The first time I ever ran a 5K race it was on a dare from a friend that I couldn't do it. And I was promised a donut at the finish line. So I waltzed up to the starting line with my ratty shoes and pre-race routine of coffee and prayer, and took my place. Little did I know that proper etiquette means if you're out of shape and there for the donut you need to go to the back and let the people who know what they're doing have the front.
The gun goes off and for the first 100 yards I'm keeping up with the elite runners. Until the cramp sets in. And I can't breathe. And then I get passed by one, two, ten, a couple hundred people. The finish line felt like it would never arrive. But when I did, I finished my race. And I got my donut.
A lot of us in ministry can feel the same way. We take off out of the blocks on a blistering pace, only to find ourselves struggling to the finish line. It's all about how we start. If we get off to a good start, we'll have the endurance to finish well. So I came up with 7 practices to get off to a good start. Why?
Ministry is a consuming calling - There's no "off time" when you're serving in ministry. Even on vacation your phone will ring and your email will fill up. People don't schedule their family crisis around your availability, and they don't plan on having a loved one die between 8-5. You'll never be able to separate yourself from your vocation, and it's not easy. It can be so consuming that it can cause many to walk away. My first week in seminary I sat in orientation and a professor said "Ladies and gentlemen, I want to be honest with you. In a few years, half of you will be out of vocational ministry."
Ministry is personal, and messy - One of the worst memories I have of ministry is sitting with a guy who'd the night before watched his cousin shot in a drive-by. He said "I feel like God spared me for some reason, but I don't know why." I pled with him for over an hour to trust Christ and be set free from sin and guilt, only to watch him the next day crawl back into a bottle and a pipe. It stunk. There'll also be counseling sessions where relationships were destroyed, friends who let you down, and having to write character letters to keep a high schooler out of jail (true story, had to do that once).
Ministry is hard - You're expected to wear a number of hats (visionary leader, teacher, relational expert, project manager, and plumber). On top of that responsibility of leading your family and your own personal devotion, it can be tough serving in ministry. You'll rarely live up to peoples' expectations of you. It's not surprising the burnout rate for ministry is so high, or that so many pastors report dealing with anxiety/depression, or that many minister's wives struggle to find friendships.
Whether you're just starting in ministry or if you're a veteran who needs a reset (sometimes we need to pause and go back to the starting line even if we're well into the course), give Start Well a read, and my prayer is that it'll be a tool to help you serve Jesus and His Bride more faithfully.
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.