My friend Abby is going off to pursue her masters for ministry, and she sent me five questions as one of her preliminary assignments (interview someone who does what you anticipate doing one day). These are my answers. I don’t know if this is what they are looking for, but it’s what I have. So I submit it to you, whoever might read this with that inkling in their head “I think I want to be a minister.” Below is what thirty-three years at this has taught me. Take it or leave it.
What types of tasks are involved in this ministry?
Today I filmed three small group videos to equip small group leaders for their monthly meetings.
Then I met with a couple about their upcoming wedding, discussing the arrangements, talking about possible premarital counseling.
Then I met with a man who has been battling brain cancer for two years; he wanted my help in planning is memorial service as he now has less than a month to live; he doesn’t want that burden on his wife, who was with him today. We talked about the flow of memorial services, the part the mortuary plays, the part the officiator plays; we talked about putting together the PowerPoint; we talked about their six year old son. We prayed.
And that was just from 9 to Noon.
When I started out on this ministry path, I thought it was about being a pulpiteer, a Bible teacher composing goodly homilies, sermons, and lessons.
But mostly I walk with people while they live and die – and I bury many of them, young or old; and too often this involves being in the hard and holy place of deathbed vigils as life ebbs away and pain and grief awake.
So yes, there are the Bible lessons, the counseling, the phone calls, the administrative meetings, the budgets, the events to plan and help execute, the leaders to identify, launch, mentor, love on, and release.
But by and large it is what I would call soul care or soul craft.
And there are few formulas for it.
You absorb a potent mix of life and death, suffering and joy, heartache and happiness which Paul says translates into “death working in us, but life in you.”
I guess that’s as close to a formula as it gets.
What skills are needed to do this ministry well?
Love in buckets.
Huge draughts of patient endurance.
Yes. Lots of that.
“The earth brings forth fruit by itself, he knows not how.”
You are embarking upon a vocation in which you have no control, in which you make nothing happen. This realization is pivotal. Lose this, and you end up with a religious machine with people as cogs – or worse, grease. So, yes, organizational skills are great; leadership aptitude as defined and promoted within American corporate culture can be a boon (or alternately a curse). People skills also come in handy. Study skills can be pivotal.
But without the love, patient endurance, and release of control, you will end up with a noisy gong of a ministry.
Maybe a really big, successful noisy gong, but a noisy gong nonetheless.
Also a crucial skill: switching off.
And that means from the Bible too.
Ideally one day a week and one month every seven years.
In other words, practice Sabbath or you’re dead.
What are the most frustrating and fulfilling aspects of your ministry?
Most frustrating: no matter how much you labor with tears and sweat as great drops of blood falling to the ground,
seeing people stagnated and stuck in the same old mess.
And then looking in the mirror and realizing that this is you.
Most fulfilling: watching people soar – and realizing it was because of something you said or did that you don’t even vaguely remember saying or doing.
What advice would you give to someone beginning to train for this type of ministry?
Do something else for a living if at all possible.
In other words, make sure divine “necessity” is laid upon you. If this just seems “fun” it will either eat you alive (of course, it will anyway!) or you will end up taking the more manageable route of running a religious shop in which you will eat others alive.
Also, commit to the habit of Sabbath now before your full time ministry life opens up. It’s easier to bend the branch while it’s still green than after it’s hardened around established habits of busyness in obedience to the god of productivity.
What type of organizations should I consider to fulfill the kind of ministry role to which I am aspiring?
Organizations that aren’t devoted to their own survival or growth but instead to seeing the kingdom of God flourish, even when that means their demise.
Organizations that own their institutional sins rather than foisting them on disgruntled members and ex-members.
Organizations that see themselves as structural support for people to find and fulfill their own trajectory of spiritual life and growth instead of seeing people as a consumable for corporate benefit
Organizations that encourage you to breathe, and make a practice of it themselves.