I made a presentation at a Fuller DMIN alumni event in suburban Chicago this week. I built the presentation around and added to, some work done by my Evangelical Covenant Church friend and colleague Dan Pietryzyk published in Faith & Leadership. It was well received and seemed to resonate with most in the room. See if this rings true for you.
Ministry is never static. With Paul in Philippians 3 we “press on.” Ministry is always fluid and challenging. We ask four questions in our ministry journey.
First, we ask Lord, how might I serve? We sense the call to ministry on our lives. We can’t imagine doing anything else. We are excited about ministry. And sometimes we get paid, and feel guilty for being paid for something we love to do.
Second, after just a few years in ministry we ask What am I doing? The idealism of ministry fades. Ministry becomes harder. People are hard. The word is hard. We realize that we don’t know as much as we thought we did. Many drop out of ministry at around years 5-8. It is not easy.
Third, a bit later in ministry we ask Do I want to do this for the rest of my life? Mid-career we get tired. The work is rewarding, but exhausting. The rewards don’t always outweigh the costs personally and to one’s family. So we ask the hard question around years 13-15: Do I want to keep doing this?
This is another period of walking away from ministry. I am convinced that lifelong learning is so critical at years 5-8, and years 13-15. We need good supportive people around us, a place to vent and to pray. We need to engage our minds with new thinking. We need to develop new skills. We need encouragement to refresh our own walk with the Lord. This is why I am such a strong advocate for Doctor of Ministry programs (especially Fullers!), and other programs and conferences Fuller and others develop to keep us fresh.
Those who make it through enter into a wonderful season of ministry. They are wiser. They are able to discern better between what is important and what is not. They know the difference between fads and gimmicks, and paradigms that are generative and transforming. These can be the very best years of ministry characterized by personal humility and professional will (Jim Collins).
Fourth, later in ministry, if we hang in, we ask How do I finish well? With greater degrees of wisdom and maturity, we are able to minister to others and mentor. We pour into the lives of others, watching them succeed and flourish, helping them to avoid some of the mistakes we made along the way. This is a period of significant impact.
What stage are you at? What question are you asking? At each stage, we all need: to gather with community of support, a commitment to lifelong learning, and a determination to cultivate our walk with the Lord.
So we press on!