Ministry’s rough. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I’ve seen the “dark side” of ministry multiple times. I’ve been to the churches who think their pastor does nothing more than sit in his office and read his Bible during the week. They don’t see the other 79 hours he puts in, working with people, dealing with finances, solving the world’s problems (or so it seems), and praying and agonizing over his congregation. I’ve been to the churches where the congregation believes the service Sunday morning is all about them. I’ve watched the people walk out when the music wasn’t to their liking. I’ve seen the nasty comment cards about the sermon being “too convicting.” I’ve watched people take Communion when I know for a fact they haven’t spoken to someone on the opposite side of the church for months because they have differing views on something. I’ve seen the hypocrisy in those on stage who play instruments or sing solos or even teach Bible studies when their home lives or their social lives are a mess. I’ve heard the “preach prayers” that try to convict the congregation into spending money on something or being mad with them towards somebody else. Oh yes. I’ve seen a lot.
And here I am, packing to go overseas a missionary myself. I’m not sure why… but I’m looking forward to it. I found this verse in Luke this week and I love it: “But don’t begin until you count the cost…” -Luke 14:28a, NLT. Jesus is telling the people about the cost of being His disciple. He’s previously told them that He doesn’t have a home, so they shouldn’t expect one either; to let the dead bury the dead because their job is to preach the Kingdom of God; and that if you begin the work and look back, you’re not fit for His Kingdom (all in Luke 9:57-62). Now, here, He is saying that you must not love anyone, including yourself, more than Christ. And then… “Don’t begin until you count the cost.” He goes on to talk about how much a builder would be mocked if he began a huge project, but wasn’t able to finish because of lack of funds. Or how horrible it would be for a king to go to war and not have enough money to actually win.
As soon as I read this, I thought of those in ministry. There are those who have been beaten up, knocked down, kicked while they were down, and yet gotten up to keep going. Then, there are those who get some criticism, some discouraging comments, are treated unkindly, and are ready to quit. The cost of serving the Lord and working fulltime for the Lord is high. Very high. How much do you love yourself? Enough that if someone is rude, conniving, mean-spirited, and angry with you that you’ll quit because you can’t handle it? Or, enough that you want yourself to be with the Lord, no matter the cost, and you persevere in spite of the cost to your life or even your reputation?
The phrase “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the fire” came instantly to mind when I read that verse. How horrible it is for the church of God whenever another minister or missionary walks away because they can’t stand the heat. The culture got to them; their co-workers were unfair; they didn’t like their pay; people didn’t like how they preached; someone left a rude comment card in the offering plate. Just like the builder who underestimated the cost of the building was mocked mercilessly for his failure, so is the church when we walk away from ministry when things get a little rough.
I’m not saying those in ministry don’t have a right to have a bad day… or even a bad year (or five). I’m not saying you can’t weep and mourn over how horribly difficult your ministry is, day in and day out. I’m not saying you can’t feel unappreciated or unloved and just want to quit. All I’m saying is that I hate it when people DO quit.
“But don’t begin until you count the cost.” I’ve been watching my father “count the cost” for 25 of his 39 years of ministry. I’ve never seen him give up, walk away, or hang his head in shame. I’ve watched him get up at 5:30am every single day to pray for his flock, even when they weren’t standing behind him in unity. I’ve seen him age and grow weary during the past couple of years because ministry is rough. But, one thing I will never see my father do is give up. He counted the cost. He knows better than most what that cost truly looks like. He may never have been physically beaten, but sometimes I think verbal abuse is much, much worse. The physical wounds always inevitably heal. But, how can you erase or delete cutting, biting, gnawing words? Oh yes, he’s counted the cost.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to our sending church in the next couple of weeks. But, I know simply because of my father’s consistent walk with the Lord that nothing he decides to do will be out of God’s perfect plan.
Ministry’s rough. I’m glad I had a prime example my entire life of how to keep going, even when the going got impossible.