By Susan Lawrence
The time and energy ministry takes can infect your family, friends, and, to be honest, just about every aspect of your life. You can burn out, get angry and resentful, and walk away from the faith that originally spurred you into ministry.
Giving your life to ministry, whether it’s paid or unpaid, church or mission, home or overseas, is full of contradictions. You give your life to ministry and feel like you lose control. You agree to be set apart, then feel isolated. You’re overwhelmed, yet claim to trust a sovereign God. So, which is it? Are you willing to give your life to ministry, or do you want to hang onto your life? Whether you’re about to take the leap or you’ve served most of your lifetime, take a moment for a heart check.
Living in a Bubble
When you commit to ministry, you develop a routine. It doesn’t seem like a routine much of the time, because the demands are different every day. You’re constantly being interrupted and inconvenienced, but after all, isn’t that what being available to serve involves?
Throughout the variety of day-to-day changes are trends of consistency. You find yourself increasingly involved in some things and less committed to others. You gravitate toward . . . people in need, people outside the church, other people in ministry; it differs for each of us because of our calling, passions, and needs, but as you say “yes” to some people and tasks and “no” to others, you inflate a bubble.
Saying “yes” and “no” are good things, but we can easily let our habits determine our decisions instead of our discernment of God’s will. Just because God led you to serve in a specific area or reach out to certain people does not mean he wants you to take up permanent residence there. He might tell you to stay there for a long time, perhaps even a lifetime, but you need to check in with him on a consistent basis in order to know for sure.
Just because something is comfortable and familiar doesn’t mean it’s God’s will for you in this season. Just because something is difficult and challenging doesn’t mean it’s God’s will, either. The only way to know God’s will is to . . . ask God.
When you put yourself in a bubble, you’re not just keeping some things in and other things out. You’re keeping God in (or out) of the bubble, too. If you feel he’s close to you, so he must be in the bubble, you might fail to see him working in areas outside the bubble. That’s a problem, because you lose a kingdom perspective. If you feel God is distant and disinterested in what you’re doing, well, that’s a problem too. God is personally invested. Always. You are not the exception to his character.
Putting yourself in a bubble is a control issue, which is exactly why it is a danger of ministry. Giving your life to ministry is about giving up control. Yes, God still gives you choices every step along the way, but choices and control are two very different things. Control might give you a sense of security, which might feel better than vulnerability, but that’s exactly why God wants you to give him—control. He’s the only one who can give true security. Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing in your relationship with him. It makes you more sensitive so you can see his perspective more clearly and anticipate what he can and will do when he uses you for his kingdom work.
When you’re in ministry, everything seems to have purpose. You find lessons in everything. Whether it’s an encounter in the fast-food drive-through or car problems on vacation, you find examples and applications. And you usually can’t keep it to yourself. It’s not like you’re preaching to everyone; at least, you don’t see it that way. You’re just observant, and you want to share.
Why wouldn’t everyone around you want to hear your insights? Isn’t that one of the reasons you’re in ministry, to share?
Well, yes, but not everyone is exactly where you are. Not everyone has your background or education. They don’t share your passion or needs. God pours into you, encouraging and challenging you in everyday situations, but that doesn’t mean the lessons he has for you are the best fit and timing for everyone around you.
Thinking you must teach, share, and apply everything is another attempt at control. The goal isn’t to make mini versions of you. God isn’t trying to replicate you. People are created in his image, not yours. The flow of lessons doesn’t go from him through you to others all the time. Pay attention to what he’s teaching you, and realize, many times, those lessons will flow from him through others to you.
That’s not to say he doesn’t want you to share, but he doesn’t want you to decide what is right and wrong for everyone. He has justice figured out. He knows where he placed lines of morality, and he knows the battle lines you are to stay within and the ones you are to cross.
We can get so caught up in managing ministry that we become as legalistic as the Pharisees. We take up a mantra similar to a popular reality show, and assume the authority to proclaim: “You’re either in or you’re out.”
If we encounter people lining up with God’s Word (or our interpretation of it), we affirm them with a high five. If not, we drag them (sometimes kicking and screaming) into God’s Word to make sure they see what we are confident they must accept at that very moment.
We’re not in charge of the “yes” and “no” of other people’s choices. We don’t even know the critical timing of the choices God is giving them. But we certainly have choices of our own. We have the choice to listen to him. And it’s only when we choose to listen that we can know when to stand up, sit down, speak up, and shut up.
Is It Worth the Cost?
Jesus taught on the importance of counting the costs of giving our lives to him (Luke 14:25-35). So, how much is too much? How do we know when we need to pull back and give less?
Perhaps that’s not the issue at all. Maybe we’re already giving less, and it’s time to give more. Not more time, effort, organization, resources, or teaching. We can’t imagine giving anything else, because we’re spent. But maybe we’ve used those things we can count and manage as a crutch. Maybe we haven’t fully given what’s most important: ourselves—our pride, preference, comfort, control, understanding, agenda, and goals.
What are you hanging onto? When you identify it, you will find the most dangerous part of ministry for you. It’s what is holding you back. It’s the stumbling block. When you give it some thought, giving your life to ministry might be the very thing holding you back.
Jesus doesn’t ask you to give your life to ministry. He asks you to give your life to him. Ministry simply comes out of the life you live for him. When you give up your life—and any delusion that you are in control—you start living.
“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).
Susan Lawrence serves local and national ministries as a ministry consultant, speaker, and author. Connect with her at PurePurpose.org.