“Forty-something and going nowhere? Ever thought about the Ministry?”
‘Ministry’ is a label you may not like or want, but whether you adopt it yourself or men with fancy hats bestow it upon you, you’ve become a Teacher of Religion. You’ve entered into a new realm of expectations and responsibilities.
“Wait Brother!” you may (depending on your flavour of religion) say, “We’re all in the Ministry!”
That point can be argued, but theological reasoning generally looses out to the historical divide between ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ regardless of the context. Sorry friend, the reality is you’ve mounted the podium, stepped into the spotlight, taken hold of the loud hailer, grasped the sceptre, assumed the mantle, made the good confession, received the anointing…
Now it’s ‘you’ and ‘them’.
Even if you’re the smallest person in the least important tribe with the most unimpressive job description, people are now looking to you as a demonstration of ‘Christian’.
Yes, it is kind of unfair, but you were warned. Did you think you could personally be the exception to two millennia of tradition?
Compounding the dilemma is the reality that many of the ‘called’ apparently live in a universe where dubious character is tolerated, even sometimes embraced, after all, “we’re all human, aren’t we?”
What’s more, whereas you may think the important things are measurable outputs – numbers, conversions, ‘solid’ preaching, tangible results, increased takings, sound financial position, well maintained buildings, ‘orthodoxy’, ‘growth’ – most other people (not in ‘the Ministry’) just want to know if you’re a genuinely good person.
Because deep down that’s what they want to be. And in light of the evidence, they’re wondering if it’s actually possible. Whether Christianity actually works. Whether it can actually change people on the inside or if, in fact, the ‘new atheists’ are right and it’s another form of mass delusion.
They’ll look at the simple things. Do you seem ‘joyful’, ‘happy’? Are you extraordinarily patient, kind and generous? Do you actually care about people? (And they’ll know if you really do, or if you’re just trying to look as if you really do, because it’s in your job description.)
They’re not particularly interested in the pressure you work under. Or your staffing issues. Or how much sacrifice you feel the job demands of you. Or if you’re foolish enough to ‘burn yourself out for the ministry’. Because they’ve seen sacrifice and dedication before. They want to know if you’re motivations are truly different from the CEO or business manager who is driven to succeed.
They will watch as you justify some basic character failing, all the while oblivious that you’re failing in the very thing people need – a demonstration of a community that is worth being part of.
Yes, ‘sanctification’ is a process. Yes, ‘we’re all on a journey’. But if someone held a gun to your head and said, ‘don’t lust, lie or steal’ – however that applies to your situation – you probably would – at least while they were watching.
It would appear to be a question of motivation and accountability, or as someone once said, “the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.
People have always looked for the power to change themselves and the world they live in.
And there will always be a good supply of wares to chose from.
How are yours looking?