Lecture 16: Inglorious and Glorious Aspects of Ministry
Course: Theology of Ministry
Today we'll focus on wrapping up some things that I wanted to say about ministry. So the first hour I'm going to talk about the inglorious and glorious sides of ministry because that's part of our theology of ministry and then wrap up with some things in the second hour and if we have time just to kind of open it up. I'd kind of like to do that if we can just to anything regarding theology of ministry you'd like to talk about. I've chosen some of the themes that I think are relevant to ministry and certainly do not want to suggest that I've been exhaustive here even though it might seem like that, but.
When I look at ministry and scripture I see that there's a lot of inglorious sides to it and glorious sides to it. And I think it's really good that we go into ministry as much as we can with our eyes wide open to both of those. One of the complaints at times level that seminaries is that they don't really tell people what it's really like and so they get out there and then they are surprised. Not that this is going to take away any element of surprise because you're all going to face surprises out there that if you went to seminary for 20 years, it's not going to somehow alleviate, just like all of the premarital counseling in the world doesn't mean that there won't be any surprises on the other side of the honeymoon.
There will always be surprises. And probably just like marriage, there are inglorious aspects and glorious aspects. So, here are some inglorious aspects that I've over time thought about. And the first one is this, and maybe you've already experienced an element of it already with whatever ministry you do and that is an involvement with the menial and the mundane. That's how I put it. Involvement with the menial and the mundane.
What I mean by this is that despite sometimes what the brochures say or the conferences suggest, and even sometimes what professors will say, there is a certain part of ministry that's not very glamorous and not very attractive. I have found myself over the years resonating so much with Eugene Peterson because he talks a lot about this. I'll give you a couple of quotes. He says, 'Ministry by and large consists of modest daily assigned work. Routines similar to mucking out the stalls, spreading manure, pulling weeds. If we expected to ride a glistening stallion in parades and return to the barn where a lackey grooms our steed, our stead, we will be severely disappointed.' He's exactly right.
That was his experience and that I think is true for just about all of us. We get out in ministry and we're expecting big things and attractive things and suddenly we're face-to-face with someone who is, I think I've probably used the illustration once, is to pick up Pepto-Bismol for her or figure out a pecan pie recipe. We're just not quite ready for those kind of questions. As Peterson puts it, 'This is not what most of us had in mind when we signed on. We had not counted on anything so benign or so marginal. Our images of ministry had a great deal more fierceness to them. Jeremiah with fire in his mouth, Paul careening through prison and shipwrecked. The language we learned was one of battle but sometimes it's like learning high school Spanish. It is soon non-functional from disuse. Did we learn the wrong language?' That's vintage Peterson.
But we didn't learn the wrong language. It's actually if we look in our theology, it's part of the language. It's part of ministry. It goes back to what we said definitionally with the [phonetic] deacanea. It is waiting on tables and that's not always glamorous stuff. It is a bit of the menial and the mundane. That's where a lot of ministry starts. My guess is that for most of you here, as you begin ministry if you haven't already begun ministry, that's where it really starts.
It has to start. We have to learn it. When I entered into ministry in college, my first assignment was picking up all of the paper cups after Campus Life meetings. I was actually thinking it would be much more glamorous than that but that's what it felt like the first year. But actually that was some of the best training for me for ministry. It just prepares you in many ways because a lot of what we're dealing with is the mess out there of lives and a lot of it is mucking out the stalls.
It serves to prepare us to willingly do it as a servant. Here's a second inglorious part of ministry that some of us will face maybe more than others, but it's there none the less. I don't know how else to put it but here's the second one, nice but insignificant. We go out into the world as ministers, our theology and everything set to do ministry. Then we suddenly face a world that minister sounds so quaint, and harmless, and nice, bland, a leader of the bland.
And we will feel at times like people view us as nice but not really important. When we become important is when someone needs a prayer at a dinner. Suddenly we're asked to fulfill our part. They might want to hear that but there may not be much interested in the rest of conversation. I remember sort of a personal crisis for me early on in ministry when it came to Thanksgiving, for example.
At Thanksgiving we'd all get together with all of the relative and I was the one that was in ministry. No one really wanted to talk about that. They wanted to talk about everything else under the sun that everybody was doing but it was like, 'We don't want to go there.' You know? Who knows what John might start talking about that would actually ruin the conversation around the table. So, sometimes it can feel that way and parishioners will sometimes treat us more so that way than we would like.
You know, it comes for those of us in pastoral ministry with the bland statement, 'That was a nice sermon,' when as I've mentioned, you never intended to be nice. And people will give courteous smiles but sometimes you will feel as significant as an exit sign, there in case of an emergency but otherwise overlooked. Sometimes that's what ministry feels like, right? I never notice exit signs unless there's an emergency. Sometimes in ministry, it can feel a little bit that way too.
Martin Thornton calls it the ambulance syndrome, just there to pick up the pieces after an accident but barring any accidents, he's out of a job.
Audience: Who is that?
Martin Thornton, T-H-O-R-N-T-O-N, he's a guy that a person like Eugene Peterson often quotes from, Wendell Berry, Martin Thornton, kind of earthy guys that really look at life as it is. A third inglorious side is sometimes a feeling of limited competence. There was a day in ministry when the minister was the most respected person in the community. What ministers shared was assumed as authoritative. And certainly from a pastoral side, it's viewed just in the titles that once predominated the landscape like Reverend, which by the way, I'm so thankful 99.9 percent of the people never use that of me.
But, you know, Parson. Do you ever think of the word, Parson? Where did Parson come from? It's not that far away from what other word that sounds sort of close to it. Parson, person. Parson was a word used to refer to the person. In other words, there was a day the minister was the person. I think in our vernacular today would be sort of, you know, you're the man. You know, but that was how it was viewed at one time.
Well, most ministers aren't viewed as you're the man today, certainly not the parson. In fact, today ministers are not the most educated and even while a lot of us will have a certain amount of education, it will be held up with some suspicion. And part of this feeling of limited competence comes with sometimes a feeling that we only can do so much then it needs to be transferred to the professionals. Now, it can happen on the pastoral side sometimes when, okay, we can only go so far with people who really have significant needs. Now we need to call a professional psychologist.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but what can be wrong is a sense of moving from the non-professional to the professional, at least that feeling. Much like a hospital visit that can be, 'Well, it's nice you're here but we need to let the professionals take over.' And sometimes you struggle with that. That's a little bit of that inglorious side. Leonard Sweet put it this way, 'We may sometimes feel like a typewriter repairman in an age of computers, made to feel like an amateur among others with little to contribute to the real problems of life.'
And behind it all, what is our theology telling us? Well, it's telling us that well, we were called to be servants. We are called to be servants. The greatest shall be the servants, Mathew 23:11. Paul reminds us that we, we were called by the way, to be under-rowers, Corinthians I 4:1-5.
A fourth inglorious side of ministry can sometimes by suspicion and mistrust. Why do I mention that one? Where does that come from?
Audience: I think there's so many people that have been hurt or disappointed.
Yeah, and sometimes because maybe people put us too high on a pedestal to begin with and we allowed that. What else does it come from?
Yeah, a lot of becomes by the public perception as portrayed by the media and not just a portrayal of it but the actual allody of it when you do get on cable sometimes and watch guys and you go, 'God, I hope nobody is watching this,' realizing that all too many are.
It can create a culture of disrespect, mistrust, clergy abuse, Catholic priests, etc, all enter into that. Yeah, Mark?
Mark: They had us a read a book, the book by the guy that was a commentator up in Seattle on the radio. The guy made the quote in it though, 'A lot of the suspicion and mistrust of us as Christians is that our friendships are only as deep, they're very superficial in certain ways.' I remember there was an example of a guy playing racquetball and he was doing it as an evangelistic outreach. Somebody asked him, 'Now, if you can guarantee that Collin here, this guy that's unsaved, if he was never going to accept Christ, would you continue to play racquetball with him?' He said, 'No.' And unfortunately a lot of the times we as Christians, or even Pastors, show an interest in somebody. It's not a genuine interest.
Mark: It's too Christian, too Pagan.
Mark: And so I think a lot of the suspicion and mistrust has some very valid reasons for it.
Yeah, well, and I think part of it again coming from a church end is that just way too many stories out there when you come in to a ministry that you find out your predecessor really left a pretty damaging trail when it comes to authenticity or integrity. And so it takes sometimes years. In fact maybe all of the time in the world won't get you there. I mean if sometimes I found in ministry that it takes some people six, seven years before they'll finally trust you. I mean not six or seven months or six or seven weeks, six or seven years. Just prepare yourself for that. Some will need a long, long time of a track record of consistency and authenticity for that.
It's part of the inglorious side. Part of the inglorious side is you elevate this task in our minds because it is an elevated task by the way. I mean don't diminish who you are as minister and we'll talk about that in a moment but that sets, sets it up for this. A fifth one is on realistic expectations. This is certainly an inglorious side to ministry.
That is the people we minister to, we obviously realize they all have an expectation of us and they're all different expectations. Some are obviously very unreal. Others may not expect hardly anything from us maybe because they've been so disappointed. And of course the worse is the expectations we'll put on ourselves. Part of what's difficult in that is that there's no end to it so you have to set your own limitations because otherwise, it's just an inexhaustible route and if your expectations are not properly set, you can burn out really easily.
Some will expect you to be a scholar. Some will expect you to be a chief executive officer. Some will expect you to be a therapist. Some will expect you to be a father. Some will expect you to be a friend. Some will expect you to be an innovator that with every new idea coming down the road, you should be at the front end of that. Going back to expectations that you put on yourself, the expectations sometimes to see a life change in every person you minister to or to see your ministry double every two to three years. Or certainly for those of us who are in communication, the expectation you can put on yourself that you've got to nail it every week.
That's a heavy expectation and yet we naturally put that on ourselves because I mean who wants to say, 'Well this week I think I'm not going to hit a homerun. I think I'm just going to hit a foul, you know. Who is going to bunt this week?' So in all of this, we'll need to remember again who we work for. We don't work for the people and we don't work for ourselves. We work for Jesus.
I like David Fisher who put it this way, 'After about three years of ministry, you will have failed to meet all of the impossible and unspoken expectations. Then you can begin to minister. For it is then you will have decided to just simply love people and believe the Gospel.'
Number six, part of the inglorious side of ministry sometimes will be disappointment and hurt because it's a profession in which you care deeply about people and so you will at times get hurt deeply. Being visible, you can often be misunderstood or misquoted. Sometimes what will hurt is that you will pour yourself into people's lives and then they'll leave and that's a great hurt and a great disappointment but sometimes they almost have to leave, at least in their minds because maybe the relationship has become so one-sided.
You know everything about them and they know very little about you and you know all too much about them. And sometimes you just have to gracefully let go. I remember when I first started ministry, this was really a troublesome thing for me. I'd find that I'd pour my life into people in very, very deep ways and then they'd leave and it's not because they got mad at me or got upset. They just suddenly realized one day that they couldn't sit in church and face the possibility they might be one of my sermon illustrations.
And then certainly the hurt that will come with the tact from those you least expect. That often happens. I love the council of Ben Paterson who said, 'Don't ever take it personally. Soldiers don't take shots personally. It's part of a war.' Just remember you are in a war. You're in a good fight as we talked about earlier, Timothy I 1:12.
Sometimes this hurt comes too because you're dealing with people who a lot of times are going through deep hurt and in kind of a strange way they feel like with you they can just release a lot of things inside of them that maybe they can't release to anybody else, not realizing that sometimes that can be pretty raw for you. Do you know what I'm saying? A man came up to me after I preached yesterday and I was pretty raw because I'd just got back from the memorial service in which I lost one of my closest friends, just proceeded to just blast with all kinds of rage inside because his needs were not being met.
So sometimes it really comes at the worst moments too. What I've learned over the years is that God gives you a lot of grace and over time you just begin to realize it's nothing personal. You just minister grace and it's amazing how grace turns things around. Whereas in my younger, more impetuous days, I might've said something I would've regretted. You can't ever really prepare for them and sometimes will come in some of your worst moments, some of your most vulnerable moments. And maybe sometimes that happens because the more transparent you are and open, that sort of says to people, 'Well, maybe I can be that too,' but it works in sort of a strange way because then it opens them up to be that with you when maybe you least are emotionally prepared for it. Does that make sense?
I think that's what happens. I find that when I'm more transparent, when people see that I'm going down this road, sometimes it kind of gives permission for people to do the same thing but then sometimes it can then stir up to the surface things people have been feeling that suddenly I don't even know if his man was prepared for what came out, but then pretty soon it was like, well, the lid was now open. So now it just, it just came out in waves, and waves, and waves. And that's sort of an inglorious part of ministry but it comes because you're dealing with the soul. You're dealing with people at the base level issues, hurts of their life. I mean it's not people saying, 'You know, I'm really upset with you because, you know, your product wasn't delivered on time.' That's not the stuff we deal with. We deal more with somebody who says, 'You know, I was really hurting and I was in a tragedy and you weren't there for me.'
So we're dealing with really deep-level stuff. Why do I share this with you? Because part of your theology of ministry is just understanding that's part of what ministry is and when I go back to my theology, when I go back to people in scripture, when I go back to people like the Apostle Paul, I realize that comes with it. That's kind of what you signed up for. Another one here, seven, is loneliness. That can be a bit of an inglorious side of ministry because you can minister to a lot of people and people are afraid to get too close a lot of times or assume you're too busy, or feel awkward to invite you over.
I always remember this funny story. When I first came into ministry, my wife called a family in our church and as she picked up the phone, my wife said, 'Hi, this is Heather Johnson.' Mary, Heather, and Mary put her, her hand over the, the phone although my wife could here and she said, 'Mike, turn down the music. It's the pastor's wife.' I'm like, what does that mean?
You know, people can probably get this, you know, stereotype of minister and it creates its own kind of loneliness again because a lot of people are not quite sure what to do with you and not that this is all sounding like self-pity, it's not. It's just simply stating a fact that every minister in scripture you look at is sort of a strange combination of being loved and despised. Paul was loved and Paul was despised in just about every minister. Jesus was loved and Jesus was despised, affirmed, and criticized, followed, and manipulated.
And a lot of this I think is also God just always drawing us back to him. I think one of the things you learn increasingly in ministry that is so key to never forget is I think there in 2 Corinthians 12:11, when we are weak he is strong. And a lot of times we go through weakness in ministry just so that God can be strong because unfortunately a lot of times when we're really strong, God isn't so strong.
One other one that I've listed here is I don't know how else to say this, is seeing behind the screen, seeing the inglorious sides of lives. I thought most people had their lives pretty well together until I got into ministry then I realized what a mess. And ministry unfortunately, and maybe fortunately, places you behind the screen where you see the stuff of people's lives you wish you'd never seen, incest, adultery, cursing, the deep stuff of sin.
Well, we saw it earlier with looking at some of our earlier models of ministry, some of these early guys, how they fled from ministry. Some of it was flamed from some of this inglorious side whether it's Moses, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Peter, there's a certain resistance in a lot of people in terms of the call. A few of these I quoted down Luther where in his table talk he writes these words, 'Under this pear tree I advance more than 15 arguments with them and I decline my call.'
My favorite is perhaps I've shared with you is Ammonias who asked to be Bishop in 365 and seeing that he was trapped, he pleaded. He swore he would not accept the election, that he would not leave the desert. They did not give in. Then while they were looking on, he took a pair of shears and cut off his left ear right back to the head and said, 'Now, it's impossible for Old Testament tradition makes clear that the body of a priest must be unblemished.'
Hopefully none of us will go to that extreme. I love that. I like to share that by the way when I do ordination services but as Baxter put it, 'It's no safe course to imitate Jonah in turning our back upon God's call. If we neglect our work, he has a spur to quicken us. If want run away, he has messengers enough to overtake us and bring us back.' Okay, so enough of the inglorious. Let's think about the glorious side of ministry and the good news is there's really a glorious side, a great glorious side, which I think you need to make sure you underline in your notes overshadows the dark side by a longshot.
Paul often referred to the glories of ministry. It was just woven in this theology of ministry, 2 Timothy 20:21, when you think about it, there's no other professional that comes close to the glory reserved for ministry. So, what are some glorious sides?
First of all, there's great glory. There's great glory in bringing good news. That really is great glory, isn't it? I mean not that-that you have to go into ministry to do that, but a big part of what all of us in our ministries, no matter what our ministries are here, that will be a big part of what we do. It-it should be, and there's great glory in bringing good news, Romans 10:1. There's great glory in being a conduit for God of administering needed words, life changing words, words that bring healing.
You know, all part of this first glory is this glory of handling the most awesome power and that's the word of God. As Paul told Timothy to guard this treasure entrusted to us, 2 Timothy 1:14. I think in this great glory in bringing good news is this glory that comes with that bringing the good news and that is just the experience of God's presence. That helps explain why Paul, with all of the trials and travails he went through and despair could write of the glory of being involved in ministry, 2 Corinthians 3:7-8.
It's interesting that in Paul's letters, in the letters that he was hurt the most is where he also talks about the glories of ministry the most. I always like this quite, Doctor Martin Lloyd Jones, who left a promising medical career to enter into ministry, and people would admire his self-denial but he would respond, 'I gave up nothing. I received everything. I count it the highest privilege and honor that God can confer on any person to call that one to be a herald of the gospel.
So there's great glory in bringing good news. Here's the second one, there's great glory in doing what God calls good because God calls the work of ministry good, 1 Timothy 5:17. It is a good [phonetic] call-us, a good work worthy of double honor. Thirdly, this is going to sound a little strange but maybe not, there's a glory in the hiddenness, in the silence. You know, a lot of the ministry that you will be involved in in people's lives, people will not see.
What won't they see?
They certainly won't see prayer, yeah. What else won't they see?
Yeah, they won't see a lot of times the hours of labor and hard work to just try to get the word right. They may not see us deeply investing our lives in a counseling office. I remember once when God really showed me this in a powerful way. I was in Manilla, my first overseas experience. I was teaching in a seminary and one night they brought in a bunch of missionaries from different parts of the Philippines for this conference and they asked me if I'd come and be a part of it.
And I was sitting there and I was watching these guys. Some of them were seminary grads, others weren't, but here they were, a collection of them and they each got up because they were asked to share a brief report. And it-it was a report that went something like this, 'Well, you know, ministry is pretty tough. There's some insurgents that killed a couple pastors last week but, you know, we're seeking to really try to reach them with the gospel and,' I mean they just story after story I was just sitting there spellbound at was just common every day stuff.
And it suddenly struck me. As I was listening to these guys I thought, you know, nobody back home, well, I shouldn't say nobody, but very, very few in the church know anything about these guys. They won't be in Time magazine. They won't be in the newspaper. You know, they're just kind of the hidden saints out there in the trenches doing the work.
And then I realized that's true of us. Most all of us are just in the trenches, doing our labor with very little fanfare, little recognition, little notice and you know, at times, you'll realize, you know, there's a certain glory in that, right? And just a glory in the hiddenness of it all, that you know, it doesn't really matter. Every now and then you'll just be reminded that before you speak that what really matters is as you look out there, the only audience you care about it Jesus. It's not that you don't care about the people, but what you really care about is Him and His words well done. And there's glory in that.
They won't see you at times wrestling maybe in the night over the accuracy of one word in a text that could turn everything around and you just realize how a lot of ministry takes place in obscurity. And it's work that needs to be left in the obscurity for to reveal it would be to rob us of maybe the glory has for us in eternity. Now that's important theology. Sometimes when you get discouraged, you just need to hang on to that and realize that's true. Sometimes you're going to feel like does anyone really notice and it really in a lot of ways doesn't matter I mean what matters is that God notices and he does. So there's a glory in the hiddenness, in the silence of it all.
I was coming back from this memorial service Saturday, drove up there, got up really early in the morning, drove up just in time to be part of the memorial service, get in the car and drive back. By the time I got back, it was time for the service and the whole way back I was wrestling, as I had most of the week, with this text. I couldn't figure out really what God was saying through it and I was just agonizing. You know, have you ever had those moments? You just can't quite see what God is saying but you know he's saying something? And you agonize and you agonize and you work like crazy.
In fact, I had my wife drive back and I just sat in the backseat with my laptop and just pondered and thought and worked like a desperate man because I was, absolutely desperate. Most people don't see that part but that's part of it. And there's a certain glory in that. There's glory number four, in watching over souls. There are few things in life that have such ultimate responsibility as ministry. Isn't that true?
I don't know of hardly a more ultimate task than that, than to have the task of watching over souls, of which we'll be accountable for in judgement, which scares me to death. Do you ever think about this? In ministry, we will be involved with people in their most profound moments of life. Generally in ministry, we will be involved with people in their darkest moment and in their brightest moment.
In fact, do you ever think about this? In the darkest moment, you'll have the front row seat and in the brightest moment, you'll have the front row seat. So, I go to memorial service and hardly anyone is closer to all the center of what's happening in that than me. It just comes with the task and so what a grieving wife is going through, I'm probably more acquainted than just about everybody else because I have a front row seat in that. That's the place God has me. Not that in a way we want to be in that place sometimes, but you're there none the less.
And then I come home and last night I'm doing premarital counseling with a couple who are on the other side of-of all of that spectrum, excited, full of hope, and guess where I'm going to be in all of that? I'll have the front row seat.
I always tell people one of the things I love about weddings is I get the best seat in the house. I get to stand there when the groom turns and looks down the aisle to the bride and I'm right there and I'm watching sort of what's going on in his eyes and her eyes and they just meet and they're oblivious to anybody else at that moment and I get to see it right up front, you know? A dedication of a child, you know, I get the front row seat for that.
The great moments of life, a baby is born in a hospital and you stop by in that early moment. That's the glory in watching over souls. There's a tremendous trust that's been given to us and we will also be in this front row seat to view the spiritual contest for the soul in ways that other people won't see. There's a certain glory in that but we are in that front row seat a lot of times working with somebody going through deep depression, or a battle with a sin, an addiction and you're right there in the midst of the battle and you're right there in the midst of it all.
London wrote these words, 'I love the privilege of living at the frontlines of life where grace works and where the peace treaties of reconciliation are cosigned by God and broken people. As flawed and frail as I know myself to be, I'm privileged to represent Christ at the main events of people's lives.' Pretty cool, huh? As flawed as we are, we get this assignment from God. We will be invited into the intimate part of people's lives, what they'll share with us that they'd share with no one else. We're standing there baptizing someone. What a moment?
And we will have the privilege of being the life raft when the ship's gone down and in a lot of those, there is a bond that's forged unlike any other one. Number five, there's also glory in the great challenge. There's great glory in the great challenge and I say that because at times, no other work, I think, will test your stamina, or your will, or your emotions, or your intellect, or your creativity, your patience, your tact, your authenticity, your perseverance. Can you think of anything that would test those things like ministry more? I don't know what else tests those things like ministry.
And you know what? That's really a good thing, isn't it? What do you think? What's a great glory about that?
Audience: When perseverance develops, then Christ likeness right then.
Yeah, well it's not only what it develops in us, that's true. What else do you think is the great glory behind that? Nothing else will test our intellect, our creativity, our will, our emotions. What's the glory in that?
Yeah, our need of dependency, experiencing Christ maybe at levels we never would. That's certainly part of it too. Here's what I'm thinking, the glory in it is that I meet so many people in life that aren't challenged, that are doing a work that is no challenge to them. There's a certain irony to it. There are times we'll go, 'I don't want this test,' but yet in you think about what's the, what's the alternative?
It's a life that's not tested. Number six, there's glory in entering the same profession Jesus chose, to shepherd souls. So, we enter into a fellowship of his sufferings. There's a certain glory in all of that. And then I think number seven, there will be certainly hopefully glory, great glory in judgment because there's the promise of reward. It's what encouraged Paul to press on, 2 Timothy 4:8.
A guy by the name of Jowett, J-O-W-E-T-T, he summarized it this way, 'If we lose the sense of wonder of our commission, we shall become like common traders in a common market babbling about common wares. If we lose the sense of wonder of our commission, we shall become like common traders in a common market babbling about common wares.' You know, no wonder Paul said, 'I thank Jesus Christ, my Lord, who has strengthened because he considered me faithful putting me into service,' 1 Timothy 1:12.
Good, okay, questions before we take a break, thoughts? No? Still want to keep doing it? I hope so. Okay, let's take a 10 minute break. We'll come back at 4:20.