The madness of ministry
A life in ministry can be filled with tears, sleepless nights and insecurity. But remember: God doesn’t make mistakes. The reason pastors often lose the right perspective on ministry is that they focus on themselves, rather than God, says Cynthia Hale.
March 2, 2010 | Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. This sermon was preached Feb. 12, 2010, in Duke Divinity School’s Goodson Chapel for worship at Triumph & Truth, the 40th anniversary of the Duke’s Black Seminarians Union.
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If anyone had told me how crazy this thing called ministry is, I probably would not have believed him or her. Not that I would have doubted the validity of their testimony or questioned their wisdom of the matter. It is just hard to imagine that one could go through all that we do in order to be faithful to the call of God upon us to serve God’s people.
My father tried to tell me to get a job and forget about going to seminary. But “what did he know?” I said. He’s just a layman. He couldn’t possibly understand intimately what it means to “take up the cross daily and follow Christ” to the extent that those of us in ministry are called to do.
The truth of the matter is, when I came to Duke, I was so excited, so idealistic, so anxious to fulfill the awesome call of God on my life that I may not have taken anyone seriously, even if they had tried to tell me.
But, 30 years later, after countless tears and sleepless nights, after having persons question the appropriateness of my being in ministry -- especially as a women -- and my adequacy for the task; after having to defend my motives and my methods, I can testify that the very thing that makes me incredibly happy, fills me with unceasing joy and a sweet sense of satisfaction can at the same time drive me absolutely mad. Can I tell the truth up in here?
Ministry can be crazy! And if there is anyone in the room that has not yet been made aware, you need to know that, although ministry is wonderful, there are those times when it can drive you over the edge.
I don’t mean any disrespect calling ministry mad. I just thought we could be honest with each other, since we’re all in this thing together. There’s no sense in keeping secrets, pretending that things are always cool when they’re not, acting as if we have it together 24/7 and we got this when we don’t!
Whether you are in the embryonic stage of ministry, preparing to go there or you have been doing ministry a long time, there are moments when you have to admit that you wonder if you shouldn’t go back to doing whatever you were doing before you said, “Yes, I’m available” to God.
Don’t sit up in here acting like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Some of you are wondering, right now, if you can or should go on. What’s the point? If God doesn’t speak to you today, not tomorrow, you are not sure what you will do.
We need to be real so that some of you can be healed, set free and encouraged to accomplish the ministry that God has so graciously entrusted to you. You don’t need to be afraid; you just need to be aware, so you won’t take it personally. Thinking it is somehow your fault, like I have a habit of doing. Ministry has always been this way.
The apostle Paul, first-century preacher, pastor, teacher and church planter, makes this clear in his second letter to the church in Corinthians.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
Paul’s second letter to the saints in Corinth was, no doubt, a difficult one to write. Some folks in the church were denying his apostleship; some pious people were accusing him of being deceptive and distorting the word of God. His motives were being misinterpreted, his actions misconstrued, his words taken out of context.
Paul found himself in a position of having to defend himself. He dearly loved the folks, was committed to serving them, but he could not and would not let anyone question his apostolic authority. He needed his authority to keep on fighting the apostasy that threatened to take over the church universal.
It would have been easy for Paul to succumb to the pressure and the accusations. It’s not easy to listen to others talk about you, register complaints and criticize you and/or your work. It is painful when persons question our worthiness, our legitimacy in ministry, our ability to write, to think theologically and to acquire a master’s degree. It puts us on the defensive. We begin to question ourselves: Did God really call me?
The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t take much for some of us to start questioning ourselves. Insecurity, a lack of confidence and low self-esteem plague many of us in ministry. The gifted, the chosen, the anointed seem to have this proclivity towards analyzing, minimizing and making light of that which has been entrusted to us.
Whenever anyone questions the legitimacy of our ministry or our adequacy for the task, we wonder if we made the right decision; did we do the right thing? Did we hear God right? Did God make a mistake? Did God know what he was getting?