What Ministry Took from Me (and Sabbatical Gave Back)

I want to make sure I say up front that it wasn’t ministry’s fault. I’ve read a lot blogs about how hard ministry is and how we slide into all kinds of bad things because of ministry. That is not what this blog is about.

I think ministry is the greatest job in the world. What I do, and more importantly why I do it, matters to me and I believe it matters to other people and to the world being a better place. Whatever ministry took from me, it took because I gave it. Ministry is not a thief; it doesn’t steal. Ministry is more like a drug. Used appropriately, it can be very useful, but overextended, it can be very dangerous. And I can decide what category it falls into.

1. Mission matters.

What we are supposed to be about and how we do it really matters. The tendency for me as a pastor (and maybe some others) is to find the path of least resistance. It is quite efficient to prepare interesting thoughts for a sermon and dazzle people with facts and ideas, but over time, it becomes routine and boring. Our mission inspires us to action. This action keeps our faith fresh.

2. Religiosity doesn’t matter.

That doesn’t mean religiosity has no purpose. Religion is designed to be a set of actions that help me express my faith. There is nothing wrong with that, but when it turns into the approved list of dos and don’ts, it becomes very dangerous. There is no room for people who are different than I am, and there is no room for God to work.

3. My legacy will rest in how well I hand off my faith, not how well I talk about it.

I am pretty good at preaching, and it is easy to assume that outside of this portion of my life, I have no other real value. Nothing could be further from the truth. How many great men and women of faith have we seen who find it nearly impossible to pass their faith onto their kids? It is a catastrophic notion that we can inspire thousands and lose those who mean the most to us. Keeping church people happy at the expense of my own kids is a HUGE mistake.

4. I am not defined by work.

The success or failure of the church I work for does not determine my value or worth. I am not made by God and in His image in order to make a big organization. I am made by God to encourage those around me and bring life and hope through the Holy Spirit to everyone I meet.

5. I am called to a Church counterculture

not an “anti-Church” culture, but a counterculture that quite frankly moves away from much of what is known as “orthopraxy.” In other words, I am firmly convinced that what the church says it believes and what the church does are two very different things, and my heart beats to close that gap. We can either change what we do or change what we say. Depending on the context, it is a combination of both.

6. Joy in this world will always be in spite of something.

The reality of this world is that we are still in the process of the redemption of all things. And until that happens, we live in some level of brokenness. That means no matter what our circumstances, we will have to choose joy at some level. That doesn’t mean there is no real joy. It means joy comes form a deeper place — a truer place than our circumstances. Suffering happens. Pain, sorrow, and even death happen, no doubt, but they do not have the final word in our lives or in this world. We can choose joy now.

7. Ministers don’t deserve a “thank you.”

Somewhere along the way, we started holidays like “Pastor Appreciation Month” and “National Pastor Day.” Then the Promise Keepers movement made a huge push for people to revere and value pastors. Truthfully, I am all for it. I like being appreciated as much as the next person. However, being appreciated can very subtly become an expectation, not a blessing. Whether or not people properly appreciate my work and life has no bearing on what God has called me to do. Somewhere along the way, I got it in my head that unless people respond properly to me, what I did was of no consequence.

8. I am made for the fringes, not for the mainstream.

For anyone who knows me, I have this annoying personality quirk: I ask a lot of questions and refine and challenge assumptions. A LOT! For people who want to fit comfortably into a resolved mainstream, I am not a fun person to be around. Because of my mindset, I can make people more uncomfortable than they are willing to accept. In my experience, there are many people on the fringe of our community who have issues with these questions, and they are not following Jesus because no one who is walking with Jesus has the courage to ask these questions. I am the pastor for “those people.” I affectionately call my church “the island of misfit toys.” We are the church for people who don’t fit in. People who do fit in are welcome here. But somewhere along the way I got lost in the notion that keeping everyone who comes to church happy is a noble objective.

Growing the church was never the call God gave me. Fidelity to the task is what God asks of me, and the task comes out of my design. I am made for the fringes. And that is just going to make some people uncomfortable.

9. There needs to be a better conversation concerning leadership development.

The American leadership development conversation still revolves around a basic tenet: You are strong in some areas and weak in others. Know and work on your weaknesses so you won’t have any. The foundational problem with that thinking is that it doesn’t work.

The truth is you are designed to be a thing — a leader, a teacher, a servant, an encourager — and no one can be everything. We need one another. What we need to focus on is what we are made to be and how we can best maximize that.

This allows all of us to be able to love about ourselves what God loves about us — the thing He made us for — and we can love it as much as He loves it. Then we need not fixate on “weaknesses” that no matter how hard we work on them, will simply never be strengths.

Honestly, each of these ideas could be its own post, or a book for that matter, and maybe someday they will be both. But for now, I am focused on staying true to what God made me to be. I am focused on not allowing myself to hand these important pieces of me over to ministry. I am focused on living each moment as truly as I can in what I am called to do.