The Struggle for Contentment in Ministry

I got into ministry hoping to do something great for God. I was going to change lives, shape communities, and see people in large numbers become super-Christians. I took a small church while in seminary to give me experience and to support my family. I was never going to stay there. I had gifts and abilities that made me a good prospect for larger churches.

But then God did a funny thing (as God often does, I have found). God called me to stay at that church. I assumed that God had big things in store for this church. But then another funny thing happened—God has not done huge things there. He has done a lot and it has been cool to see. Still, it moves a little slow for me. I even started a doctor of ministry to burn off some access energy.

I am not complaining. I love it where I am and feel truly called there. What I am reflecting on is this drive that I have for bigger and better. Pastors are in a weird place. We are called to love our people where they are while we are helping to shepherd them to where they could or should be. God may call us to larger churches, but God also might call us to stay where we are. We get into this vocation to do great things and then we end up doing a little of boring and ordinary things.

I think too many pastors are working for their next church or striving for the church that their current church could be. What we really should be doing is being faithful in the little things where we are. We all struggle to be content in ministry. Mountaintop moments of success are far apart and far too quick when they happen.

I wonder if we, like the Old Testament prophets, are called to embody and experience what we are prophesying. Maybe we are like Hosea marrying an unfaithful woman living out God being cheated on. Or maybe we are like Jeremiah laying on a stone to represent sin.

Pastors, more than anyone else, live in the tension of “now and not yet.” This is the theological understanding that God’s kingdom is paid for and has come and yet is not here in the potency and power that it someday will have. We live deep in the current conditions of our world and our people and at the same time we proclaim and work for a world that has not yet come. Our sermons are preached from this tension. Our counselling is done in this tension.

So maybe this struggle of ambition vs. contentment and of what is vs. what could be is not something to be feared. Maybe it should be expected. Maybe it is normal. Maybe it is part of the call.

 

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