By Apostle Dr. Lee Ann B. Marino, Ph.D., D.D.
It’s no secret that when I started out in ministry thirteen years ago, I didn’t have the first clue of what I was doing. I knew little about ministry, how it operated, or that it had a day-to-day function. What I did know about ministry and its protocols and functions quickly changed within a few years of starting ministry work – and would go on to change again and again as different standards and concepts of what it means to be a minister continue to change in today’s world. Nowadays I hear every demand, from first-class tickets to limousines, to five-star hotels and restaurants, to ten armor bearers established for “service!” Then we have the extremes of ministers who refuse to ask for anything, even travel expenses, because they believe they don’t have the right to request anything. Both extremes reveal a deeply confused concept of ministry, but expose something deeper: the fact that many have no idea of the realities of ministry and the complications that ensue as a result.
It seems today as if everyone in the world thinks they are called to ministry, sigh. I use the term “thinks” because statistics cite an overwhelming majority of those who think they are called into ministry won’t last more than 2-3 years. How do those of us make it who are truly called? We embrace the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (NIV) The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the point is not whether or not we come in first place, but that we stick with the training, discipline, and run to finish, that we may receive the crown of life to win forever.
How do ministers run this race if they have no idea of the realities of ministry? Here are ten realities of ministry, keys for preparedness and expectation, that can help you run that race, if you are truly called to ministry.
1) Ministry does not get easier with time.
I’ve heard a lot of ministers say, “Ministry gets easier with time.” I beg to differ. Not only is this a lie, it causes true confusion and deception about the ministry office. Ministry is not a work that ever becomes easier. While it is true that we may move out of older difficulties, we are only moving in to newer ones. The bigger a ministry gets, the more responsibility comes with it. The more opportunities for ministry appear, the more choices and decisions have to be made. The more money a ministry acquires, the more business sense a leader must have. Ministry is still a business, albeit, it is Kingdom Business. Just as with any business, increase demands more attention to detail and precision.
Ministry calling and spiritual life do not ever get easier, either. Ministers must constantly face spiritual battle, issues with people who do not understand, harassment, worries, and fears, all that must be confronted and addressed with the Word of God and prayer.
Just because a larger ministry seems to have it all does not mean that does not come at a price.
2) The majority of people you find so insightful and relevant right now won’t seem that way 2-3 years from now.
It’s a sad but true fact: as we grow in God, everyone we know doesn’t always grow with us. What may seem great, fantastic, even anointed today may not seem that way in the future because our perspective changes with our level of revelation. I’ve known a woman for several years who, at first, intrigued me. She seemed so disciplined and structured, and seemed so successful at what she did. I figured her to be anointed because people seemed to respond to her in a way they did not respond to me. I was so taken with her! Now she just strikes me as a controlling, dominating woman. What caused this shift? Years of having her tell me what to do, order me around, criticize me, and put me down, with absolutely no right to do so, and seeing the reality of her ministry circumstances greatly changed my opinion. Some of what seemed deep now seems…different. There are many, many other circumstances I could also draw upon that are similar inasmuch as that the people don’t seem the same several years into the future. If we knew now what we will know then, our perspectives on some of the people in our lives would be radically different.
3) Not having enough money is not your problem.
No one wants to hear the truth about this one, but it is truth, nonetheless. I don’t know when the drive for money became ministry’s underlying motive, but I am so tired of hearing people tell me they don’t have enough money to be in ministry or to obey God. God knows your circumstances and He knows what you can do when He tells you to do something! More money equals more responsibility and more people having to oversee finances, be involved with your money, and more hassle as you worry about who you can trust and who you can’t. Whatever happened to being creative and clever in ministry? You don’t have a lot of money? Be creative! Find ways to make your money go far and work with what you have instead of trying to get more. If you can’t handle and work with the little amount you have, what makes you think God should give you more?
4) God gives homework – and you’re not going to always like the assignments!
Obedience – now there’s a big word we don’t like to hear in sermons today! You want to be in ministry? You better be prepared to do some things you aren’t going to like, or enjoy, or want to do. If God asks it of you, you better do it! If not, you can get a big, fat zero on your assignment and have to repeat the entire course over again. Ministry is a stewardship, an entrusting, something God gives us to do – not something where we tell God what we want to do and He does whatever we say. Just like when we were in school and we had to take a variety of subjects to be well-rounded people, some of what God assigns to us we will like, and some of it we will not. He is establishing us as well-rounded ministers, competent and prepared to go forth with the New Covenant and be all things to all people. It’s just another reminder that we are to be about God, and God’s work is not all about you.
5) Ministry is more than entertaining sermons and fancy titles.
I meet too many people who come bearing the word “apostle” in front of their names, as if it is a title, who get up in the pulpit and do nothing but scream and cry for two hours. It’s grown to really bother me – no wonder the church is totally confused about the five-fold ministry and what each office does! Screaming, crying, and being entertaining are not in the list of apostle’s duties (or any other office of the five-fold). Anyone can get up in a pulpit and scream and cry, running around using a ministry calling as a title. Not everyone can truly walk the day-in and day-out requirements of being an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher. Ministry is not made in the pulpit. It is made in the everyday lives, conducts, encounters, and commitments we make to follow through on our missions from God. Can’t return a phone call you prompted someone to make? Don’t come and tell me you’re an apostle (or anything else for that matter)!
6) Ministers must know the Word, not just quote from the Bible.
Jack Van Impe gets on television every week and reads a long list of Bible verses from a teleprompter that (supposedly) prove the point he is trying to make about the current news headlines. While he is very well-known for his style of presentation, does such a style actually prove he knows God’s Word and what it truly teaches? Any one of us can look up a subject in a concordance and quote a long list of Bible verses that are on that subject. But truly understanding God’s Word – beyond words on a page into an area of depth, history, practicality, and understandability – is the true command of anyone who proclaims God’s Word. We need to not just prattle off a verse for everything, we must truly know the Bible. This also means we must know the Bible beyond personal or private revelation into a realm that is understandable, teachable, and embraceable by many, rather than just a few.
7) You WILL face opposition.
When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I was playing Barbies with my friend from down the street when she decided she was going to do some decorating on my dollhouse – without my permission. She took whatever it was she wanted to put in the dollhouse and proceeded to do so, and I wasn’t going to have it. We had a big fight: when I told her no, she said yes, made me the whole problem, and stormed out of my playroom and went home. We didn’t talk for several weeks. Even though we are (supposedly) all grown up and more mature, we’re going to have an awful lot of people who want to decorate our ministries in one way or another….and we simply can’t have it. People who contact us to argue about doctrine (the issue of women in ministry, spiritual gifts, denominational struggles, etc.) really don’t want to talk or expand themselves, but want to change our minds, perceiving we have stepped out of a controllable area. The same is true with areas of critique, protesters, those who become difficult or out of line, and those who use the public arena to draw attention to their own beliefs are striving for control, opposing the work of the Kingdom to bring the focus to themselves and what they do.
Not everyone is going to like what we do, not everyone is going to like us. It can’t crush us. We have to have a thicker hide, not falling into pieces every time someone calls us a bad word or tells us off spiritually. If setting the boundary means someone storms home and doesn’t talk to us for awhile (or again), then that’s the way it’s going to be.
8) Ministry choices are not easy.
I think we expect the ministry experience to be easier than it really is. We think God is going to send an angel on our shoulder to make all our decisions and speak Bible verses in our ears so we know what to do in any given situation. The choices we face in ministry are not always easy. Despite conventional notions, we can’t have it all, and some of the decisions we make in the pursuit of personal lives, ministry careers, and deeper anointing all at once will mean someone or something along the way gets hurt, offended, cut out of the picture, or has to wait for later. When it comes to decisions about ministry direction, advice can be great, but the ultimate one who must be accountable for the decision is you, the minister. Challenges, quandaries, and difficult circumstances must be accepted as a part of ministry life if you are to make it as a minister.
9) We will tell the story how we’ve overcome…and we will understand it better by and by.
The words to the chorus of the song, “When the Morning Comes,” are as follows:
By and by, when the morning comes,
All the saints of God are gathering home.
We will tell the story how we’ve overcome
We will understand it better by and by.
While the song is undeniably about life after the Second Coming of Christ, there is something true about its lyrics for life this side of heaven as well. In ministry, we don’t understand a lot of what we go through when we go through it. We don’t understand why God has us do certain things, walk through certain trials, or have certain experiences. Many never understand what they go through because they never get beyond their experiences, but simply keep repeating mistakes and choices that cause them to go through the same problems over and over again. As overcomers, God calls His ministers to reach the point of “by and by,” where they can stand back, having overcome their difficulties and trials. Even though it seems hard to get through, we have to reach the point of “by and by” to have our circumstances make sense. In the world, they say hindsight is 20/20. Our spiritual hindsight is in the “by and by.”
10) Ministry life won’t always be what you hoped it to become.
A dear friend of mine who is also an apostle told me once of a woman under her ministry who believes she too is called to be an apostle. She has it all planned out: she’s going to have a nanny and travel with a professional hairdresser. To this woman, this is what being an apostle is about – despite the fact that she has watched both my friend and myself for years in ministry. While both my friend and I know this woman will never have what she wants, her aspirations give us a good laugh when we are having a bad day. Her aspirations also reveal a common problem about ministry: we overestimate ministry life. People who aren’t in ministry think ministers walk around on a cloud, wearing white, singing the Hallelujah Chorus all day. Many think ministers have no problems, challenges, or difficulties because “God takes care of them.” These delusions of ministry life have flooded over to ministers themselves, who enter ministry with warped concepts about bills, money, payments, preaching engagements, travel, ministry response, and the like. Just like everyone else, every minister has their days when they wonder what their life would have been like had they done something else with it and fight discouragement, despair, depression, and stress. Not every minister likes every aspect of what they do in ministry; in fact, I would venture most ministers dislike something about what they are called to do. While it may not be the calling itself, there are plenty of things tagged on to having a calling that can prove difficult or unpleasant. Anyone who indicates anything else is lying or not in ministry deep enough to experience the true sacrifice every minister must experience.
© 2010 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.