The Four People You Need in Ministry
If you’re a musical fanatic like I am, you’ve seen a monologue turn into a full fledged music in the streets number with everyone from the main character to the florist hawking bouquets suddenly joining in on a synchronized dance routine. What does this have to do with ministry?
I can stand on a stage and give a talk to a roomful of youth. I can file my paperwork without any help, and I can plan a retreat without consulting anyone else. But it’s not ideal. Just as a musical isn’t a musical without a coordinated song and dance, ministry isn’t effective when it’s a ministry of one. I’m as introverted as they come, but when it comes to fighting for hearts for God, I know I can’t do it alone. There are four people who I MUST have by my side in ministry:
1. Someone who “gets it”: I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten a side eye from the cashier when I purchase 100 bouncy balls or 10 rolls of duct tape. When they ask me what I’m up to, I leave out details and say, “It’s stuff I need for work.” But when I tell another youth minister that I’m going to need a fish, 75 straws and a jar of peanut butter, she doesn’t bat an eyelid because it’s understood that unusual shopping lists come with the territory. When I come into the office with bags under my eyes because I couldn’t sleep over concern for the souls of the kids I work with, I don’t need someone to tell me that I need to “leave work in the office.” I need someone who understands that ministry isn’t a switch you turn on and off when you clock in or clock out. I need someone who will sit with me as I cry over the kid who I just couldn’t reach. I need someone who gets it when I say 24 hours in a day just don’t seem enough. I need someone who will vacuum the youth center after a long retreat and say “I’m not leaving until you do” because he understands that I’ll stay all night if I don’t have someone helping me. Most importantly, I need someone who reminds me that despite the long hours, frustration and fatigue, what we do is worth it because what we do builds up the Kingdom of God.
2. Someone who can pull you out of it: Just as we need someone who can be “in it” with us, we also need someone who can pull us out of it. Our work is demanding, and the expectations are high. It’s rewarding and it requires a lot of effort, but we need to be reminded that we can’t pour from an empty cup. We need to rest. We need to recharge. We need to take breaks. No matter how often we pencil in our down time, more often than not, we need someone to remind us that it’s okay to disconnect from the ministry. Two years ago, I found my outlet in an adult tap class. No one I worked with was in the class. It was just a dozen of women who I had a blast dancing with, and by the end of the class I felt rejuvenated because all the stresses from the ministry were left on the dance floor. These women became a support system without even knowing it. I’ve found that it’s just as effective to have a friend take me out for a good dinner or a long hike. There’s only one rule: No talking about the ministry. You can leave it for a while. It will still be there when you get back from your break.
3. Someone to pray with you: I recently took a walk with one of my former coworkers who recently retired. In the time that it took to walk around the block, we realized that one of the challenges of working in ministry is that so many people come to you for prayer. It’s a privilege to have people knock on your door knowing it is a safe space where they can encounter God in a special way through prayer, but it’s also a responsibility to minister to people’s hearts through prayer. When we are in front of groups of people weeks at a time leading them in prayer, we can forget how important it is to pray for ourselves and have people pray for us. And sometimes it takes a village. Until this past December I didn’t recognize the void in my life that was a lack of people truly praying with and for me. Sure I was getting together with people to grow in my faith through Bible studies and positive social activities, but when I got my own group of prayer warriors I noticed a HUGE difference in my attitude towards my ministry and spiritual growth. I found a group of people who I could pour my heart out to and intercede for me in a way that I couldn’t for myself. By inviting people to pray for me, I learned how to connect to Christ in a crucial way, and I became a better youth minister because of it.
4. Someone to absolve you: Your coworkers and friends absolutely help you carry the burdens that come with ministry, but don’t underestimate the power of a priest! There have been times in my ministry when I have seen the pastors as someone who I go to for approval of events I want to host. I see them as administrators of the staff or the budget. But what’s even more important is their role as administrator of the sacraments and counselor of souls. Now I have three priests who I go to for direction, and the time that I spend in their offices, in the confessional and at Mass are the reason why I can do what I do. Priests can do things that even the holiest lay people cannot. They consecrate the hosts. They absolve us of our sins. In short, they point us towards Christ so we have strength for the journey.
Any kind of ministry is filled with its ups and downs; triumphs and sorrows. When we have those joys, we want to celebrate them, and when we have the sorrows, there is no need to carry them alone. God is the director of this musical masterpiece, and I know for certain that it is does not have a cast of one.