I have been in ministry for fourteen years now, and there have been several instances during that time when I was thoroughly burned out. Ministry did not seem fulfilling any more, no one seemed to be listening, and what little progress was made seemed dwarfed by the monumental amount of work that still needed to be done. I felt over-worked and under-appreciated.
I have had several colleagues in ministry confide that they have felt the same way. They’ve even said, “Ministry would be wonderful, if it weren’t for the people!” (Admittedly, I have used this phrase tongue-in-cheek in the past as well.) They would go to conferences or retreats and get so excited about some new aspect of ministry only to have that excitement and passion dashed as they were not able to bring it to fruition in their current ministry setting. Many of the people who entered ministry when I did are no longer in ministry because of situations like these.
It has taken me a lot of reflection and soul-searching to truly realize something about ministry that has kept me going: It is not about me and I can’t change anyone.
God has given me several gifts that I use in ministry, but at the beginning, middle and end of the day, they are God’s gifts, not mine, and they have been entrusted to me so that God can use them through me to continue the ministry of reconciliation and transformation begun in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. I have a unique personality and a free-will choice for what I do in life, but the ministry is God’s, not mine. It is God’s kingdom, not mine. It is Christ’s body, not mine. I can choose to partner with God and allow myself to be used in that ministry, and receive a blessing for doing so by knowing that in whatever way God sees fit to use me, I am working for and with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe in a project much larger than anything I could ever imagine.
Or I could focus on me and what I am doing and how successful or unsuccessful I am being. I can make the measure of my ministry be a reflection of me as a person. When this happens, I forget the ultimate truth that the cross was Christ’s success even though it looked like the ultimate failure to the world. I lose the bigger picture.
And I can’t change anyone. I have a hard enough time changing myself and yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit in my own life to more fully reflect the image and likeness of Jesus. I certainly can’t make anyone else miraculously become a better disciple or a more fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. If the goal is for me to change the people I am around, then perhaps I should have gone into sales. God knows, I would have made more money with the commissions from changing people’s minds.
No. The ministry is God’s and the transformation is God’s. I am called to allow myself to be used by God to communicate the hope and the love that is ours in Christ Jesus. It is up to other people how they respond to that message. All I can do is be faithful to what I have been given and pray that the people placed in my care by God be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. I am a part of Christ’s body and a tool used by God, for as long as I offer myself to be such.
The ministry is God’s. The people are God’s. And the outcome is God’s. Thanks be to God!