It’s been said that “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” This statement could definitely apply to the modern “fantasy bond” people have with the romantic notions of ministry and ministers that…quite honestly…don’t really exist. I believe we need to be honest and real about ministry in today’s day and age. In the years since I have become a Christian (over twelve), I have seen a great dishonesty exist within the ministerial offices. The concept exists that ministers are not human beings and are held to impossible-to-meet standards of need, want, and conduct throughout their lives. I believe the pressures of ministry coupled with often impossible standards creates difficulty, confusion, and isolation for ministers who feel guilty for their thoughts and feelings that appear to the outside world to less than “measure up.”
There is truth in honesty. I believe part of the reason why the leaders of today’s church are in such a negative state, falling apart at the seams, is from too many years of “playing church minister.” Too often we feel the pressure to become a certain image or meet with a certain concept of ministry (that is often a kickback from religion and denominationalism) that, in the long run, hurts ministers. It causes them to feel desperation and discouragement, and, over time, break up ministry into a wildly long list of “dos and don’ts” that becomes intimidating and legalistic.
As a minister of God for a number of years, I want to see the church break through this nonsense so we can get back to Kingdom building and stop play acting as preachers. So, as usual, I’ll break the silence and run the risk of being unpopular for airing out the things we all know are true, but remain the great unspokens of ministry. It is my hope that, through writing this, many of us will be able to step up and be comfortable with how we feel – not because we are wrong, but because it is a realistic truth that ministry today is hard. We are all human. Let’s stop pretending we’re not. That having been said…
1) Minister’s relationships are often not brimming with meaning. – Today’s church puts a lot of pressure on ministers to be married and have that picture-perfect ministry life…even if it is a total lie. There is a reason the Apostle Paul encouraged people to remain single if they were able to do so, not putting down marriage or eliminating it as an option, but encouraging those who were able and duly called to remain single to do so without stigma or shame. Even in the first century, the cultural standard was marriage, much like it is today, for all sorts of reasons: from political alliances to social standing to child-bearing and companionship. There is one simple reason why the Apostle gave this advice: married life, dating life, courting life, engaged life, etc. all bring unique challenges, which can bring difficulties for ministers and can complicate their calling without the right help and support. I have yet to meet people who are married in ministry and do not experience the challenges of the two lives of ministry and marriage colliding or clashing at some point in time. If anything, I have found that the majority of minister’s relationships are very difficult. While I am sure this is not the case for everybody, being a minister of any variety in the five-fold bears with it its own unique challenges. We understand this in application to other professions: if you’re married to a cop, there are certain issues that come along with choosing a mate with that profession, being married to a CEO or business executive also brings with it certain issues. The same is true with ministry. A powerful call on one’s life can easily cause misunderstanding, especially when a mate’s call is different. It can be a challenge to live with someone who walks in the power of God and, as we all know we live in a world that still dominates with the flesh, ministers can experience the sting of lack of support, encouragement, challenge, debate, and role stereotypings from their mates. It’s not a matter of “not trying hard enough.” Never assume that the pictures, images, or concepts you see of couples in ministry is always an accurate portrayal of what goes on behind-the-scenes in their relationship dynamics. Ministers have difficulties in their private lives, just like everyone else.
2) We too wonder about what our lives would have been like had we done something else. – This doesn’t mean ministers despise ministry or don’t want to be in ministry any more than it does when other people wonder about it. The number of stigmas and taboos that surround ministry – it’s something we’re supposed to want to do, all the time, and feel good about, all the time, because it’s God’s work – deeply hurt ministers and prevent honesty within the calling. Most ministers do not despise their calling, but deal with the challenges of that calling. I know every minister out there has thought about what it would have been like had they taken that high-paying job, didn’t have to struggle so much financially, or what would have happened if they went on the road as a motivational speaker instead of a minister. It’s not a desire to change directions or despise God, it’s just a curiosity of how things would have been different had circumstances been different. It doesn’t make ministers vain or evil, it makes them human!
3) We are not always happy or in a good mood. – I don’t know why we think ministers need to be people who are constantly upbeat, smiling, and happy 24/7. In the Bible, the majority of people who walked in a calling were deeply serious, melancholy, authoritative, and contemplative people. They were grieved by the sins that surrounded them and wanted to establish the order of God in the midst of chaos. This led them to not always be the picture-perfect crowd dressed in white, walking around on a cloud, and singing the Hallelujah Chorus all day. We get disgusted with people we cover and with unresolved issues that seem to arise time after time after time. By the tenth counseling session of the day, filled with marital problems, suicidal children, people who come back time and time again with the same issues, and the total lack of order, doctrine, and responsibility displayed in people’s lives, we’re most likely not in a good mood, not feeling like talking to anyone, and not feeling like meeting any more needs, seeing any more people, or hearing about another person…possibly for as long as we live. Then the sun sets and rises again and we start all over again. While normal jobs operate on a five-day workweek with an eight-to-nine hour workday, ministers often spend extensive hours working behind the scenes in counseling, study, research, and then spend additional hours in the pulpit, on the internet, or working on the road in preaching, Bible study, teaching, covering…and then there are the many peripheral things ministers may do, such as writing, sermon preparation, prayer, and sometimes, a job to help supplement income. We get tired. We get moody. We sometimes cry and sometimes face exhaustion. Ministry can be overwhelming. We are not always in a good mood. Please, don’t hold it against us. Are you always in a good mood? I didn’t think so. We forgive you; now extend that courtesy back to us.
4) We get tired of other people “needing” us all the time. – A friend of mine, who is also an apostle, has described covering as going from being all about money to becoming garbage cans…where people back up and dump their garbage in us. It is exhausting to constantly be expected to always listen to everyone, support everyone, talk to everyone, hear everyone else’s problems (sometimes over and over again), pray for people at all hours of the day and night, receive phone calls at all hours, anoint people for everything they need, listen to whining and complaining, build people up, pray for them, lay hands on everyone…and do all this with the expectation that everything is being done for free only to have to do it again the next day. The needs of the people we serve often leave little time to expand the vision, especially when those needs seem excessive. Most ministers highly appreciate those in ministry who are not exceedingly needy because it is a sign of fruitage. The goal of ministry is not for people to live dependent upon their leaders, but to grow and mature to the point where people don’t always have to run to their leaders for every little problem. We like it when you reach a point to where you don’t call us every ten minutes to ask our opinion or “bounce” things off of us. We are here for what you need…but you should reach a point where you don’t need us constantly.
5) We need “pouring in” from time to time. – Once I was talking to someone about finances and spiritual needs. This individual felt that he was under no obligation to be covered by this ministry and tithe to it or support it in any way. When I addressed the issue that financial matters and support come from the people we work with – and I asked where he thought it would come from, his answer to me was, “Well you’re the leader so I just assumed God dealt with you directly.” I responded, “By doing what? Planting a money tree in my backyard?” People today, in an effort to be lazy and irresponsible, dump a lot on their leaders. We’re supposed to be happy all the time, never complain, never have a bad day, never get tired, and always be ready to do something for someone even if they should be doing it for themselves. It is assumed ministers get everything they need from God, and that those leaders work with or cover owe nothing to their leaders because “God will take care of them.” I am the first one who believes God takes care of us – and in all instances I know God provides. However – God often provides THROUGH others. Ministers need financial help, a word of encouragement, prayer, edification, and signs of appreciation for what they do.
6) We are very aware we don’t make enough money. – I get tired of being asked to do things for free, at my own cost, or give to other people’s causes because when the tables are turned, I’ve found the majority of them have no interest or desire to give back to God’s Kingdom on this side of the vision. It is deeply offensive to me when a minister gets in the pulpit and starts bullying other ministers to “fund their vision” and give a certain amount of money (usually $50 or higher) when we all know you have no intention to shell out that same amount of money when in one of our events…if you even attend one of our events. Every day of my life I get the bank update letting me know exactly how much money I have – or in my case, do not have. Ministry is expensive. Visions are expensive. Please don’t tell me to “step out in obedience” and give you a certain amount of money or to bankrupt myself to help “your vision.” Jesus is well aware of how much money I have in my bank account and the way things are going, consider yourself highly fortunate that I gave you any offering at all. Enough said.
7) We know we don’t spend enough time with everyone who wants our time…because there aren’t enough hours in the day to go around. – Most of the time when you come to us and say, “Do you have a minute?,” the truth is no, we don’t have a minute…we are too busy preparing the Bible study you are going to attend…or writing the blog that you are going to read…or writing the book that you don’t want to buy because you think we should give you a free copy…or writing the sermon you are going to hear at the service or conference…or planning the next event you are waiting for, but don’t tell anyone about…especially to hear you complain because you want a new car and God told you that you have a car and to live with what you have because you can’t afford a new one without being evicted from your apartment…but we’ll give you our time…anyway. Ministers face constant pressures in ministry, at home, among friends, and among those who are our spiritual responsibility. We are supposed to be all things to everyone in our life and wear multiple hats of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, minister, friend, lover, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, sex kitten, stud, housekeeper, mother, father, student, disciple, author, counselor, chef, chauffeur, internet connoisseur, IT personnel…did I forget anything? I am well aware there are plenty of days when I don’t spend enough time with someone, don’t get back to someone fast enough, spend enough time with my family, or do what would make someone else happy in their endless cycle of instant gratification. If you want to step up and become my assistant and take some of the work off my back, then I’ll appreciate it. In the meantime, I am tired of sermons, speeches, lectures, and opinions telling me to extend myself further than I am able. We can’t be lighting fast people who flip on and off at the move of a switch. I’m sick of sermons that place additional pressure on ministers to have more sex with their spouses, spend more time with their children, establish “date nights” (you want me to enjoy “date night?” Stop calling me twelve times to pay attention to you!), have family Bible study more nights a week on top of church responsibilities, keep the house immaculate, and never let the “check oil” light come on in the car. Give us a break!
8) We get tired of the scrutiny and sting of “double standards.” – I haven’t yet met a minister who is not disgusted with the fact that big-time preachers can get away with stealing people’s money and having sex with underage children, yet we’re not allowed to have an opposite sex friend for fear of “enticing lust.” When it’s a famous person, we aren’t allowed to “judge” and if we say anything negative about their conduct, we aren’t even allowed to have an opinion! When it’s us, all we hear is about higher moral standards and face gossip…even when we’ve done nothing morally or spiritually questionable. Come on, people! We don’t have to answer everyone’s intrusive questions about our private lives or subject ourselves to torture for things that “they just don’t agree with” when we’re not a television personality. I believe it’s a good practice for the church to mind its own business. In guarding that, if you ask me something and I feel you are going in a certain way with that question, I’m not answering it. If you’re mind runs wild, it was going to run that way anyway. That’s going to be your problem. Go and pray.
9) Ministry is hard. – We get through ministry with God’s help, but that doesn’t always make it easy. I believe ministry is a little bit of everything: counseling, public speaking, writing, study, personnel, business and finance, spirituality, image, and persona alike. Wearing multiple hats in one area of profession is a challenge. It is difficult to get help, and even harder to get good help. People today want to be compensated and don’t readily volunteer, even if they know God has called them to do so. What ministers see breaks their hearts, as they watch nations, cultures, and most of all, people fall into disrepair in their lives, into idolatry and all sorts of sin, and far away from God. It’s a gift from God and often a burden with the people. Don’t condescend your ministers by ever thinking the call on their lives (which costs personally as well as publically) is an “easy” walk.
10) We don’t always like the people we deal with (covering and work). – With the heavy emphasis on spiritual parenthood popular in today’s church, the expectation of the relationship between minister and covering is compared to parents and children. This means the great unspoken thing we are never to think, speak, or dwell upon with natural parenthood is also the major thing prevalent in many covering situations: ministers don’t always like the people they cover (just like parents don’t always like their natural children). As God works many things out in an individual both who is covering and who is covered, sometimes the people we cover are not always brought to us to have an infinitely loving, caring relationship – they are there to work patience and discipline within us as we develop what is necessary in them. The same is true with other ministers with which we work: sometimes the relationships are awkward or strained. They are there for a purpose, but the purpose is not to run off into the Kingdom of God and live happily ever after. I am very blessed to truly love the people I work with – both in covering and in ministerial relationships – but that has not always been the case, and I know it will not always be the case. In ministry, we deal with people. This means we don’t always like everything about everyone, and we don’t always agree with the course someone may take or the decisions they pursue. You may never know it from the way we behave, but like everyone else, we have opinions, likes, and dislikes about the people we work with, deal with, and cover.
11) We do NOT need any more responsibilities. – Ministers are generally overworked, underpaid, intensely stressed, and trying to find the balance between ministry and their private lives. Most of the time, we figure something out. This doesn’t mean what we figure out is great or the best answer, but we find ways to get through and keep going. We don’t need suggestions that involve taking on additional weekly activities. If one more person tells me to start taking on something else, whether it’s a weekly prayer line, another weekly broadcast, or another job, I will truly say something to that person that is not going to be very nice. I understand that people may be well-meaning, but there is also a larger-than-life expectation that ministers should all be doing whatever everyone else in ministry is doing. If we are doing what God has asked of us to do, we are doing enough.
12) We get lonely. – Ministry tends to be a very lonely walk. We think ministers are surrounded by people all the time and, therefore, that they should have every need met. What people don’t often consider is that the majority of people around ministers are not their friends – they are either ministerial associates or people they cover. This means there’s a lot of people around us all the time who need us for one thing or another, have a question, or just generally want something from us. We are ministers, not rock stars. The people around us are not groupies wanting to buy us stuff or throw their underwear at us. Living with people who constantly need all the time and who don’t necessarily care about us as people or our own needs can cause us to feel isolated and lonely. This is why it’s very important ministers have other friends who are also ministers to talk and share with about their walk and what they are going through – and to share in mutual support when things are difficult or discouraging.
13) We get tired of people touching our stuff. – One of my personal biggest pet peeves is watching people take a minister’s personal belongings – and either manhandling them, moving them – or both. I recognize you accept the anointing on my life and are taken with what God is doing through me and through my ministry. That does not mean that every item I own becomes communal property. I’m glad you like my handkerchief. I’m glad you like my prayer shawl. Ask me where I got my things; don’t pick them up and play with them. It’s just rude to assume it’s OK to touch a minister’s things, whether it’s their Bible, their personal items, or their teaching syllabuses, because they are there to be of service. You could be a perfectly lovely person. You could also be a witch. DON’T TOUCH OUR STUFF!
(C) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.