Sometimes ministry is like firing a cannon. You stand at a distance, choose targets, and fire strategic shots. But sometimes, ministry is like a knife fight in a crowd. Things get serious. There is a continuous onslaught of threats and challenges that require physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. It’s hand-to-hand combat.
Are you empty? Good. You are completely normal. The things happening to you should deplete you. The pressure of this moment reveals your natural limits. You are finite. You only have so much to give and then the vessel is empty. No man is God.
But emptiness is not an easy state. It leaves you:
In his 1981 book Megatrends, John Naisbitt taught that the more “high tech” a society is, the more “high touch” it must become. 40 years later, this is truer than ever. As I look at ministry in the trenches, I see “high touch” as the most critical ministry skill today.
These days you can’t make plans more than a week out. Ask any educator preparing for the school year. Things change daily, even by the hour. This leaves life feeling chaotic and uncertain.
So how do we go about our work?
Is it worth all the effort?
Should we make plans, or just throw up our hands?
I’ve been dwelling on Psalm 127. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Ps. 127:1) This Psalm re-frames our perspective on work and planning when our work seems in vain.
In response to Psalm 127, here are three practices that I think capture its spirit. They put us in the posture of proper work and planning.
I wrote this in 2016. These days, every day might be a "tenth day." Maybe you can relate.
"How are things going?" I'm asked.
"Every ten days I want to quit." I've given this answer a few times in recent months. Am I really going to turn in my keys? Probably not . . . but maybe.
Anything of significance is worth sacrificing for. And anything worth sacrificing for will leave you with a "tenth day." Nine days can be good, even great. But about every tenth we are sobered by harsh reality.
Impeachment debate and acquittal.
Kobe helicopter crash.
Iowa caucus (debacle).
State of the Union Address.
These are headlines from the last few days. The volume of significant (and heavy) events invading our head (and heart) space is overwhelming. The news cycle is like a carousel spinning out of control. If our only reading material is the endlessly urgent front page, we are trapped in a myopic moment.
I prefer the enduring over the instant. A bit of marinated wisdom instead of a tweet vomited in a moment of impulse.
Here's an actionable step. Limit the reading of "headlines," the new, urgent, up-to-the-minute. Make space to read what is "old," tested, and true. There is C.S. Lewis's classic quote on reading old books:
Even if I knew that tomorrow the whole world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." - Martin Luther
Is it worth all the work?
How much difference does it make?
What do I do when I want to quit?
Sometimes I don't feel like being a pastor.
There are some Sunday mornings at 6:00AM when I don't want to preach.
Sometimes I dread walking into a meeting.
Sometimes I walk into a crisis situation already emotionally exhausted.
Sometimes everyone is looking at me for direction and I don't feel like talking.
Serving Christ can be agonizing. Jesus said it himself, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake . . ." (Matt. 5:10).
Especially for those working in called ministry positions, there is a weight. A burden. A cloud of pressure derived from spiritual forces under responsibility which has eternal consequences.
You've asked, "How much difference am I making? Should I go on? Should I give up? "
Here is some help from 19th century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following is from his Lectures to My Students.
I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night. (Yes, I'm an old man.) There was a segment on an upcoming documentary about Pope Francis. 60 Minutes interviewed the unique choice for this project, German “art house” director Wim Wenders.
Wenders is a lapsed Catholic. He’s known for his eclectic body of work which includes U2 music videos and “Buena Vista Social Club,” a documentary about a group of aging Cuban musicians. I was interested in Wenders' perception of the Pope, for he would not be enamored like a devout Catholic. Nor did he seem to bear the stinging criticism of an anti-religious secularist. He made two observations of Pope Francis that struck me.