I don’t know how it happened, but I suddenly realized that I was spending much of my ministry trying to protect myself from other people.
Maybe it was those late-night phone calls from dysfunctional people, accusations from critics, and hurtful relationships that started it. But I was starting to view ministry as a distraction to my otherwise peaceful life.
So I put up gatekeepers that would protect my “pastoral schedule.” I guarded my privacy in the name of “good leadership.” And I established strict office hours to keep my ministry role separate from my personal life.
At first, the effects were minimal. People obliged me. They followed my new rules and stuck to the guidelines. And I felt more respected for doing it. My life and ministry were suddenly easier. There was hardly any more pain. But there was hardly any more ministry either.
I didn’t notice right away, but people stopped calling. I was too busy enjoying the freedom. I got to read more books off my wish list, have coffee with ministry colleagues, and watch my favorite TV shows at night. There were no distractions.
And people stopped coming to me for answers. I used the time to do message preparation and reorganize my filing cabinets. For the first time, I felt productive.
But it didn’t take long for the emptiness to settle in my heart. People were still friendly and responsive on Sundays, but I felt a disconnection in my spirit. I had this neat, new, protected ministry; yet I couldn’t have felt any more detached from the heart of Jesus.
There’s a powerful bit of wisdom found in Proverbs 14:4, which says, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.”
This means that true ministry will mess up our otherwise clean, well-guarded, neat and tidy lives. I’ve never owned an ox, but I’m sure they poop a lot. If you get rid of the stench and the filth, you lose the harvest as well.
Somewhere along the way, I chose a clean trough over a full harvest. I opted for an efficient ministry over an effective one.
As any farmer will tell you, if you go long enough without a crop, the barn itself becomes pointless. It doesn’t matter how clean it is. Without a harvest, there’s no longer any use for it.
The same goes for ministry.
I’m so thankful that Jesus was willing to lower himself from the immaculacy of Heaven into the stench of our world. I can’t imagine what would have happened if he had chosen the kind of ministry I’d created for myself.
My descent back into ministry started with some distractions, a few disappointing relationships, and an interrupted schedule. I fought hard against the temptation to be productive, to protect myself against the very people God wanted me to love.
I returned to ministry and let Jesus mess up my life again.