The Disillusionment Of Ministry

Part of the joy of college was the knowledge that God was going to use me once I graduated. Sure, I thought, He’s using me now, but imagine what He can do once I have a degree! So I pursued what I loved—music and children—and received a job as a music specialist at an elementary school. Here it was, God’s purpose for my life, and I was obeying. It couldn’t get any better.

Well, the statistics for new teachers are grim, and a year later, I felt God was leading me to pursue something different. The state headquarters of my denomination was looking for someone to help with music resources and education at our area churches. This felt right: I would be surrounded by leaders in my church, traveling across the region to help with curriculum at churches, and it was exciting. There was a feeling of anticipation—yes, God had been using me before, but finally, officially, I would have a “ministry!” And I was eager to experience the benefits of full-time ministry.

I would attend staff meetings where there would be massive outpourings of prayer, where lunch breaks would be accompanied by discussions of the nature of the Trinity, and where, at any given moment, I could walk into a coworker’s office to see them bowed over an open Bible, meditating on the Bread of Life.

Fast-forward two and a half years, when my naïveté had been shattered by real life in a fallen world. I learned very quickly that my office was more of a hotbed for gossip than the teachers’ lounge could ever have been. I learned that decisions were sometimes made out of pragmatism and expediency rather than out of a genuine conviction that this was where God was sending us. On the rare occasions when I took out my Bible to read, just read and soak it in, instead of preparing for a talk, I felt guilty for slacking off and not doing my job.

Let me be clear, it wasn’t the most sinful place I could have been working, but the reality of the situation was far from the ideals I had held. At first, I was hurt and offended. To anyone who would listen, I would vent—er, okay, complain—about the current state of affairs. I asked questions, largely rhetorical, due to my initial reluctance to do anything. Didn’t people see how our hypocrisy was stifling our maturity in Christ? Was I the only one who had read Acts 2? Were we so satisfied by our situation that we would be unwilling to change?

I never considered quitting—at least not over this. But I knew I couldn’t be happy with the way things were, or go along with the status quo. And so, over my tenure in “ministry,” I’ve learned a few lessons that have kept me from going over the deep end, and maybe even growing.

My leaders are fallible, and I can’t hold them to a higher standard than I hold myself. James 3:1-2 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”

Yes, the first part of that passage does say that teachers will be judged more strictly, but it’s not my job to judge them at all—someOne better equipped than I will do that. Rather, I have to remember that we all stumble and fall, and we’re all on the journey of holiness together. How can I blame someone older, perhaps even a pastor, for failing, when I’m not living the life I’m supposed to lead? To continue that thought …

I can’t make excuses for failure—mine or anyone else’s. In acceptance of the failings of others, we can’t become complacent about sin. The ideal of Deuteronomy 6:6-7 is this: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

That’s not idle talk. As Christians, we have the responsibility to create a work atmosphere where the presence of Christ is welcomed and expected, and where sin is not tolerated. That’s difficult to do, even if you work for your church.

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I may never see the result of my labor—but that doesn’t mean the labor is in vain. Hebrews 11 is a pretty extensive catalog of men (and a woman—we can’t forget Rahab!) who lived lives of obedience and faith, but never received the fullness of God’s blessing to them. It wasn’t simply to be in this world. But without the example of their faith, where would we be? They are our spiritual forebears, who show us how to live a godly life. We can’t become discouraged, even when it seems as though our exhortations are falling on deaf ears and our hard work is yielding no fruit. God has something better planned for us than the reward we’re looking for here.

It’s all ministry. I cringe when I think of the distinctions that I once made between going to college, teaching in a public school and working for my denomination, a “real ministry.” We’re all part of the Body of Christ, and all have gifts for use in the Body. We’re all necessary and important, and even if I were still teaching, as long as I was willing to let God use me, He would be doing His work through me (I Corinthians 12).

Even though my department meetings still don’t end in holding hands and singing “Kum Ba Yah,” I am blessed that my days are enveloped in experiencing Jesus at work, with other Christians. You won’t catch me complaining about it anymore—just trying to make it better. Maybe, just maybe, that’s my ministry to the Body.

[Jennifer Hoosier, 26, is on her third career. She lives in Tampa, Fla., where it is never sweater weather.]

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