I am now closing out an almost nine year ministry at my congregation. I started my journey as a 25 year old and am now 34.
In all honesty, I am grateful that these people took a chance on me, regardless of why they did it. Being 25 and in ministry is like being barefoot in a rock garden, hardly knowing where to step, often finding your feet hurting. I remember my friend Hillary Wright telling me once, "You have to get your minister shoes", and that definitely was true. I wish I could say the garden was always plush with lots of grass that you could run barefoot in for hours, and there were moments of that, but all in all, ministry in this place has always been walking in a rock garden: looking down once in a while to see a beautiful shiny rock, sometimes seeing broken rocks and sometimes those jagged rocks that stab you right in the toe. After nine years, my shoes helped to navigate the landscape, not so much that I didn't feel the pain once in a while, but enough to keep me walking forward, around in circles, or blazing new paths in new territories. Here's what I found out these past nine years of the journey:
1. God can do nothing with you if you refuse to be who you are in ministry. Authenticity and true love of yourself is vital the Spirit's work
2. There really is something to be said for the overused phrase, "Keep the faith." We say it so often that it can feel cliché, but in all honesty, nothing is more true to the walk of ministry than that. Your call is from God. It is what you go back to over and over and over again and the ONLY way to go back to that call is to keep understanding that the undercurrent of everything we do is God's vision and God's will for our lives.
3. The Church is sometimes an a**hole of a place. Sorry for the language. But there were times over the last nine years when I've wondered: where in the world did these people come from and why in the world do they have the audacity to call themselves Christians? Yet, church is saints and sinners and it's the sinners Jesus came to help. Sometimes it's so hard to help them because it's like looking in a mirror and to help them means you have to help you. Your judgmental attitude towards them is the same as theirs towards another human being. True church means true grace.
4. Another friend, Amy Lignitz Harken, once said to me, "All anyone really wants is to be loved." All the visiting you'll hate to do, all the times you're called from your comfortable spot at home, all the times the caller ID glares at you with a number you recognize all too well. I have learned that it is MY JOB, MY CALL as a minister to approach all those situations with that understanding–they are seeking LOVE. And the best evangelism and leadership towards spiritual growth is your example of love. Preaching on Sunday that God is love does one no good if that love never gets put to action in the very personal lives of the people who have trusted you with their entire selves.
5. STICK WITH IT! For heaven's sake, it's all well and good to start new churches and I'm all for that, but do NOT GIVE UP on the beautiful institutions we have in place already. THEY ARE GOOD PEOPLE and they need GOOD LEADERS. And in nine years you'll look back and praise GOD that you had the guts, the strength and the passion to step on those jagged rocks once in a while to get to the beautiful ones later. Over a 100 new members later, half of those baptisms. In all honesty, I look back and am so happy I waited to see the fruits of that labor, theirs and mine. And those fruits tell me that God wants us to be faithful.
6. Yes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but it's the rest of the wheels that carry the load together. In other words, don’t forget about the quiet people who seem to get lost in the midst of the noisy and sometimes overly obnoxious crowd. Of course, you'll tend to gravitate towards the overly obnoxious ones because you LOVE their commitment. But, those quiet ones will be the ones who quietly hold you up and pray for you in those times you're unsure of what in the world you're doing.
7. FIND a group of people who you can gripe to and let them nurture you. The Gen XY clergy group in this area has been instrumental to my growth as a person and as a minister. Your peers are not your competition, they are your hope!
8. Just because we are trained theologians, Biblical scholars, etc. does not mean we know more than everyone else. I have learned more from the 80 year old with a high school education than I ever have from a seminary professor. Their faith is strong, has been challenged and has worked hard for them–and while it may not be something I agree with, it is something I have to respect and let them have even if I want to change it.
9. Last, but not least, work hard. Rest hard. But most of all, play hard. Find laughter, look for blessings, and let your people know that this is a beautiful world. I could never stress that enough.
I know this is a lengthy list, but I cannot close this ministry without sharing what I've learned. It's part of the closure process for me, but it is also that this ministry has been unique, has made me a great minister, and has made me question everything and I think that's normal. I can't wait to move to Texas and see what God wants me to learn there. Who is waiting in the distance to find vision and clarity? What will that rock garden be like? Will there be purple rocks, shiny rocks, flat ones or dull ones? And what sort of shoes should I wear this time?