Ministry as a Place of Joy and Pain (Part 1)

coffee6.jpgHis suit was black.  His voice was stained glass.  He never seemed too excited about much of anything.  His tone seemed bland.  As a young teenager, sitting near the back of our church, I just didn’t get it.  The disconnect between my world and his seemed very, very wide.

 
Now, many years later I am in a similar role.  I am more sympathetic.  Yet, instead of feeling disconnected from people, I feel as if I have been given a front row seat to life.  Not only am I experiencing life through my own existence and with my own family, but I am seeing much of life that I am not sure I would see otherwise.

 
Those experiences include:
 

  • Hearing the stories of men and women who have loved God, who have failed God, who have loved others, and who have failed others.
  • Being present at very tender moments: death, funerals, weddings, times of heartache, and times when someone dares to trust God.
  • Walking with people who want to trust God and who find it very difficult.
  • Giving people hope when they feel forever stained by failure.
  • Attempting to teach men and women what it means to treasure God more than anything else in response to him who has treasured us to the point of giving his son to die on our behalf.

These experiences also include stepping into the world and being up close to people in a variety of situations.  Some examples include:
 

  • Looking into the faces of about one hundred men as I begin to preach.  They are all wearing the same white uniform.  All of these men are in prison at Leavenworth, Kansas.  I am speaking to them and afterward will spend about fifteen minutes mingling with them.
  • My Bible is open on a kitchen table in a small house in rural Tennessee.  (This is the late 1970s.)  Underneath the table, my feet rest on a floor so rotten, I wonder if it is going to fall in.  A family is sitting with me at this table.   On the other side of the kitchen, I can see roaches scurrying up and down the cabinet doors. 
  • A couple is in my office.  He had an affair that has just devastated his wife.  She is deeply hurt by his deception.  He begs for her forgiveness.  I watch him literally get down on his knees in my office and beg her to forgive.
  • At 1:00 AM, I am sitting with a family in an apartment.  It is very, very quiet in that place.  Their dad and husband had killed himself several hours earlier.
  • I sit with a successful businessman as he tells me what a miserable failure he is as a human being.  His family has been destroyed by his self-centered behavior.
  • Two foster children want to meet with me in my office.  They meet with me along with their new foster parents.  They want me to know about some of the horrible situations in which they have lived in one of their previous foster homes.
  • I sit with a roomful of people at a hospital as they sit with a family whose daughter is near death in a nearby hospital room.  She dies that evening, and I read the 23rd Psalm to this brokenhearted family.

These situations are just a sample of experiences God has placed me in through the years of serving in this ministry.  These experiences are not unique to me.  Many other people could echo this.  

 
I am serving in this role because I believe that this is exactly where God wants me to be at this point in my life.  Anyone who serves people will experience seasons of joy and seasons of pain. 

 
Does any of this sound familiar to what you have seen or experienced?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on “Ministry as a Place of Joy and Pain (Part 1)

  1. Jim, thank you for sharing this.  This is such a big part of what ministry is all about, and yet I imagine there are many people "in the pews" who really do not understand this.  It is a unique privilege in ministry to share in people’s lives, both during the times of joy and during the times of sworrow.

  2. This is great and the truth.  It was hard for me to handle some of the ups and downs of ministry. www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org 

  3. Jim, The unfortunate thing is that, by and large, the Christian community believes that only "pastors" experience these things. They don’t believe that the laity does. Whatever disconnection you felt is where most "churchgoing Christians" live. What you describe is what I believe to be a true spiritual "rebirth." Would that we could all experience it!
    All the Best! Kim

  4. It makes me respect the role more than ever, to realize what a pastor sees on any given day. What a big heart you must have or, perhaps, what a big God you must lean on to keep afloat.

  5. It’s ironic to find that the stereotype of the minister as naive and out of touch with real life still persists. Few people see more of the dark side of life than cops and preachers. 

  6. Ray,It really is a privilege to share in someone else’s life.  It took me a long time to realize just how special that really is. 

  7. Matthew,I suspect many of us can relate to what you said. The ups and downs of ministry can be very wearing.  The downs can be very disheartening.  I do think there is value in friendships with other healthy ministers.  Sometimes these friendships can serve to put some of this in perspective.  

  8. Kim,Good point.  Much of these examples are just a part of life.  Granted they did not all take place at once.  Nevertheless, I suspect that we would be amazed at what is happening all around us if only we were to pay attention. 

  9. Hi L.L.I hope I am leaning on a big God.  Of course there are many mundane things that happen in pastoral ministry as well.  I am thankful that the kind of examples that I cite didn’t all happen at once.

  10. Milton,Yes, there is a certain kind of irony there.  I think that anyone who is deeply immersed in pastoral ministry is going to see a very large slice of the real world.