I’ve spent just about all of my adult life in ministry. Sure, I have had side jobs and now run companies that I own or partner in myself, but my consistent, primary job for many years has always been ministry. I didn’t know many ministers when I got started, and as a result, I didn’t know much of what to expect. Still, some days I wish someone had sat me down and told me the following…
1. You’re going to feel unappreciated. Much of the time. – When people think about ministry, they think about how many people they will help and all the good they will do. What they don’t mention is that much of that time, the things you do aren’t regarded with a lot of relevance. Because you are seen as doing what you do “for the Lord,” many people don’t take what is done for them by their minister very seriously. It’s just expected that this is your calling, you are there to do this, and that means there isn’t a lot of appreciation or regard for it. When you have a bad day or feel like you need someone to talk to, people assume you just take it to God and are always satisfied or all right with that, so it means you don’t get a lot of people who are ready and willing to see you through your bad days. Which will probably make you feel more unappreciated. The feeling does usually pass with time, but it can be a feeling that haunts you for long periods, especially if you have none or the wrong kind of support in your personal life.
2. You’re going to wonder why you ever wanted to do this. – When people first feel called to go into ministry, they are enchanted with the idea of doing God’s work. By the tenth depressing phone call in the day that also drags you down (and spirits or not, you have to admit that it’s awfully hard to combat feeling down when everything you hear in a day is depressing), the umpteenth long day in a row, the bank account that doesn’t grow, or the days when you never want to see another person again, getting to preach on Sunday won’t seem like a fair trade-off.
3. You will be asked for money. All the time. – We know the first culprits are usually from Africa, India, or Pakistan, and we typically learn to either ignore or handle those requests. What we aren’t prepared for are the inboxes on a daily basis from one person or another who is asking you for money to get to church, to pay their bills, to meet their rent, or to help them out. You will feel inundated by causes, by strange people you don’t know hoping you will give them cash at request, because people think that being in ministry makes you an easy target for giving.
4. Prepare to listen more than talk. – A large part of real ministry is listening, especially to the problems and issues people have. It’s how people connect with you as a minister, and the truth is that after awhile, it can become a real burden. Most of what is spoken to you is confidential, and listening to people’s personal problems as you help them sort them out can be tedious, especially when you can’t outlet your own thoughts about them.
5. Your own devotional time is essential. – Any service or cause-based job can easily cause a person to feel surrounded by demands, needs, and people who constantly want attention. Having quiet time with the Lord spent in the Word or prayer (or sometimes just in the quiet, period) is essential to balancing out life and the demands of the job.
6. Ministers don’t keep “normal” hours. – I can’t count the number of nights I have spent awake writing, studying, praying, or waiting for whatever instruction it was that God wanted to give me. There have been the sleepless nights because of a problem in the ministry or someone within the ministry, and how to address that problem consumed my thought life to the point where it kept me awake. It’s easy to say “just pray,” but ministry is more than just prayer. It’s also problem-solving, figuring, and thinking, not to mention the many spiritual aspects of the work that also keep us up late into the wee hours of the morning.
7. Someone is always going to think you are doing something wrong. – We live in a forum-based world. The internet has created an open forum, where people are free with their opinions, reviews, and thoughts, whether any of those are relevant, or not. Whether your skirt was too short…or your hair is the wrong color…or your fingernails are the wrong length…or you use the wrong translation of the Bible…or you shouldn’t blog…or you should give your books away free…or you preached too long…or you should have picked another topic…or your prophecy was boring…or you have the wrong gifts…or you shouldn’t have gone to school…or they don’t like the name of your ministry…or they dislike your title…someone is always going to find something wrong with what you are doing, and they will probably make it known. The good news is the internet moves fast, and things tend to blow over relatively quickly.
8. Church people can be mean. – This is related to #7, but they aren’t just mean online, they are often mean in person, too. It’s often more than just thinking you are doing something wrong, but that you’re not doing things their way. Remember, people who are still going to church have often been going for awhile, and tend to be rather set in their ways as to how things should be done and don’t respond well to change or different ideas about ministry. They think being a Christian means being staunch and unfriendly, and that being pleasant is a part of being “worldly.” Many believe they aren’t just upholding a tradition, but the true church, which they feel is being stolen from them. Ridiculous? Yes. It is the result of improper training for many generations. A real problem? Absolutely.
9. People ask weird questions. – Just count on the fact that if someone has the most absurd inquiry, they will find you and ask you. Everything from “Why didn’t you wear different socks with those pants?” to “Did the Wise Men follow a UFO to the manger?” and all that comes in between…
10. Ministry doesn’t always feel meaningful. – Like any other profession, what you do in ministry won’t always feel like a deep spiritual moment. Some of it just feels like bookkeeping, rent-paying, writing, speaking, counseling, and general work. There are parts of ministry done so often, they are a part of everyday life, and become ordinary. That does make the special moments we have with God more important and more, well, special, but it does mean that everyday is not a divine vision or a trip to heaven.
11. Be prepared to become a “jack of all trades.” – If you want to survive in ministry, then you are either going to have to be a self-made millionaire and be able to pay various service people, or you are going to have to learn how to do a lot of things yourself (or have friends in a bunch of varied professions). It is absolutely essential for ministers to have websites, business cards, professional representations such as letterhead and social network abilities, and this is just the beginning…In ministry, I have had to learn how to do all of these things myself, plus so many more, I can’t think of them all. We can’t just shrink back and wait for help all the time. Sometimes the help has to come from our abilities, and what we don’t know, we figure out.
12. You won’t have as much in common with most of the ministers you meet as you would think. – It should sound like the ideal connection, because when you are in ministry, there are things that you should automatically have in common with others who do the same thing. You will connect with some ministers, and those will probably become deep friendships because of what I just said. This won’t happen all the time, however. Ministries are different, networks and organizations that ministers belong to are all different, and even though a ministry might seem to be the same judging by a service or a common style, there are probably differences in belief and structure that turn out to be deal breakers when all is said and done.
13. People will twist your words…and it will amaze you. – We’ve all heard people tell us that the way that people perceive things varies from person to person. What we are never prepared for is the way that people will say that we said something, when that is not what we said, at all. It doesn’t get less shocking. Especially when we don’t expect where it comes from.
14. Ministry is no longer regarded as a legitimate profession in the eyes of many people. – It would be easy to blame this one on scandals from people like Peter Popoff or Jimmy Swaggart, but there are a lot of factors that have changed the way ministry is perceived by people. The entertainment factor in popular television preachers, coupled with their lifestyles, has changed the way that ministry is perceived and the distinguishable and respectable mark it once had within society. It hasn’t helped that big-name preachers are not only taking money away from other ministries, but also the endless scandals, bad reports, and ministers who misrepresent or disgrace their offices are always headline news. Couple all of this with the fact that most smaller ministries have leaders who also hold-down secular jobs and don’t even take salaries from their churches and you have a society where ministry is regarded more as a side interest or pursuit rather than a respectable profession.
15.People will be uncomfortable with what you do. – without even knowing you. – Before anyone climbs up on the Christian high horse, this isn’t because of persecution or being proud of Christ. It’s because Christians in general have a bit of a reputation for being stodgy and stuffy, bringing down the party, and being unrelatable and judgmental. Then you have the fact that many people automatically think ministers feel certain ways about issues or have certain views about things. Couple being a minister, which is kind of regarded as being more of a permanent Christian than a lay member with judgments and assumptions about ministers, and there will be people who are going to be uncomfortable with the mere idea of being around you or being your friend, even without knowing who you really are.
16. Your life and your plans will be permanently interrupted. – I can’t count the number of times I planned on having a day or a weekend off, only to have that changed, often at the last minute, because of an emergency or a need that arises in the ministry. Sometimes we have to consider priorities, and that means the personal time we seek to take for ourselves or for our families doesn’t always happen as conveniently or easily as we would like on the first plan or try. Flexibility, not just for the minister, but also for those closest to him or her, is an essential.
(c) 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.