Ministry can’t happen without relationships. Relationships can’t happen without people. And, people are often unpredictable.
If all these statements are true, which I contend they are, we’re left with one conclusion: ministry can be challenging. It’s difficult to minister to people who often surprise you with the uniqueness and timing of their needs. To top this off, ministry to today’s college students and young adults is doubly taxing because of the high rate of mobility and unpredictability of the demographic.
So, how in the world do you navigate ministry to this group and keep your sanity? For me, I’ve become committed to making room for inconvenience. How do you plan for what is unpredictable? How do you create space for what you don’t yet know? How do you schedule the spur of the moment?
Here are three ways to begin making room for inconvenience:
1. Say yes as often as possible. A couple weeks ago, I got a text from a twenty-something who was in my student ministry a decade ago. He said he was coming to town and was looking for a last-minute place to crash for a couple nights. Now, I had a crazy week, but saying yes proved to be worth the inconvenience! I got to encourage him in his ministry journey and hear stories of how ministry ten years ago had an impact on him today, which was unbelievably encouraging for me, too!
The tyranny of the urgent often rules the lives of ministers. Whether you are a vocational minister or a volunteer minister, there are always emails to be sent, details to be decided, and prep to be done. So, when the opportunity comes up for you to participate in the life of someone in your ministry, saying yes can seem like a terrible idea. But, if we believe that ministry is serving people, we’ll prioritize accordingly.
2. Realize that ministry is not synonymous with office hours. The text came in around 9:30 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. one night a few months back. Hey man, can you talk? Every minister knows what that means. Either someone has made a terrible decision, is considering making a terrible decision, knows someone who has made a terrible decision, or, if you work with single young adults, there’s relationship drama. For the next hour, I talked this student off the ledge of a dramatic relationship issue and had the chance to speak truth into his life in a sensitive moment for him.
Ministry always brings with it challenges that are far different than any other vocation or volunteer endeavor. You can be super diligent to maintain regularly scheduled slots of availability. You can have an amazing assistant to help maintain those hours and schedule appointments. But, people’s needs don’t stay isolated to those hours. Whether it is early morning coffee or late night phone calls or an urgent text while you’re in the middle of some important meeting, it is never convenient to help the hurting. The needs of the people you lead will never be contained in a time slot. So, anticipate inconvenience.
3. Invite people to join you.
Do you want to come over for dinner? My son has a baseball game tonight. Do you want to come hang with us at the ballpark? I’m speaking at an event next week. Want to join me? These are the questions that I’ll often ask people in my ministry. And, what I’ve found time and again is that they say yes! When this happens, suddenly my family is a part of my ministry, and those in my ministry are a part of my family. So much of what we do in a day can become a ministry opportunity if we’d just invite people along with us. When we invite others along in life and ministry, the inconvenience proves to be worth it when relationships are deepened, influence is had, and you see the fruits of your labor.
At the end of every day, we can look back and determine whether we completed a long list of tasks, gave a great talk, or maintained our office hours. Or we can consider whether we made room for those in our lives and ministries, no matter the amount of inconvenience it required. The latter may be the better question to measure the effectiveness of our ministry.
Steven Ackley, his wife Emily, and their four kids live out their love for anything sports and Cookout milkshakes in Murfreesboro, TN where Steven serves as the NextGen and College Pastor at LifePoint Church. Steven holds a D.Min. and an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can connect with him on Twitter.