The Six Most Irritating Aspects of Ministry
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.” It is typically followed closely by an unconvincing, “Not really,” but the truth hidden just under the surface is that not everything about ministry is rainbows and butterflies. There, it’s out in the light. You too can now admit, at least with the inside-of-your-head voice, that there are some irritating things about ministry.
This is where you might expect to be confronted with the “Consider how an oyster turns irritation into a beautiful pearl” line. While it’s not actually a bad idea to keep that truth in mind, the primary goal here is to call a spade a spade. Some aspects of ministry are particularly challenging. Below is my list of the top six irritants ministers face and some practical tips that can help you soothe them.
1. Ministry is draining.
Ministers pour an incredible amount of energy into planning, projects, and people – often way more and way faster than can be replenished. Complicating matters is that the demands of ministry are physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual which means that no energy reserve is safe from the drain. This does not mean, however, that you have to accept exhaustion and burnout as a way of life. Use the following strategies to reduce consumption, refill your tank, and even build some energy reserves:
- Build downtime into your daily schedule.
- Sleep eight hours per night, ideally on a regular schedule.
- Use your day off as a day off.
- Pick up a hobby unrelated to your ministry responsibilities.
- Exercise at least three times per week.
2. Ministry is difficult.
Long hours, low pay, insecurity, loneliness, and extreme pressure are just some of the factors that make ministry one of the most challenging occupations. And it doesn’t help that the minister is expected to be an expert in public speaking, doctrine, organizational leadership, financial management, team dynamics, conflict resolution, life coaching, marriage, and parenting. There is no way to completely eliminate the difficulties of ministry but the following strategies can make your life dramatically easier:
- Join or launch a Center’s Roundtable mentoring group.
- Pursue lifelong learning opportunities to improve and add new skills.
- Carefully manage expectations and relationships.
- Develop and empower high capacity leaders who complement your weaknesses.
- Share the spotlight – and the responsibility, work, and stress that come with it.
3. Ministry is Costly
Ministry is a calling that involves sacrifice and when it seems that you’ve given everything you have, it often demands more. And pursuing ministry with full knowledge of the costs doesn’t make it any easier when the unexpected bill comes due, when the elders free your future, or when your marriage falls to pieces. Fortunately, covering a cost is not a problem when you have the resource margin to pay it, so use the following strategies to prepare and protect yourself, your family, and your ministry:
- Promote effectiveness and margin by working with your elders to set, clarify, and protect boundaries for your time, availability, and responsibilities.
- Say “no” whenever you can without inappropriately giving up responsibility, leadership, or influence.
- Create a personal budget to help you strategically leverage your financial resources.
- Maintain open and honest dialogue with your elders about your financial, physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health.
- Set and protect regularly scheduled time with your spouse, kids, and friends.
4. Ministry is unrelenting.
I’m sure God knew what he was doing when he decided that Sunday should roll around every seventh day but it is a fairly inconvenient reality for ministers. And in addition to the constant pressure to prepare for the next weekend worship service, ministers are also expected to be available 24/7/365 to address the spiritual, relational, financial, and even physical needs of church members. The solution to this irritation is to duplicate yourself. Use the following strategies to equip others to share the burden:
- Eliminate your identity as being the only or primary minister of the church.
- Mobilize, empower, and release elders and members to execute ministry and respond to crises.
- Take an extended spiritual renewal and study break each year.
- Publicly celebrate and model instances when members embody the role of minister.
- Schedule a specific weekday to take off and protect it.
5. Ministry is lonely.
One of the most common and damaging challenges that ministers face is isolation. God created humans as social beings so interpersonal relationships are essential for maintaining sanity, success, and sustainability. A minister will be healthier, happier, more fulfilled, and dramatically less likely to fall victim to temptation when he has close friends in his congregation. Use the following questions to guide your search for a person (or couple) with whom you can build a healthy, safe, and fruitful friendship:
- Are you drawn to this person (or couple) naturally – as opposed to being politically motivated?
- Do you enjoy and gain energy by being with the person (or couple)?
- Has this person (or couple) earned your trust by modeling maturity and confidentiality?
- Do you share significant interests, activities, etc. with this person (or couple)?
- Are you willing to allow this person (or couple) to speak truth and hold you accountable?
6. Ministry is contested.
Minsters also face active resistance, and I’m not talking about that troublesome Elder or church member – though they can certainly be irritating. The enemy I’m talking about “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). All Christians should expect to face persecution (2 Timothy 3:12) and it makes perfect sense that Satan would give particular subversive attention to the Kingdom-building efforts of ministers. Overcome the enemy by implementing the following strategies:
- Be bold (2 Timothy 1:7)
- Put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11).
- Submit yourself to God; Resist the devil (James 4:7)
- Fast and pray (Matthew 4:1-11)
- Remember who wins in the end (Revelation 2:10)
If you are experiencing some of these irritations of ministry right now, stay strong because there is no more important or rewarding work to which a person can dedicate time, resources, talents, and energy. When the pressures, difficulties, and worries start weighing you down, keep Paul’s encouragement in mind; “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Jeffrey Derico, PhD
Center for Church Leadership