DURHAM, N.C. (BP) — It is unquestioned among the women I know: Being in the ministry is hard. And let me say up front, clearly, that I am not here to dispute that.
However, I find myself unsure why I don’t often think in negative terms — that is, feeling resentful toward what my husband and I have been given to do, while others struggle to think of the ministry in positive ways.
Surely I can say the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places as David did in Psalm 16:6, but I think there is more to it because that has not been true of every moment. As I have wondered about this over the years, I have come to believe there are things J.D. and I practice that help us love what we do.
We generally love being in the ministry because of the rich, meaningful relationships we have found. From the beginning, we have pursued close friendships both with people on staff and in the congregation.
I have heard people say to pastors that you can’t or shouldn’t do either of those, and I always feel sad when I hear that. I wonder, What must that person’s life be like? How carefully guarded and walled off and lonely? It is obvious that you should choose wisely and take your time to discern people who are godly and mature — and who know you before you have to demonstrate for them, in all its harshest light, that just because you and your spouse are in ministry does not mean you are not sinners.
But find and choose those people you must because of that very same fact — that you are sinners. Being in close relationships with people is how God has done His best work in me, even though I sometimes hate to admit that. It keeps me from feeling isolated and lonely and taken for granted. It is how I have found the wisdom I need in hard situations that are more than I can figure out on my own.
And those relationships are how God has provided for us in so many different, tangible ways, from meals after babies, to information I needed but didn’t have in parenting my teens, to even a place to go when our family needed a vacation.
We know these things at some level, but if we are in ministry, Satan has convinced us we are taking a greater risk in these relationships than others somehow. To that I would ask, Why? Relationships are always a risk for anyone. Are we worried that the ministry will be affected if our relationship fails us? This, I would say, is where we have to #sendit — if you are not a millennial, that means to put your money where your mouth is and trust God with your ministry and your friendships, since it is He who called you to both in the first place. It is hypocritical to do otherwise.
Second, J.D. and I make a habit of thinking and talking about the things we wouldn’t get to be a part of if we were not in the ministry. Even the simplest things, like being part of worship planning, can be a delight that most people never get to do. Being there with your very best people setting up and closing down for the Christmas service is an honor and privilege I would be sad to miss.
And absolutely best among all the privileges is having a front row seat to the life changes of the people in my church. This is something that gives me great joy — and many people simply don’t know about those things if they aren’t directly involved. I love that people consider me a safe place to come to when they are trying to figure something out or discern what the Lord is telling them. It is a privilege so many do not get.
Finally, we do not require of ourselves (or our children) anything simply because we are in the ministry. The things we require, we require because we love and follow Jesus Christ.
We often evaluate, particularly with our teens, the “why” behind something, and if it is ever just because they’re the pastor’s kids, then it’s dropped. We tell our kids this regularly, as well as their teachers and student ministry leaders. Our kids should have the same expectations on them as all the other kids, and truly, as friends and fellow church members, expectations should be the same of us.
Ministry is actually hard, but it doesn’t have to be bad. By choosing to build relationships that support us, by spending most of our mental time thinking about the privileges we have as ministers of the Gospel, and by recognizing that what we do for the body of Christ is only and always just an extension of following Him, may we find unforeseen joy in our ministry.