What I Lack

Today, I’m going to exercise extreme candor and tell you, my readers, that there’s just something I hate about the idea of living off of the generosity and support of others; that was one of my major struggles when making the decision to go into full-time ministry. Mind you, I don’t look down on others who live by support (including those who I personally support); in fact, I recognize the value of their work. But, to me, something about ministry just didn’t feel like earning a living. I think there were three main things I encountered (and with which I continue to struggle), and I outline them here in an attempt to be completely honest and transparent about some of the impediments that I had to overcome in my decision to enter ministry as a full-time occupation. More importantly, I want to give a short summary of how God is helping me to surmount these obstacles as I pursue a life in His service.

Lack of Humility

If I’m being forthright, I must admit that I take quite a bit of pride in my current field of employment (building automation), due in no small part to the knowledge that I’m good at what I do. I feel like I’ve put the work into earning my position, and I’d have to give up the pride of those accomplishments that were a result of my hard work and competency.  Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I really like being able to impress people with the intelligence and technical knowledge they surely perceive me to have when I explain to them what I do for a living—and if they aren’t impressed by my skills, they’ll probably at least be impressed by my salary. Something about being a youth minister doesn’t seem very glamorous, because… well… it’s really not (in many ways, at least). This decision also means leaving a field where I’ve achieved a fair level of proficiency, and venturing into something new as a total novice; I’ll have no bragging rights about my aptitude here.

So, I think the Lord had a lot of work to do in seeing Christ formed in me (Gal. 4:19), or in other words, radically changing my priorities, attitudes, behaviors, and values. The latter meant witnessing in myself a shift of focus from mundane to divine, from temporal to eternal. I had to be brought to the understanding that nothing is more important than carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission. I’d somehow forgotten the glory in playing a role in steering someone’s life toward a relationship—or stronger relationship—with their Creator and Savior. Now, I know that the sin of pride will ever creep in from the opposite side, and seek to convince me that I’m doing something really great and very admirable, and should really congratulate myself for that. Pride is a decidedly devious vice, isn’t it? Oh, and I should mention that I’m also realizing that ministry is turning out to be much harder work than I ever naively believed it would be. This is really a commitment to a lifestyle, not something I can leave behind when I go home every day (and I don’t necessarily want to).

Another aspect of this transition which concerns my pride is that I won’t have the satisfaction of relying on my own work to support myself and my family. I can’t help feeling like I’m somehow cheating people by relying on their support while I do God’s work. Paul even wrote to the elders of the church at Ephesus:

I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)

I don’t plan on relying solely on the gifts of others, though. Like Paul, who carried his own weight with his skills as a tentmaker, I have skills as a photographer, designer and programmer which I plan to use to augment whatever ministry support I receive. I had to realize, too, though, that in today’s world, I have no choice that will allow me to be engaged in ministry to the degree to which I feel God is calling me other than to pursue it as a career. Time simply would not permit anything else; earning money by using my other skills must remain secondary to that main focus, and—ultimately—I must trust God’s provision.

Lack of Trust

And that brings me to my next point: I find it really hard to authentically trust that God will  provide. I’m at a point in my life, mind you, where I don’t care as much as many of my peers about materialistic things, so it’s not so much a matter of being concerned with the never-ending pursuit of having “more,” but that I worry that I won’t have “enough” (though I will certainly concede that my idea of “enough” encompasses much beyond the bare necessities). This uncertainty represents the polar opposite of relying on God for my support.

This was a real struggle for me, and when I finally got the “go-ahead” to start the process of transitioning away from my current job to full-time ministry, it was the biggest obstacle to overcome. Jesus has some words for me, though, in the Gospel of Matthew:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)

I don’t think that these words excuse us from exercising good stewardship in managing our finances and other resources, but Jesus does challenge us to ultimately trust in God for every aspect of our well-being. I’ve been told by friends who are employed in ministry that relying on the Lord to provide for everything you have, through the faithful financial support of His people, is a crash-course in what it means to have genuine faith in God’s provision. I’m already finding this to be the case, and I’m certainly excited to see God prove Himself faithful over and over again through this experience.

Lack of Confidence

Another concern that I struggle with is the fear that I won’t live up to the gift my supporters have given me: I know what a lazy, selfish person I can be sometimes, and in the back of my mind I fear that I will squander the resources that God has given me through my generous benefactors. I also have a persistent worry that I’m just not good enough, and that I’m simply incapable of handling the task at hand. Isn’t it ironic that one person can struggle with both pride and insecurity?

Sometimes, I think we let ourselves fall into the trap of thinking that, by engaging people in a ministerial or evangelical role, we’re assuming sole responsibility for their walks with Jesus.  This is a mistake on many levels, and represents a profound misunderstanding of the intimate nature of the personal relationship one must have with Jesus Christ, and the great lengths Jesus himself has gone to—and continues to go to—in directly meeting people where they are. We are not doing the work of salvation; Jesus has already accomplished that. We must understand that Jesus graciously uses us—imperfect though we may be—as implements and advocates as he draws closer to him the lost. We are nothing apart from him, and we are only a small part of the work of reconciliation that he does, personally and through the Holy Spirit, in the lives of others. Without Jesus “running the show”—as our source of love, kindness, patience, strength, wisdom, and authority—we are like hammers without a carpenter: about the best change we can hope to effect is to fall off of the workbench and break something (and that isn’t exactly a positive change).

I found a lot of encouragement in Dave Kraft’s recent blog, “3 Lessons from Jesus Feeding the 5,000,” in which the author teaches from the event recorded in Matthew 9:35-38 and Mark 6:30-44:

Here are 3 principles for shepherds/leaders from these passages of Scripture:

  1. The needs always exceed the resources. The needed finances always exceed the finances we have. The hurting people always exceed the number of people we need to minister to them.
  2. I am always inadequate for the task Jesus has for me. Almost every leader God called felt he wasn’t quite ready, adequate or capable: Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and David, to name a few. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…”
  3. Jesus is always more than adequate in every task and challenge I face. Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” The disciples in the Gospel stories experienced that Jesus was more than adequate for their inadequacies.

We can rely on Jesus when we’re humbly shepherding his sheep.

To continue with my hammer metaphor, I think Kraft hits the nail on the head with that last line. Key in serving as a leader and a shepherd is the humility to realize that we can’t do it alone—and a passionate conviction in us to never want to undertake any endeavor apart from Jesus Christ. Oddly enough, humility is often a struggle even in the midst of our own insecurity; we still try to rely on ourselves. Instead, we must let our insecurity reveal all the more clearly our need for Jesus Christ, and be secure that he is perfectly adequate to compensate for our shortcomings. This does not excuse us from responsibility in preparing for the work of sharing the Gospel—specifically doing our part in becoming students of the Word and true disciples of Jesus Christ—but rather gives us the confidence that our inadequacies—real or perceived—won’t impede God’s plan of salvation.

As I’ve written before, I fully believe that all of us are given the opportunity to minister to people in every aspect of our lives, and Jesus commands us to take advantage of these occasions. Whether you are a full-time evangelist or not, it is imperative that we all live in relationship with Jesus, and rely on his Spirit to help us accomplish the Great Commission. It is my persistent hope that this wisdom, graciously imparted to me by God as I continue my journey, is a help and an encouragement to you as you progress along your own path, wherever it may lead.

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One Response to “What I Lack”

  1. Kathleen Walther says:

    You have truly been blessed as a writer!! I am really enjoying reading these entries when I am able to do so. They are so relevant to our everyday lives, and provide us with such wonderful guidance.

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