“But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” — 2 Timothy 4:5
Within 24 hours of being in Ukraine, I was done. I had experienced a long day of travel, spent time training leaders, I was trying to keep up with numerous schedule changes, and I was still adjusting to a new time zone. My original plan had been thrown out the window and I was on the struggle bus. That’s when Andriy, our Ukraine director at the time, turned to me and said, “Welcome to the Ministry!”
Now, years later, my team uses that phrase when there are changes, conflicts and messes. When things don’t go as planned and schedules get changed, we simply say, “Welcome to the Ministry!” Now we laugh about it, but when Andriy first said that to me, I wasn’t laughing!
In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul writes to Timothy to prepare him for ministry. Throughout the entire book, he encourages Timothy to be diligent, strong and alert. He shares transparently about real, up-close ministry. Paul says ministry is:
Refreshment and discouragement.
Highlights and lowlights.
Blessings and burdens.
This is Paul’s “Welcome to the Ministry” letter to Timothy. Two verses later in verse 7, he defines the win for Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have remained faithful.” Paul lets Timothy know ministry is hard, but it’s not impossible.
After 30 years of serving in full-time ministry, I have developed my own philosophy of ministry that I share with our new staff when they go through training. It consists of three principles:
1) Ministry is messy. Evangelist George Verwer created a concept called messiology which means, “Where two or three of the Lord’s people are gathered together, sooner or later there will be a mess.” Ministry would be easy if it wasn’t for people, but because ministry is all about relationships, there are always messes. God has a mysterious way of working in the midst of our messes. He specializes in broken plays by redeeming our messes and making something beautiful and powerful that the world would discount. God uses imperfect people and organizations for His plans. Ministry is messy but God loves redeeming messes.
2) Ministry is bottomless. Ministry is about people, so you will never get to the bottom of a to-do list. Emails, phone calls and meetings are never-ending because there is always someone who needs encouragement, love and support. Overwhelmed, swamped and buried are several constant feelings amongst those in ministry. Thoughts like, “People need me, but I can’t meet their needs!” lead to guilt and frustration. But when we realize we can’t do it all, the Lord steps in and says, “Exactly! You can’t do it, but I can.” This is humbling, but also a relief. Remember: it’s God’s ministry! Ministry is bottomless but God loves accomplishing bottomless.
3) Ministry is relentless. There’s an urgency factor in ministry that creates the feeling that everything has to be done NOW—there’s pressure to meet every need right away. It is hard to turn this off, develop boundaries and maintain balance. This is why most people in ministry don’t make it past three years. When we can accept that our timeline isn’t God’s timeline, we can release and trust Him to do things His way and in His timing. We need to be available and responsive while remembering God doesn’t want us to be burned out and have no margin. God wants us to live a life of faith that trusts Him every step of the way. Our job is obedience; God’s job is outcomes. As the song goes, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way!” Ministry is relentless but God loves relieving relentless.
After I share these three principles with our new staff, I say with a laugh, “Welcome to the Ministry!” Over the years, I have seen these principles lived out in every aspect of ministry, business, life and family. When we are able to recognize, define and embrace them, we serve better because we know we finally embrace that we can’t, but God can. When we finally get to that point, God can begin the real work of molding us into His servants.
God loves redeeming messes, accomplishing bottomless and relieving relentless. Our job is simple obedience. He will take care of the outcomes. He is waiting for you to utter, “I can’t” so you hear His whisper, “I can.”
Father, help me fulfill the calling You have placed in my life. Give me a clear mind and pure heart to endure hardships. I know it will be messy, bottomless and relentless. Give me the strength, boldness and wisdom to be faithful and obedient. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.