Today marks exactly 10 years in total that, by God’s grace and enabling, I have served the Lord in full-time ministry. The journey began earlier though, since May 2003, when I first started out as a ministry staff in my home church. In the span of the past 15 years, apart from the 10 years in ministry (including close to 6 years as a pastor), I have also studied for 3 years and graduated from bible college, gotten married and became a parent of 4 children, and served mainly in missions, youth & young adults, and Christian education in both church and parachurch environments. Looking back, it sometimes feels like a lifetime since it all started, but it also seems as though time has flew by quickly. Here are some reflections and lessons learnt along the way.
1. Serving the Lord (ministry) is demanding.
The first aspect has to do with time and energy. Perhaps coupled with the rising reality of age catching up (I was 30 when I graduated and married, and now in my early 40s), ministry has increasingly been time-consuming, energy-draining and at times mentally, emotionally and spiritually challenging. You reach the highest of highs, but also the lowest of lows, there are intense periods of stress and pressures, requiring loads of prayer and perseverance. What has helped through all this is the support of friends, colleagues, spiritual mentors and fellow-sojourners, as well as making a conscious effort to retreat, rest and reflect. Also, I find that church members tend to have an impression that the pastor or staff is always busy or never has time for them; this needs to be addressed or corrected, as it might lead to a false perception either on our part that to be busy means we are successful, motivated or seen to be getting things done; or on others’ part, they might always find us never approachable or willing or able to be there for them in their times of need.
2. Serving the Lord (ministry) is messy.
The second aspect has to do with people. Someone once said, “I love God and serving Him; it’s the church I can’t stand.” As much as working with people can be fun, joyful and exciting (especially when they are nice and friendly, and there are no problems or issues), there are and will be times where problematic individuals, either due to personality, sin, or just being plain difficult, will get you down, or try your patience and limits. Part of the solution is adjusting your own working style or approach, or compromise on non-essentials in order to move forward together, or even just humbly recognizing our own shortcomings and accept others as they are (flaws, weaknesses, rough edges and all). If you are in a position of authority, seek God and godly counsel for wisdom, and find ways and opportunities to speak the truth in love, which might even call occasionally for gentle rebuke or admonishment to correct, hopefully with the receiving person(s) being open and teachable to constructive criticism. At the end of the day, we need to just simply come before God, acknowledging that we are all sinners saved and in need of God’s grace.
3. Serving the Lord (ministry) is fulfilling.
The last aspect has to do with satisfaction and calling. This to me has and is the key motivation that has kept me going all these years. When ministry challenges (time, energy) and people problems creep in, or seem to overwhelm, I fall back on remembering what led me to full-time ministry in the first place – God’s love for me, and my response of love for Him and desire to serve Him wholeheartedly with all my life. When Jesus went to the cross and died, what were His reasons? Many would say, and the Bible tells us, that Jesus died for the sins of the world, because He loved the world, or us His people. True as that may be, His primary reason was out of love and obedience to His Father and His will. That is why when we are called to emulate and follow Jesus, not all (hopefully none) would be called to do something such as die on the cross for the sins of the world (there is only one Christ, we are not the Messiah!), but all of us are called to discover and pursue God’s will and calling for our lives. It has to be our love and obedience for God, that will enable us to ride the waves of ministry, anchoring our souls and aligning our life decisions and direction to His kingdom purposes.
A special thanks firstly of course to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, without whom all this would not be possible. Secondly, a big kudos, appreciation and affirmation of my wife of 11 years, who has stood by and journeyed with me all the way since I entered into ministry. Lastly, I remember my mentors and peers who have supported me with advice, prayers and spiritual friendships through the years – thank you for walking alongside, fellow sojourners and co-labourers in the Lord.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord , knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Cor. 15.58)
10.10.10 (10 Oct 2010 – the significance of ten in the Bible)