It has taken me several years to finally figure it out, and honestly, I cannot exactly pinpoint where I allowed the myths to take hold in my heart, but I can trace its storyline through much of my frustration. The myths begins like this: “If God has called you to full-time ministry, you need to answer that call through church ministry or the foreign mission field.” So, as a young person in pursuit of the call of God, I set my course to be trained to bring the gospel to foreign countries, and learned church ministry so that when I graduated from Bible School I could be hired by a good church and serve that ministry as my vocation for life. The dream began to break down for me, however, when I didn’t get hired by churches to serve, but instead served on a volunteer basis. I continued to have jobs that really weren’t “my true calling” because I needed to support myself to do the things I felt I was really “called to do.”
I began to despise my “other” jobs. They were a waste of time and purpose in my eyes because they stood between me and what I felt I was really designed to do. My frustrations thickened when I found I could not make enough money to break away and move to the mission field. I only made enough money to pay my bills, and not enough to put away for a life in another country.
Every Sunday I would pine over the idea that one day, I would get the chance to do what all of those preachers, and leaders were doing, but that I was only participating in on an irregular basis. I would think about what I would do differently and how my gifts and skills would be used. As would seem reasonable, I came home each Sunday with complaints about how things were done, and how I would do them differently if I ever had a chance….
It doesn’t take long for the calling of God to become a “me” venture. “I” will do things differently, “I” have ideas that will make a difference. I just need to be hired, or supported, or funded, or sent. Waiting, waiting, waiting….. I am waiting for someone to recognize me and throw cash behind my dreams. I am waiting for a ministry to say they cannot live without me and offer me a salary that will pay my bills and fund my visions while I work on staff.
So why does God’s calling lead me to such frustration? After all, I am only trying to answer it as best as I know, and I don’t seem to be succeeding? Here, in this angst, I found the myth. The Holy Spirit began to untangle my thoughts and ideas and put his finger on the lies I swallowed, and let me tell you what they all were.
1. Ministry is all about the Sunday morning experience
If this statement were true, the Bible would be a collection of short essays. I was under the impression that ministry meant being on staff at a church and preparing all week for the big home run to be hit on Sunday morning. Every day of the week led up to that one, and that was the day that really mattered. That is what made it frustrating when I didn’t get to be on the worship team for particular Sundays, and why I was upset to have to do “nursery care” on those really good Sunday mornings. Nursery care isn’t my ministry.
2. Ministry is only done in spiritually favorable places.
I believed that to really make an impact, you needed to be somewhere where people really like you and want to listen to you. The mission field could provide that in certain countries, or the local church would be another great place for that. That’s why I hated my jobs where there were angry people, addicted people, people with dysfunctional lives that I did not want to have to mingle with all day long.
3. Ministry is having good programs and A-Z steps for helping people.
Oh, I studied the best programs. I had stuff memorized for days that would really change my town if I could just be given a chance to implement them in a church. I read, and read, and studied, and applied myself to learn. Doggonit!! Why aren’t I on staff somewhere?
Here is what I have learned through the Holy Spirit in my life since the day He pointed out the lies I believed:
1. Ministry is not what you do, it is who you are.
Your whole life is ministry. Every thing you learn, everything you apply yourself to do, and every moment you are breathing is an opportunity to be Jesus to someone. It happens on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and even in months ending in “r”.
2. Ministry happens wherever you are alive and breathing.
Whether or not the climate you are working in is spiritually “favorable”, your life is a ministry, and your ability to reach your co-workers, bosses, clients, and friends is a gift from God to you. God placed you where you are on purpose, and He has invested in you to reach the whole world–even the ones you chat with in the break room.
God wastes nothing. Your life, time and purpose are not being wasted if you are not on staff at a church or serving on a mission field. If you are asking God to make you a ministry right where you are, you will find that He is in no short supply of how to help you reach out to your neighbors, friends, and communities with the love and grace of God.
3. Ministry is loving people.
What does love look like? Love isn’t just an emotion, or a sentimental thought, it is an embodied action. It looks like Jesus. Love looks like changing a flat tire for a neighbor, plowing a driveway, mowing a lawn, fixing a pipe. Love looks like a mother loving on her children and her children’s friends, a care-giver to infants, or the elderly. Love throws parties to celebrate others accomplishments, and remembers to praise people for jobs well done. Love decorates, organizes, re-builds, schedules, and encourages. Love does all of these things through people like you and me every day of the week.
Ministry is listening to the addict tell their 100th story of failure, and continuing to pray for them and assist their families. Ministry is loving those babies in the nursery while the rest of the ministry teams are in the sanctuary. Ministry is helping the single mom, or dad take care of their families, because you are their friend and you love them.
Ministry is showing up on time at your place of work and putting in the best efforts you have. Ministry is loving your boss and co-workers, and finding opportunities to praise them and encourage them.
Jesus didn’t teach the disciples to be priests in the temples of their day, instead He taught them what love looked like in the every day interaction with people. He demonstrated His love for us in His actions that were not reserved for the one ministry day of the week. He was found among the poor, destitute, alcoholics, prostitutes, fishermen, single parents, and tax collectors. He made His whole life ministry to shame the lie that faith and love is only for those who attend weekly services.
I pray today as I type this that you would see your life as a gift from God to be infused with his grace, so that everywhere you walk today, and in every vocation you work in, you will be ministry to those around you. May you and I make withdraws on the endless creativity, love and mercy of God and deposit those things into the communities where we live. May you reject the ministry myths, and embrace the mercy of God for yourself and the people around you. May ministry no longer be something you do, but something you are.