My first year of ministry was insane.
I was 20, single, and was still in Bible college. I had taken a homiletics class and was thinking, “This is awesome!” But I butchered my first sermon big time.
Now, I have been in ministry for 10 years and some may get the idea that it has been an easy-breezy journey that led to the place I am today. But, that was not the case. As each year went by, ministry did get better, but the first year was a real struggle. There were many hurdles I needed to overcome.
Here are three open and honest struggles I faced and things that I wished I knew in my first year of ministry:
Oh, the amount of counseling in ministry. I was not ready for this one. The question I was asking myself was, “Does the Bible have enough to say to address the problems of this life in counseling?" Basically, is scripture sufficient to do the work of counseling? This is perhaps the most controversial question in the context of pastoral care and counseling. Most believe that theology is for ministers and psychology is for counselors and the two do not really have much to do with each other.
Truly, some situations are complex and many are to be honest, they are horrendous. We should be troubled by the types of sin and brokenness present in the homes, but often we feel inadequate and useless to help, pointing to our lack of training and passing the load off to someone else.
Christians are called to pray and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15), but in the back of my head, I was constantly thinking, “There has to be more I can do for them.” It staggers the mind. Pastoral care and counseling cannot be a mere commiseration of hanging out, but should consist of navigating through people’s pain and hurt as they vulnerably seek assistance that the Lord has provided.
Another reason the local church finds the tension is that most seminary students take only one or two counseling classes in their degree program. As a result, seminarians often underestimate how much counseling will be demanded when they reach their first pastorate. Church members expect their pastor to help them with their struggles. After all, the members fund the pastor’s salary. The flock expects the shepherd to give up his time, and most times, they expect a lot of it.
What is the result? Pastors feel threatened or struggle to help and people end up leaving because they didn’t feel “cared for or loved” by the church. Sometimes pastors are more bothered by the thought of people leaving the church than they are by the thought of the flock hurting.
A common way to deal with this problem is to increase the church budget, being largely dependent on the preacher’s own eloquent preaching to do so. Then, an associate pastor can be hired to take on everything else, including, in this case, counseling. However, when we see other churches with larger budgets and more staff, the reality is that there is no less trouble. In fact, it perhaps brings more trouble which is also frustrating for pastors.
I do not like conflict, especially within the church. Church conflict is unique.
In the midst of major heated church conflicts, I never felt like losing my salvation, but I did feel like quitting the Christian life altogether because of conflict with other believers. The burden of hurt caused by the sin of others, discouragement by my own personal failures, or just the simple confusion of whether it was my own fault or how much really wasn’t were all too much.
In order to "resolve" issues, people in the church call in an out-of-town authority for counsel and advice. Those who rarely open their Bible suddenly begin to research to find relevant passages to deal with the matter. At the end of the day, everyone just wants to call it quits and say, “Forget it!” The easiest way out of the fleshly response would be to unplug and simply cut off all contact with the person. However, I don’t see in Scripture where God calls people to keep a distance and call it "love."
Churches who have not properly dealt with biblical conflict resolution ended up in worse situations. Sometimes churches have never recovered and have split. Many people have been hurt and pastors have been burned out. By God’s grace, churches must faithfully follow the biblically instruction of the pattern that He has given to achieve resolution.
I wish I was more confident in my calling as a child of God (1 John 3:1). In the kingdom ministry, if I was confident in the Spirit's calling, I would have probably avoided much heartache caused by my own insecurities.
I wouldn't have tried to be a chameleon, attempting to be like someone else so that I could please everyone. I would've acted based on who God created me to be and the strengths he has given me to leverage for the gospel! Not knowing what I was good at and figuring out who I was made it take longer for me to grow as a leader.
I wish, based on in His unchanging faithfulness, I could have been confident in His Word for His Work. For the sake of the gospel, I was able to stand with unshakeable confidence. I didn’t want to be courageous yet foolish, nor did I want to be wise yet timid. I didn’t want one without the other. I want to be wise despite my age and I want to be as courageous as a lion, standing for the sake of the gospel. I wouldn't have based things on the fact that I was in my twenties, or that I was a racial-minority, or my short experience in ministry. I would be confident in Christ as an ordinary person doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.
There is too high a cost for people who do not know the good news of Jesus Christ. I want my life to be ablaze in adoration for Christ’s glory and make His gospel known amongst the nations.
Being a Learner for Life in the Journey of Ministry
I’m sure there are more to be added to this list in the challenges of ministry. The hardship is part of the calling and shapes us to become the people we are.
Tozer said it well: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
The joy of ministry far outweighs the hardship of ministry.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)