If not for the obstacles standing in the way of the Colorado River, there would be no Grand Canyon. Without these natural barriers, the river would not have created dramatic ravines, horseshoe bends, and whitewater rapids. Instead of a Grand Canyon, we would have a “Grand Trench.” How awe-inspiring would that be? Not very.
If I could give any counsel to Christians and ministry leaders in today’s world, it would be this: Lead like you are the Colorado River. Anticipate impediments to your progress. Don’t expect the way to be free and clear of obstacles. No matter what the barrier, try to find your way around it. The route may seem tortured, but given enough time, you will make progress.
Sometimes I wonder how young ministers will do as they start their church leadership journey in this socially divided and digitally distracted world. Frankly, I think they are going to be brilliant. Sure, some won’t stay in ministry for long. They will serve solidly for a season and then decide to do something else. That has always been the case. Some do ministry for life and some only for a season. There is much value in both. Those ministry leaders who serve for a season are incredibly valuable. But I’m not sure we give them their proper honor.
An Example from the Marines
In my training to become a mental health clinician, I spent years counseling U.S. Marines. Some of them stayed in the military until retirement. Others served for a season of their life and then reentered the civilian world. In all my time with military personnel, there was never a hint that you wereless of aMarine for wanting to go back to civilian life after a typical six-year enlistment. Never have I heard anyone ask, “How long did you serve?” as a prerequisite for, “Thank you for your service.” We are just grateful for their service, no matter how manyyears they served.
Another virtue of military veterans who reenter civilian life is that they often leverage the leadership skills and personal resiliency forged in the service to start businesses and organizations that benefit our communities. The same happens in the ministry world.
Ministry in the Workplace
One pastor I see in my counseling practice went into full-time vocational ministry without any thought of ever doing anything else, but then his “tour of duty” was unexpectedly interrupted. He went to work for a construction company that was languishing due to the culture of the work environment. This pastor methodically worked his way up in the company and today he serves as vice president. He has completely changed the company’s culture and did so, in large part, by applying what he learned in Bible college and church ministry.
I know of another pastor who went on to be an attorney. He combines his heart for evangelism with the practice of law and is now providing expert counsel to churches in legal matters. I counseled another pastor who became a chaplain in the U.S. Navy; he is brought in on high-level assignments because of his skills in connecting with people. He credits these skills to what he learned in church ministry.
Bullish on the Future
I know that many people are concerned about how hard it’s going to be for church and ministry leaders in the future. I fully expect that, as a clinical psychologist who specializes in the mental health of ministry leaders, I am going to always have a full practice. But unlike those who are pessimistic, I am abundantly bullish on the future of young ministry leaders.
These young leaders have the guts to enlist and the willingness to serve Jesus. No matter how long their tours of duty, their service will be appreciated, and they will help move the gospel forward. It isn’t likely ministry will be easy for them. Rather, it’s going to be difficult. Ministry has always been hard and it always will be. How do you convey the gospel to a divided and distracted world? I’m not sure, but the future generations of ministry leaders will figure out a way.
Whether serving in vocational ministry until retirement or only for a season, once a pastor, always a pastor! As a team of ministry leaders, paid by a church or otherwise, we are the Colorado River of living water. It flows through us and out of us. People with a heart for serving Christ will always find a way. And in doing so, we help build a Grand Canyon-sized legacy of faith for others to build on.
As Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).