You can read all kinds of studies out there showing that ministry is isolating. You see the stats that pastors experience burnout in staggering numbers. I remember sitting in class and hearing that many of the people to your right and your left will not be there in a few years. I remember laughing and thinking to myself, oh, not us. We will be just fine.
I was wrong. They were right.
Ministry is hard.
I’m sitting here drinking coffee kicking myself for being short with my wife last night because of the stress of five different situations I’m dealing with in our local church and Annual Conference. Thinking through these things distracted me from my family that I am leaving in a few days for a week-long mission trip. My daughter and I had a conversation this morning on the way to school about our moves in ministry, how they’ve affected her. She doesn’t like them, but there’s nothing she can do about it either.
Ministry is hard.
I had a professor in seminary say once we should never allow another clergy person to be buried, or bury a loved one, alone because we each understand the calling and the effects of the calling.
But – I wouldn’t trade my calling for anything in the world.
Because it is just that, it is a calling. It’s something that gives me life. I get to tell folks about Jesus! I get to see the light come back into someone’s eyes when they make that decision to follow Jesus. I get to hold the hand of the sick and the dying. I get to build bridges across race and culture. I get to speak peace to a hurting world. In a world that often calls us to our darker angels, I get to call us to our brighter angels.
As Jeremiah said – I’ve got a fire in my bones. I have something that compels me, that pushes me, that won’t let me go. It’s that very word I used early on. A calling.
I ran from it at first. I first felt that call at Camp Wesley Pines as a student. But I knew that was just my extroverted self, wanting to be around people all the time. So I ran from it and did some things that I’m not proud of. Eventually, I found my way to God, or better put, God’s grace kept seeking me.
I started speaking in churches, camps, all kind of places. But I knew that I couldn’t be a preacher. I was raised to be a doctor. I was majoring in chemistry. I was president of the American Chemical Society at Mississippi College. My entire future was built around going to med school. It was what I thought everyone wanted for me.
I wasn’t happy. It was more than that, though. I wasn’t fulfilled. I knew there was more. I did. I knew there was more. So one day while reading Galatians on the porch of a camp on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that’s no longer even around after Hurricane Katrina, I felt God tell me – Andy, this is your calling. This is what are you supposed to do. This is what I made you for.
I surrendered my life to God’s will at that point. I accepted my calling. Here I am, twenty years later, having served churches across the state. And I am thankful.
It’s been hard. It’s been a challenge. It’s brought tears to my eyes, my wife’s eyes, my children’s eyes. But I wouldn’t trade it for all the world. As Martin Luther said, “Here I stand: I can do no other.”
Now, how I came back to ministry in the United Methodist Church is a whole other story for a whole other time.
You may remember the movie Chariots of Fire. It’s the story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. It’s a story of faith and overcoming, a powerful movie. In it, as Liddle is thinking through his conflict between ministry and his running, he says this: “God made me fast. When I run I feel his pleasure.”
That’s how ministry makes me feel. I feel God’s pleasure. No matter the challenges that may come through it, I know that I am doing exactly what God has created me to do. I feel God’s pleasure.
I could write similar article about how I was shamed by the conference then rejected by my peers… pushing me to a lonely place of ministry the past 6-7 years. About how I’ve wanted to get out of pastoral ministry for the past 6-7 years but God has not opened the door to anything else. About how I not only feel lonely and rejected by my peers in ministry but also the world who must look at my seminary degree and experience as a pastor as worthless for any other job or position. Yes, ministry is hard and apparently what God wants me to do even when I don’t want to do it… even though my church would know nothing different. The local church loves e. I’m good at my ministry. I can relate brother Andy. It’s hard and isolating on so many levels.
I understand Andy. And my children can relate to the emotions of your children. Been there, done that. And, to be honest if the choice had been up to me, (not my minister husband) I might have chosen differently. However you can’t run from God or you might end up having a Jonah experience. Peace only comes when you submit to his will. For me it’s an every day exercise.