"MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCES" (LETTER TO A YOUNG MINISTER)
I find this hard to believe each time it happens, but from time to time I get calls from younger guys in ministry asking me for guidance and advice. This is always odd for me as I am only 38 years old and feel like such a "noob" at this myself. But I suppose I have something to say, as I have been in this line of work for awhile now.
My, how time flies.
Below is a letter I wrote to a young man in ministry who reached out to me for advice about some uncertainty he has begun to feel about his calling.
I am posting it here in case it is of use (or help) to anyone who may be feeling as he also is.
Hey man -
Just wanted to follow up about our call last night and reassure you that you aren't crazy, nor are you thinking thoughts that any of us in ministry-work don't think from time to time.
We get into this game because of "mountaintop experiences." We sense a deep responsibility for people and a love for them we can't quite put into words. It is wonderfully overwhelming.
The longer we are in this line of work, though we see that we are half-hearted creatures. We are walking contradictions. We get tired. We lose hope. We see the inner politics of religion and many within it who have chosen to spend their time and energy making this all about something that it really isn't at all.
Ministers from every generation in every part of the world have struggled with this since, well… forever.
Not a single Epistle in the New Testament is void of squabbles over theology, philosophy about ministry, or infighting in the church. These things are there in scripture to show us that even those closest to Jesus had the same struggles.
Our job is to keep pointing people back to the source- and to see the bigger picture.
Know that it is the initial "mountaintop experience" that gets us in the door, but we ultimately only stay "in the door" of ministry because we realize there's just nothing else we are to do. We were born for this.
Of course there are the paradoxes of the long days, the strain that showing love to our church family puts on our own family, and the fact that we are learning, growing beings- just as those we lead are also growing and learning.
This is all grace.
Perhaps ministry isn't about us having a solidified, repeatable formula with which we save the world. Maybe our true calling is to be humble people who are learning alongside those that we teach.
We have so much to learn from each other, and none of us have the full picture or the finished product. We need each other. We also need each other's struggles.
When Sundays are terrible or our stats are not what we want them to be, remember that these things are carrots on sticks. The best stats in the world will never be enough. We will always want more. What we are in control of, and what our goal should be, is to work as diligently as we are able with humility and love. If we do this, may the stats be what they are.
Know God. Get to know him more every day, even when he seems to be silenced by your approaches. Sometimes this is exactly what we need from God. It keeps us humble.
Never let your work stifle your prayer and meditation times. Put them first, above all else.
When the inner politics of ministry seem to hijack your schedule for weeks at a time, make sure that you are caring for the people in your community who haven't been pulled into all of that. People who are new in the faith will refresh your spirit and remind you why what you are doing matters.
A man named Richard Alpert once said,
"I help people as a way to work on myself, and I work on myself to help people… To me, that’s what the emerging game is all about."
I find this to be more true each year, even after doing this for seventeen years.
We need the people that we minister to as much as they need us. This is about a human family wherein we see God at work through all of us.
Whether you believe it or not, you are in a very good place. You are being detoxed of the idea that ministry is about fame and superstars, book deals, and recording contracts, and money, and feelings of pride about how wonderful you are (or can become).
None of us are wonderful. We are just people trying to get through life. This is where God lives- in the everyday.
You are realizing that the only thing that will ever keep you going is your love for people, and this is the true "mountaintop experience." All others are just smokescreens.
If our calling is about anything other than that, we will drop out eventually.
Love always believes, always hopes, always perseveres. It has never failed. Nor will it ever.
My prayer for you (and I will pray this for you often) is from Ephesians 3:14-19
"When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."
Love you, man.
Be strong and of good courage.
Call me anytime.