April 4, 2014

I Thought Ministry Would Be Glamorous

As early as high school, I had a sense that I might one day be a pastor's wife. The thought wasn't totally coherent, and it certainly wasn't something I went around talking about. I didn't sit guys down and interrogate them about their future vocation on first dates. I just kind of knew it would turn out the way it has, and all along I wanted it to turn out like it has.
When I was in high school and college, however, my idea of what ministry would be like wasn't at all accurate, so when I thought of what it might be like to marry a guy going into the ministry, I imagined it to be quite glamorous in a Baptisty sort of way. I'd stand with my husband at the back of the sanctuary to shake hands and everyone would know my name. I'd be honored and respected all over town because of my pastor's wife title. And I'd be spiritually glamorous too, having memorized the Bible somewhere along the way and knowing all the answers. This is how I imagined it.

The pastor's wife thing happened, but ministry has been nothing like I imagined. I shake hands, yes, and people sometimes know my name (sometimes not), but there's not much glamour in it all. Ministry is not about me (that was lesson #1), but it has been for me in the sense that it's shone a big ol' bright spotlight on my heart. The first thing God highlighted was my self-centeredness and my ambition, and He set the decision before me: would I seek to serve others or be served by them?

Sometimes I see a culture of ambition among church leaders that is scary to me, especially in the world of church planting. Let me clarify: I see an ambition in myself that is scary, and I recognize it in others because I've learned to recognize it in myself. The culture's insistence on performance, followers, flash, and results has infiltrated our church planting world and drives us, almost without us even realizing it, to use people rather than serve them and to question our success when obstacles get in our way or numbers sag. We seem to be just as obsessed with celebrity as the culture around us, and we're only content with the work as long as we're building quickly (and noisily).

This spring I've been reading about Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and I've seen in these guys something that I long to see in myself more and more: a love of the work over a love of the results from the work. They kept right on building the wall, teaching the Law, and restoring the temple through exhaustion, threat of attack, discouragement, accusation, and apathetic people. In all that, I'd probably be questioning my calling, pouting, or looking around for a pat on the back, certainly not emboldened to continue. But those guys listened and believed and acted on what God told them. They fulfilled Zechariah's prophetic words:

"For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth." Zechariah 4:10

To me, it seems that's what pure ministry is all about: not despising the day of small things, being willing to lay brick upon brick in the hot sun, to labor among rubble and discouragement with God's vision of what could be in mind, to consider only that the eyes of the Lord are watching and not the eyes of others. Ministry is day-in, day-out faithful building over a long period of time. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about it. If it wasn't glamorous for Jesus, it certainly won't be for us.

What if, as leaders, we really got this? What if I really got this? We'd quit chasing silly things, struggling with discontentment in our ministry, and believing that there should be something in it for us. Instead, we'd be characterized as suffering servants like Jesus was. We'd be looking for ways to go to the bottom rather than the top because at the bottom we'd have more people to serve. We'd be perfectly content being invisible in our labor because we'd trust that the eyes of the Lord are scanning to and fro, and that He sees what we do in His honor.

This is the trajectory I hope for the church and her leaders, that we quit shouting to be the loudest and most admired, that we not despise the day of small things, and that we stoop lower to lay brick upon brick of grace and truth and good works. This is how we best proclaim the Suffering Servant to one another and to the world around us, and this is how we love the work over the results of the work, and this is how we honor our God.

Have you believed that ministry or church planting should be glamorous? How has God taught you otherwise?