care.
I look at Steph all the time and say, “You know what I would tell my sophomore at Moody self? I’d say ‘buckle down, because this is so much harder than you can even imagine.'”
That’s the thing no one can prepare you for—how you have to stick to it, how you have to press in and, if you really want to see good Kingdom work done, press in without ever leaning back. It’s beautiful, yes—tremendously, wonderfully, awe-inspiringly beautiful. But it’s also hard.
But the truth is, and this is important, we don’t do ministry because it’s easy—or get out of it because it’s hard. Or, at least we shouldn’t. We do ministry because we’re called to do it; we do ministry because (and this is something I learned in a class) it’s the only thing we can do, and because it’s the only thing we can do, it’s the only thing we want to do. So, yeah, it’s hard. But it’s also what we have to do because Jesus has asked us to—and if what He says about Himself and the universe and us is true, well, what else could I do with my time that really feels meaningful?
So do yourself a favor: get off the hamster wheel of “the other guy’s got it better than I do.” Stop loving the church you could have if you could do what book you just read said to do, and quit loving the people you might have if they would only, well, you fill in the blank. Instead, choose love, choose contentment, and yes, choose to buckle down. It’s going to be hard, but what’s worth doing that’s easy?
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For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ~2 Corinthians 5:13-15