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Welcome to Ministry. What Exactly Did You Expect?

Tuesday Re-mix –

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:18-20

It seems to me that the scene has by now played out for me at least a hundred times.  I am counseling with a pastor who has been put through the wringer by his congregation and has been maligned and injured and his family has been as well.  He has fallen victim to the church at its very worst and he now has the scars to show for it.  He expresses to me his utter dismay and surprise and talks about how seminary simply did not prepare him for this.  His wife expresses shock that God’s own people could behave so badly and that this was NOT what she signed on for when she agreed to marry a pastor.  I listen, and I weep with them, and I grieve for them…and then I think to myself, “Welcome to the ministry.  This is it.  Welcome.”

Jesus was always pretty clear about the downside to following Him…the cost would be great, the sacrifice extraordinary.  He never sugar-coated that.  He was completely unapologetic about it throughout his entire ministry.  So, I suppose my thinking has always been, “If that is true for every follower of Jesus, how much more so for those called out to shepherd other followers of Jesus?”  Vocational ministry, in short, is simply not about comfort.  It is about ministering to a bunch of poorly-behaved, stinky sheep who bite and who hurt you and who get it all wrong at least as much as they get it right.  On top of all that, if you happen to be of certain Christian persuasions, you have to add poverty and celibacy to that list of sacrifices!

This is about the point in my counsel where many younger pastors might interject, “Wow, Blake.  We’ve got to work on your bedside manner.”  Believe me, I know how grim this sounds.  I know it is depressing, especially if you are already down for the count.  And I know that it is not necessarily helpful counsel in some circumstances.  But seriously, there is a reality about ministry which I am not certain our seminaries and Bible colleges are getting right…I am not convinced we are really painting a realistic picture of life among God’s people when we send our young men and women out onto the field with visions of large churches, large salaries, large influence, and large prestige.  Jesus would cringe at that picture!

Ministry among God’s people was never intended to be easy.  It is hard.  And the rewards are few.  But my, my…they are rich, are they not?

© Blake Coffee
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