I took my first part time youth ministry when I was eighteen years old. Looking back on that I can see how that was good and bad. It was good that it gave me a lot of experience that I have been able to look back on and learn from. It was bad from the stand point that I was eighteen and responsible for kids, that at the most, were two years younger then me. I could say more about that, but that’s another blog for another day.
The reason I bring that up is to say this, for the past seven years of my life beginning straight out of high school, I have been in some form of vocational ministry, mostly part time and full time youth ministry. As of two months ago that was not true anymore. Do not get me wrong I still consider what I do with MACU ministry, but it is in no way the same caliber of intense personal spiritual formation focused work that I have been accustomed to for the past seven years.
Since I have been able to distance myself from that type of work over the past two months I have discovered some observations about myself and the nature of ministry work in general. I would like to share those now. Before you read these, please understand that I am not saying they apply to you as a minister. I am simply stating what I have observed about myself from the lens of being “out of” ministry as it is defined in Church’s today.
1) I have a horrible prayer discipline.
I am beginning to see that in the past I have spent a good part of my prayer time interceding for students and others in the Church. Now that I am not emotionally invested in the lives of 150 people, I am finding it hard to make prayer a priority in my life. What does that say about me? That says that I never really had a prayer discipline to start with. What I had was a job description that I felt required me to pray. In fact, it was in my contract. It can be kind of sobering to realize that what I thought was genuine spirituality may in fact just have been Pharisaical pandering to please the crowd.
2) I read my Bible less, but appreciate it more.
Let’s face it, I used to be paid to read and study my Bible. That is not the case anymore. I have to actually make time in my day to do real Bible reading, and I am discovering that is hard. This has taught me that when I do get back in a full time ministry that I need to ease up on my weekly “Read your Bible or burn” speeches that are delivered to the congregation. I am finding that when I do take the time to really invest myself in scripture that I am appreciating it more than I ever have. It is a lot like getting a really long cold drink of water after running for a long time. Being out of ministry has taught me what it is to truly long after God’s word, not just tell other people that they should.
3) I have less sympathy and more respect for ministers when they tell me how busy they are.
Now before you get all up in arms and start to pull out your calendars to show me how busy you are and give me the speech about how I get to leave my work at the office when I come home etc etc. Let me explain. Let’s be really honest as one former minister to one current minister. We can have a tendency to make ourselves look a lot busier then we actually are. Yes there are sick people, dead people, and people that want to get married. Yes there is the weekly lesson/sermon (or maybe even three), and yes there is the constant mental and physical stress that comes from always being in the thick of everyone’s problems. Can we just be really honest though? We bring a lot of it on ourselves. I can admit it now because I’m not in it. I lived in a constant state of fear that everyone would think that I did not have a real job. In fact I was told on more then one occasion by a gentleman in my church that what I did was in fact not a real job. Ministry is such an ambiguous sort of work sometimes, and it can be really hard to have real physical signs that anything of worth is getting done so we feel the need to tote around how busy we are all the time. Listen, speaking as a laymen, we know that you are busy. We are as well. We really do appreciate and respect all that you do, but when you feel the need to complain *cough brag cough* about how busy you are I really do not have any sympathy for you.
4) I am a lot less stressed.
It is not that my job is not stressful, but it is a different kind of stress. I am not worrying that the teen that I have invested 5 years of my life in is going to get someone pregnant or hop him or her self up on drugs. I don’t think I need to say much more about that.
5) I am finding it a lot harder to be intimately involved with a Church or even have the desire to do so.
I have never had to make myself plug into a Church. I was paid to do that so it was kind of a no brainer. Again, I think this is a real testimony to my actual spiritual health at this point. What I once thought was undying devotion to the Kingdom of God may in fact have only been a financially motivated semblance of true devotion to biblical community.
With all that being said, I have come to the conclusion that God is using this time away from vocational ministry to show me some things about myself that need work. It is easy when you are in the thick of it to assume that everything that is done, is being done for the good of the Kingdom when in fact it may be getting done for our own personal gain.
So to all the ministers out there I say, keep up the good, hard, and much needed work of full time ministry, but please take a few moments and reflect on the reason for your service. To all the hard working laymen out there, take the time to thank and appreciate those around you who are in full time ministry and then stop and reflect on your own devotion to the kingdom. Because in the end we are all ministers of the Kingdom of God.