A Minister’s Challenge

This morning, Micah’s school had a ceremony to kick of Texas Week. So all of the teachers and students gathered around the flagpole and watched the raising of the flag of the USA and the Texas flag. We said the pledges to each flag, then we sang the Star Spangled Banner and Texas Our Texas.

I noticed during the ceremony that the lady who led the pledges and hosted the event pawned the leading of the singing on some others – not really intentionally (it appeared to surprise them as well).  I asked another teacher why she didn’t love Texas enough to sing (I can be disruptive sometimes).

Her response was that she probably didn’t know the words and didn’t want to mess up in front of a bunch of elementary students. And, that got me to thinking…

In ministry, how guilty are we (at times) of the exact same thing? We teach, preach, and counsel one thing, yet so often are found trying to lead a student to a spiritual maturity beyond our own.

Here’s one thing I know of ministry. We will never lead a student to a spiritual maturity beyond our own. We set the pace. If our students’ prayer lives suck, chances are that ours do as well. If our students’ lives are filled with chaos and a lack of peace, we’d better check our own. Our spiritual fervor and hunger will limit and stagnate the spriritual growth of our students if we aren’t disciplined enough to maintain our relationship with Christ.

This thinking prompted my use of a Bible reading schedule this year. This thinking prompted my own personal need for accountability. So, as we minister to kids and discover what exactly is missing and weakest in their lives, we need to first make sure that we are living out what we are teaching by preaching incarnationally.

“Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and fail to notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me get the speck out of your eye’, when there is a plank in your own? You fraud! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you can see clearly enough to remove your brother’s speck of dust.
Matthew 7:3-5 (Phillips NT)

Jeremiah Thoughts

My first reading of Jeremiah was memorable to me because I was struggling with burnout at the time. So, I can’t read the text and not see a lot of myself within the confessions of Jeremiah.

What minister hasn’t accused God of taking advantage of them? I speak from experience knowing that I have had moments when I believed God was expecting more from me than I could give, and that there was an injustice in what I was going through in my pursuit in ministry.

My wife was two weeks from giving birth to our daughter (our second child) when I was called into the senior pastor’s office and notified that the board of trustees was unhappy with the numbers and direction of the student ministry. Therefore, they were graciously going to give me four months to “turn it around,” but since they felt I would be unable to do that, they were going to go ahead and interview applicants for my replacement.

I wanted to go. I didn’t merely want to leave the church, I wanted out of ministry. I could live with serving God, but had no compassion or appreciation for his church. It only served as a tormentor towards me. I had gained nothing from serving in ministry, but it had threatened the welfare of my family, and that I could not take.

So I prayed, and I prayed. I bided my time. I must have “turned it around,” because they didn’t hire my replacement, but I was hurt nonetheless. I chose to leave the ministry. I applied for several police department positions. One of which, I was unable to pass the physical test. The day before I was scheduled to take a written test for a fire department, I was hospitalized in order to receive an emergency appendectomy. I passed another police department physical exam two weeks post-op.

I was speaking to my best friend (another youth pastor) and he and I had a discussion about my struggles, and my desire to leave ministry. His comment was that if I could possibly leave ministry, then I should. But, if I’m called to ministry (which he believed I was), then I could not possibly be happy or content outside of ministry.

His statement rang true deep in my core, and I realized – like Jeremiah – that “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Jeremiah 20:9 (NIV)

Regardless of how I felt about the church at the time – regardless of my thoughts of being overwhelmed by God and used by him – I knew what I still know. I cannot be silent. I cannot stand idly by and not speak God’s word. I once thought that I could work a “secular” job, go home, and live in a happy Huckstable home.

There are people that can be content in that situation, and I applaud them (and at times envy them). However, I am not one of them, nor (now) would I want to be. I am called by Christ, to speak his words, to share his message, and to tell his greatness at every available opportunity.

I know who I am. I know what I am called to, and strangely enough, it is in accepting my role in the Kingdom and embracing the awesome responsibility and privilege of being one of God’s spokesmen that brings me joy.

I love the church. I love what I do within the church. I can’t imagine doing anything that doesn’t incorporate speaking God’s truths to anyone willing to listen – whether I do that in the context of Student Ministry, or in leading worship, or in (one day?) leading a church.

Perhaps the reality is that the very same feeling that upon burnout can be described as being overtaken by God and taken advantage of God, is the very same feeling that upon surrender is actually a comfort of being called and qualified by God. What feels to be pressure and heavy responsibility becomes (and perhaps always was) a passion and awesome privilege.