I’ve been a part of ministry since I was a baby. First I was just the child of a traveling preacher, then a YPK, PK, Sunday School teacher, missionary, camp counselor, youth group leader, part-time worship leader, pianist, mentor, nursery worker, small group leader. . . and while there have been countless things I’ve learned about myself, the Lord, and His Word, there is one main thing.
Ministry is messy.
My mom used to say this all the time, and she was most definitely correct. Growing up in a pastor’s home, you see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I watched my dad get deeply hurt. I watched people walk all over my mom. I’ve met people who don’t want Jesus, they just want free stuff. I’ve witnessed the spectrum of frustration to anguish. I’ve experienced it myself, recently in fact.
I was verbally attacked, essentially stabbed in the back, for the second time by someone else I had invested in. It started out as hurt, confusion, and anger, but the next day I was just sort of mumbling irritably. “Lord, YOU brought these girls into my life. YOU allowed me to counsel and encourage them for YEARS. I’m done dealing with messy people. Maybe I need to be encouraged. Maybe I should find some people I can minister to who can minister back to me.”
But He brought to mind the sweet truth that I started to understand when this happened before: He cared for me even though I was messy and couldn’t bring anything of worth to Him. I was sinful, hateful, could not care less about the God Who made me or what He did for me. But Jesus loved me anyway.
It’s easy for us to only seek out people who like us and lift us up, whether we are in ministry or not. The world (and some Christians, honestly) tells us we need a “tribe.” We want to surround ourselves with “good vibes” and people who think like us and constantly tell us how great we are. I get it. I wish I had more people who encouraged me and had similar life goals; and I definitely don’t think we should surround ourselves with toxic people who are a bad influence.
However, if we are going to love like Jesus, we cannot spend all our time with only awesome, supportive, positive people. We have to love the least.
While working at camp, we were often reminded that God brought us there to love ALL our campers. The stinky camper. The annoying camper. The too-good-for-this camper. The angry camper. The depressed camper. The uncool camper. The messy camper. The slow camper. The unwell camper. The negative camper. The inconvenient camper. All of them. This principle carries over into all areas of ministry!
If we only “minister” to people who can give something back to us, that’s not ministry anymore. That’s a business transaction*. “I help you so you do something for me. I befriend you because it makes me feel good.” Jesus never did that. He freely gave without saying, “You better pay me back.” He didn’t seek out people who would help Him personally and make Him more successful (Luke 17:11-19, Matthew 9:9-13, John 4, Mark 1:40-42, Matthew 8, John 8:3-11). He had twelve disciples who followed Him and ministered to Him; but they with Him served the unlovable, the sick, the broken, the sinful.
This brings up something else I want to point out really quick. If you have a “tribe” or group of friends, are they pointing you toward the things of Christ? Do they rebuke you in love and encourage you with God’s Word? Can you talk with them about spiritual things? Do you all serve together? Would you even ask them if they would consider serving? Jesus’ friends weren’t perfect, but they loved Him with all their heart, and they both served Him and served WITH Him!
All of this to say, if we only seek to serve people who will make us look better in the eyes of others, make us feel better about ourselves, or somehow help us or give us something later down the road, we are serving for the wrong reason. I needed that reminder, because I didn’t want to pick my head up and keep trying. It is hard to minister to people. It’s hard to disciple teenagers and call them higher. It’s hard to give truth when you know they don’t want to hear it. But we have a responsibility to reach people for Christ. Serving the Lord is worth it!
People will be people. And where there are people, there are problems.
I’ve heard it said, tongue in cheek, “How much easier would ministry be if there were no people involved?” It would be much easier indeed, because there wouldn’t be any ministry at all. If you want to serve and love like Jesus, you will most likely get hurt. He did! We most certainly are no better than Him. But I want to encourage you with words from our sweet Savior. Take heart, and don’t stop loving the unlovable and sharing truth.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
– Matthew 5:3-12
*Thought of “business transaction, not a relationship” borrowed from Steve Miller, RCR, 3/15/19.