How has suffering shaped your ministry?
That’s the topic for this week’s Slant 33 article. Here’s my answer to this question. My question for you is, “How has suffering shaped YOUR ministry?”
Like a lot of fellow youth workers, I traded a business cubicle for a youth ministry office. Wide-eyed and overly optimistic Kristen and I longed for a career revolving around our faith and family while impacting the lives of teenagers.
And in ten years of working in the local church, our lives certainly revolved around our faith, family, and impacting the lives of teenagers. Some of our proudest moments have come in seeing that growth through the long haul. There have been so many times when I’ve grabbed Kristen and said, “This is so worth it!”Conversely, I can’t tell you how many times I wished I could have traded in my pastoral role for my old corporate job. Yes, that career was unfulfilling. Yes, the longer I did it, the more bored I was. But at least it didn’t hurt so bad. When I was betrayed, I could speak up. When I was wronged, I could relay my issue to a human resources professional. And when I failed, I could deal with being passed over for a promotion or a raise. Sitting in a small group of my peers, I could talk about my job sucking or my boss being a jerk and get empathy from people in similar situations.
But in ministry the stakes are so much more personal. And it’s a very private struggle. The isolation and lack of camaraderie are ultimately what hurt the most. All too often when you reach out with a struggle, you are rebuked or even belittled. At least for me, this meant I carried a lot of burdens. Suffering became part of my ministry.
In truth, this personal suffering was enough. I understood it as part of the calling. But what caused unnecessary suffering was the impact of my vocation on my family. My wife couldn’t just be a wife and new mother. She had to carry the mantle of pastor’s wifeand receive unlimited and unwanted advice from the hens of the church. When our kids misbehaved, we felt the judgment from fellow congregants.
Early in my ministry, I allowed the weight of suffering to shape my attitude and self-image. If I were made of Play-Doh, my body would have been flattened. But, as I’ve gotten stronger, more used to the weight and its impact, I’ve learned that there is a healthy suffering that just comes with being a follower of Christ, which I can deal with.
But, there is also abuse that comes my way that I no longer permit to have the impact it once did. I’ve become like a junkyard dog in protecting my family and the families of my ministry friends. That’s the weight of ministry I no longer allow to shape them.