Meet my friend Katie. Katie and I were sort of like ships passing in the night, I was joining a church just as her and her husband were leaving to go start theres. Katie’s encouragement has meant the world to me as I applied for seminary. I hope you enjoy her voice as much as I do.
The conversation has come up before with my husband or my mom who are also pastors. Maybe it’s a day one of us is discouraged, or it’s just a theoretical conversation about what is the hardest thing about ministry. I’ve read lists on Facebook which include such items as not having set hours and congregations expecting the world and the changing nature of the church, and while all of those things are true, they’re not the hardest thing.
The hardest thing about ministry is that God is all wrapped up in it, so when something goes poorly there’s so much more at stake. Let me explain — say you’re a dentist and it’s a bad week. Nobody asks you, the dentist, well how much did you pray this week? How’s your walk with God? How’s your devotional time? It is understood that for the most part your job is separate from your spiritual life. This is not to say you don’t pray about doing your work well or pray for your patients or that you’re not a witness for Jesus in your love for others, just that if you have a day you’re a sub-par dentist, your brain doesn’t jump to “well I must be a sub-par Christian.”
In ministry it is easy to make the jump — sometimes we do it ourselves, and sometimes other people do it for us — low Sunday attendance for a few weeks in a row? You must not be praying enough. Feeling discouraged in your job? You’re probably disappointing Jesus. And the problem is — it’s partially true. If I’m not spending time in prayer and study then my job as pastor does suffer. But it isn’t always true, and that’s the rub. I know very faithful people who’s churches are not ‘successful’ and who are often sent to hard places with few victories. We also see ‘successful’ preachers on TV who have personal jets and are millionaires, and who definitely aren’t reading their Bibles (or maybe just not understanding them — see personal jet comment).
So our walk with God is both connected and not connected to our ‘success’ in ministry — what do we do with that? How do we keep a hard month (or a hard year?!) from making us feel like we’re letting Jesus down? I don’t think there’s an easy answer (clearly), but I do think separating out our personal faith journey from our church vocation is probably the first step. Again, easier said than done because they are so tied up together. I think my first step is to continually remind myself that it isn’t my church — It’s God’s church.
I love the All Sons &Daughters song “Come to Save Us” which reminds me “Jesus, you’re the One who save us…” Simple. Direct. To the point. Because the Kingdom of God is going to come with or without me (probably sometimes in spite of me). My supervisor when I was a chaplain resident use to remind me that I could not single handedly bring down the Kingdom of God (some days I was legitimately concerned).
I think at the end of the day, there is truth and ego tied up in the hardest part of ministry. Truth that my walk with God matters. It matters for me, and it does effect how I lead my sheep. But also, that it doesn’t matter in the big picture as much as I feel like it does because the outcome of my specific congregation or the church universal does not rest on me (Thank God!) If ministry isn’t going well or it’s a rough week, it does still mean I could probably pray more but not because God is waiting for me to earn back all my bonus point before I unlock the Holy Spirit in my church, but because my soul needs it.
It all comes back to the story a rabbi once told — that we are to hold in one hand that it was from dust we were made and to dust we shall return and to hold in the other, that even for you, the universe was created. The hardest part about ministry is that it is (not) about me. The hardest part about ministry is that what I do both matters greatly and yet God can move in spite of me. The hardest/easiest/best part about ministry? It’s all wrapped up in God.
Rev. Katie Lloyd is a pastor in The United Methodist Church in Kentucky. She also happens to be a pastor’s spouse and pastor’s kid. When not doing church stuff, she and her husband like to run, camp, garden, and play with their muppet dog Wendell. She blogs at http://reluctantprophets.com.