On May 13, 1979, Terry and I ‘stepped out of the boat’ and entered full-time ministry. I had been a sports writer since graduating from MTSU for over seven years, but took the opportunity to return to our alma-mater to be the campus minister at the Middle Tennessee Christian Center. Even though there have been many ‘ups and downs,’ it is a decision I have never regretted, and I now enter my 44th year.
Certainly the blessings of ministry far outweigh the realities listed below, yet ministry is definitely not easy. That is why ministry must be a calling and not simply a “job”. If you can’t reconcile with these difficult realities and challenges concerning ministry, then perhaps you should avoid it all together (some apply, others not so much).
My dad told me plenty of things as we discussed this crucial decision, but both he and Mom were full of encouragement, though Mom acknowledged after a few years that she felt I should have followed my dad’s example and kept my “full-time job” and been a part-time minister/teacher. He did say one thing that I have always laughed about: “Gary, Sundays come around really fast when you are preparing two lessons and two Bible class studies per week.” I have found that to be absolutely true, though I usually cannot wait for Monday morning to come around so I can ‘begin again.’
I have learned much from some special people in my life, Lately, one of those dear friends asked me “why would you accept criticism from someone you would never go to for advise?” Amen! And often people find it ‘convenient’ to agree with you only when you follow their advise, when, in actuality, they are accepting you only for what they see in you that duplicates/mirrors them. Impossible! A most recent lesson? I try daily not to micro-manage someone else’s personality…wishing that others would follow that idea in regard to me.
I was both a preacher’s kid (PK) and an elder’s kid (EK), so I’ve felt ‘eyes on me’ throughout most of my life. I also was (am) concerned that my five children (and seven grand children) must have ‘felt those eyes on them’ as well. It is a shame that has to be the case, and I understand some of the reasoning…but others should have no right to expect a higher standard for me or Terry and my children/grandchildren than the one they have for themselves. Jesus Christ puts a high standard on ALL of us. On my desk are two statements: (1) To err is human; to blame it on the other guy is even more human. And, (2) thank you for not minding my business.
I am still negotiating this thing we call ‘ministry.’
I find these timely reminders to be useful when one decides to enter ministry…wishing I had learned some of these sooner in my life (MANY have NOT applied to me, thankfully, but presented here as ‘food for thought’):
- You will probably begin by ministering to a church that is barely growing (if at all), is opposed to change, doesn’t pay well, has seen ministers come and go, doesn’t respect the position as Biblically as they should, doesn’t understand what the Bible says a minister’s or a church’s jobs are, and will only follow you when they agree with you (thus, they’ll really only follow themselves).
- You will feel very lonely on a consistent basis, feeling like no one truly knows you or cares how you feel, because you do not want to burden your family, and trust-worthy peers are few and far in-between. Because of the ”super-Christian” myth accredited to ministers literally, you will find it extremely difficult to disclose your deep thoughts and feelings to others. Thus, you will struggle with loneliness.
- You will be persecuted for preaching the truth, mostly from your brothers and sisters in the pews. You shouldn’t be surprised by the sight of your own blood. You’re a Christian, after all (Matt. 16:24).
- You will think about quitting yearly or monthly, if not weekly or even daily…do not make important decisions on Mondays, since they are a day with ‘let downs’ after the ‘high’ of Sunday worship.
- You will be criticized, rarely to your face, and frequently behind your back. This criticism will come from those that love you, those that obviously do not like you, and often from shepherds and Christians that barely know you.
- Not everyone will respond positively to your preaching, teaching, or leadership. You will bring people to tears with the same sermon: one in joy, another in anger (I have done this).
- You will fight legalism and liberalism, along with laziness, ignorance, tradition, and opposition. Yet, your greatest enemy will be your own heart (Jere. 17:9).
- You will feel like a failure often, and when you do appear to succeed, the fruit that is produced cannot be accredited to you. God alone gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). Thus, there is little “sense of accomplishment in ministry” that you may be accustomed to in other vocations. I have always mowing my yard, since it gives me ‘a beginning and an end.’
- You will make people angry regardless how godly you handle yourself; it comes with the position.
- Not everyone will like you.
I worked as a copy boy on weekends at the News-Free Press as a junior in high school and a sports writer during my senior year of high school and then was the sports editor of the MTSU Sidelines school newspaper seven semesters.
During my freshman year, I also wrote a weekly article on MTSU football for the Nashville Banner. After my freshman year, I worked during the summer in sports department at the Chattanooga Times.
I was the Christian Center student president my junior year…we got married on July 2, 1971 and worked our senior years before graduating (1972) and moving to Chattanooga to work with the Chattanooga News-Free Press for seven years.