Pastoral ministry in general is a rewarding line of work in which to be. I know without question this is what God has not only called me to do, but has provided me with the gifts and abilities to do it well. But ministry has a totally different makeup and responsibilities related to it than other jobs. Although ministry is the most rewarding, fulfilling calling of a lifetime, it also has some of the most treacherous situations that a person could experience. Ministry has many, many areas of rejoicing, but also many areas where mourning or sorrow would be an appropriate response.
While I was in high school, I was an employee at Chick-Fil-A. CFA (Chick-Fil-A) played a formable role in my life and the way I handled certain situations and work. In fact, I went through six weeks of video training before I ever had the opportunity to work on the floor. CFA engrained every ounce of breading, waffle fries, and nuggets into me they could before putting me to work on the floor. Once I finally reached the floor, they assigned me a trainer for a month or so to help me get acquainted with the real aspect of working on the floor as an employee. But one of the crucial parts of the training through CFA was the training to be productive even in highly stressful situations. And believe me, there were a fair amount of stressful situations. The CFA where I worked was the only restaurant in a 25 mile radius. To give you some perspective, our CFA daily sales would be anywhere from $14,000 – $16,000.
At CFA, you could predict how a situation was going to play out before it actually unfolded. Once you had an adequate amount of experience working on the front counter, you could figure out quickly how people would react to wrong orders or the fact that we didn’t sell ground beef (yes, people actually asked). While my CFA training has helped me to deal with overly stressful situations, there are some situations in ministry where you cannot predict what will happen. Sometimes, situations in ministry take you completely by surprise. There are some situations where things are completely out of your control.
My calling to ministry came to me while I was in college. I was not going to college to be a pastor or student pastor. I had/have quite a knack for music. I have always loved music and had a passion for it. I’ve had the opportunity to travel some and sing on the road professionally and absolutely loved it. But I knew it was not my calling. After a freshman year full of music classes, I declared youth and family ministry as my major. I studied all of my sophomore year and then came my junior year of college. I got a call from my mom and dad asking me if I would be interested in coming home and becoming the youth pastor at my home church. I was stunned. Series of questions started running through my brain as I was walking up and down Richland Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. I really wasn’t sure if I was capable at such a young age (20). To make a long story short, I took the job and started my journey in full time ministry that following January.
My calling was not heard audibly. Some people’s callings may be; I’m not here to debate. However, I knew my calling was sure. I knew my calling was from God and God alone. I knew God had gifted me in ways to serve His church and His kingdom. I felt privileged. I felt a part of something for the first time in a long while.
I see a lot of men who are called at a revival and feel the Holy Spirit’s conviction and they end up answering at the altar that they will surrender to God’s will for their lives in full time ministry. My calling was different. I often am reminded of another man whose call was different. In Acts 19, we see a man by the name of Saul who received a message from God that would forever change his life. Within the first few verses we find these words,
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” It carries down to verse 15 and says, “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
The Lord called Saul into the ministry to spread the Gospel. When the Lord called Saul to be an apostle, I’m sure he had no idea that God was going to use him to change the world and the face of Christianity in the first century. However, one thing is for sure about God’s call to Saul: it was literal. Saul knew exactly what God had called him to do and even amidst all that he was going to face, he still carried out his calling.
Being called into ministry can sometimes mean being called to the unknown. When a church hires you, it may be in a city in which you have absolutely no family or friends. You may uproot your family to a place where you will need to create a new security for you and your family. This is a tough job. It is especially difficult for you and your spouse.
Once you’ve been called and are settled in a church to serve, you will find ministry having a plethora of difficulties or hurdles to overcome. The demand and nature of ministry can be quite complicated. Ministry has great demands for its workers. Sometimes, the job can take you away from spending time with your wife or being present at your children’s extracurricular activities. Sometimes, the ministry of caring for your church’s congregation can burden you so much that you take it home and become unable to sleep. There are times when the church may be struggling financially and you have to figure out ways around the money shortage. Maybe it will be as simple as one of your members dying. Whatever the case may be, the demand of ministry can be great to the minister. The constant expectation of being there for everyone or being “all things to all people” can weigh a person down if they will let it.
When things get tough, it is imperative to remember what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 16:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Jesus will build his Church, even while you are going through difficult seasons of ministry. My secular job training helped me when I was in highly stressful situations. In ministry, there are going to be things that are out of your control completely. Rest assured that, even among all of those instances out of your control, you are a chosen instrument of his to carry his name.