youth ministry

How has suffering shaped your ministry?

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.

Church Leadership

Are you having fun?

Surely he took up our pain 
   and bore our suffering, 
yet we considered him punished by God, 
   stricken by him, and afflicted. 
But he was pierced for our transgressions, 
   he was crushed for our iniquities; 
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, 
   and by his wounds we are healed. 
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, 
   each of us has turned to our own way; 
and the LORD has laid on him 
   the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53 (excerpt)

Here’s a newsflash friends. This is about Jesus and not you. 

There are a lot of miserable ministry people right now. They strongly identify with Jesus as a suffering servant as they languish in a role they hate. They cringe when their boss talks to them. They quietly look for jobs all day at their current job.

Sometimes these suffering servants even have a chip on their shoulder about it. As if their having a job they hate is something we’re supposed to be impressed by? 

True, suffering is part of life. And some of us are called to suffering in life. But I don’t think a ministry job in the United States qualifies.

Advice for people who hate their jobs

Quit. If it isn’t fun anymore, quit. If you find yourself whining about budget or your salary or stuff that needs to be fixed but the leaders won’t fix it, quit. If you have day dreams of the day you get to walk into your bosses office and say, “Take this job and shove it!” Quit now.

Quitting might seem insane. But it just might lead you to something fun.

Don’t let Satan win.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

Church Leadership

Megachurches canceling services today?

Last night my friend Gavin Richardson posted an interesting quandary on Twitter. To paraphrase, “Why is it that in some parts of the world people die trying to go to church while here in the states megachurches are canceling services because they did a big service Christmas eve?

Here was my response, “Easy. It’s a different Gospel. The Gospel of convenience/comfort bears no resemblance to one of suffering.

Let’s unpack this

In Iraq, Christians gathered for Christmas Eve services in defiance of people who threatened their lives. (And had proven the threat just 60 days ago!)

Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.

Read the rest at the New York Times (Here’s the article Gavin linked to in his tweet)

Unfortunately, Iraqi’s aren’t alone. There are Christians killed for worshiping Jesus every day. Throughout the world believers in Jesus suffer daily. If you’d like to hear their stories and understand their struggles more, I’d recommend subscribing to the Persecution Podcast published by Voice of the Martyrs.

For a large part of the world loving Jesus is tied closely to suffering. Many are expelled from their families for following Jesus. Some are sold as slaves. Some are imprisoned. Some experience economic inequity. Many are breaking the law by meeting– even in private. Many are left as outcasts. Many go hungry while their neighbors do not.

In the United States, some Christians won’t gather for services the day after Christmas because their leaders want to give everyone a day off. Their Bible apparently includes an out-clause in Exodus 20:8-11. Their Bible reads, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, except after Christmas when we give everyone the day off so they can spend time with family.

After gearing up for Christmas services throughout this week, several megachurches will wind down by canceling Sunday worship on Dec. 26th.

Pastors and church leaders say taking that day off allows the staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.

Read the rest at Christian Post

For a large part of the United States loving Jesus is tied closely to convenience. We do things when it works for us. But when it is more convenient to not do something, we pretend like we don’t even see it.

To summarize: In some parts of the world people risk death threats to worship while in other places in the world we’re taking the Sabbath off so we can spend time with family.

Two different worlds

We, in the United States, dishonor those in the persecuted church when we decide not to meet because it’d be more convenient. Any time you hear a pastor justify something like this by saying “we are putting families first,” you need to call them out. We are called to put God first. Period. 52 Sunday’s per year. 365 days per year. 24 hours per day.


The church is our real family. Coming to church, small group, or other forms of community is real family time. Partnering with those who suffer for the sake of Christ by continuing to worship no matter what is a real family expression of love. Healthy families get together. We suffer together. It is what we do. It is who we are. More importantly, it is who Jesus told us we need to be.

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:26-30

Taking the Sunday after Christmas off to spend time with family? What a slap in the face to the concept that the church is your family! This is the churches way of telling its congregant… “You aren’t my real family.

This is what happens when church becomes staff-driven and about programs as opposed to the simple expressions described in the New Testament. (Where one person, maybe, was employed… per city!) Church becomes about doing what is best for the staff and what is convenient to the programs. Staff and programs aren’t bad– they are good. But the organization isn’t and shouldn’t ever be about them. They are there purely to serve the family.

We are to be real family to those without family. We are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans. We are to feed the poor. We are to be about suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. We are to be about sacrificing for their sake.

Be reminded that the early church spread fastest, furthest, and had the deepest impact when we had no paid staff, no property, and met in homes or borrowed spaces.

Instead, they depended on one another as equal. Paul paints the picture again and again that the church is a body. We are inter-dependent. When one part suffers we all suffer. And when another part rejoices we all rejoice. Let no one in the church be more important than the other!

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? James 2:1-6a

In the end, the megachurches who take today off (and the myriad of churches who follow their lead, since they are “church growth experts“) are exhibiting the hole in their Gospel. Not to vilify them– but to expose the places we need to help them repair. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but they got it wrong.

No more groupthink in church leadership. Instead, let’s move forward by compassionately living out what God has clearly told us to do in the Bible.