ADJUSTING TO MINISTRY AS WORK
Adapted from Training Day 1 workshop Adjusting to Ministry As Work presented by Jodie McNeill
The big issue is this: This job is weird.
In a sense, there is very little you can compare it to. Maybe it’s like being a school teacher, or a counselor or a manager. As far as I see it, this job is weird because you are apprentice Word ministers. We think of ministers as watching and learning nursing, carpentry etc. You guys are apprentice ministers. That means four things:
1. It’s a Whole of Life thing: The personal holiness matters in this. If you’re a carpenter and you have a problem with porn, it doesn’t matter so much because it won’t result in losing your job. If you’re a school teacher and your marriage isn’t going so well, it’s not a big issue. When you’re in this kind of work, it’s a whole of life thing. On one hand, you’re a normal Christian person like everyone else. On the other hand, you’re a Christian leader (James 3: Leaders are judged more harshly). One day I was a peer, the next day I was their minister. Do I have to change everything? It shouldn’t have messed with me, because I was an everyday Christian.
2. It’s often unstructured work: Not all apprenticeships are the same. Unstructured often means it’s difficult to know boundaries. How many hours a week do you work as an apprentice? Where is your main place of work? It’s difficult to work these things out. There was once a man who had a home office. In the morning he would wake up, put on his suit and work in the front room of his house. In the afternoon he’d knock off work, loosen his tie, and be with his family. Working out what work is and where it happens is one of the tensions of this job.
3. Success is difficult to measure: When working on specific projects, or studying, you can measure what you’ve done. In our job it’s difficult to define and measure success. It’s hard to work out if you’re doing the right thing. When you’re studying you can say “I got 62%” but that’s a tricky thing to do in ministry.
4. It’s work, but it’s not work: I try to grapple with what I do, am I working or not? I’m freed up from work to serve, so I don’t think of myself as clocking on or clocking off. However, it’s called work for a reason. When I have a day off, I wake up tired. Everything in me feels tired. How do these two things fit together?
Surviving the first year:
1. Keep a diary: You need some way of being sure that you know where you’re going and what you’re supposed to be doing. It helps to be able to have structure and know what your week will look like and how to plan for these things.
2. Put the important things in your diary first: Get all your meetings and commitments in your diary straight up. Other things will then fit into place around that. Lock in your annual leave and days off – otherwise they will never happen. Get these things in first and these will help you to de-stress.
3. Plan to rest: It’s very easy to wake up at 6am and look at your smartphone and see texts, emails and a nonstop barrage of things.This job can be relentless so rest is very important. You need to plan to rest with your family also as this will help you to rejuvenate. Annual leave is extremely important to plan because it’s good to have an extended amount of time to unwind and enjoy God’s creation. Plan your day off and be strict, yet be flexible. Be strict enough to say “This is my day off” because if you’re not careful, you will burn out. Sometimes you will need to be flexible, for those times when there is a death in the family for someone in your parish. Having a day off reminds you that God is God and you are not. The ministry will continue without you. Remember to also look after yourself by eating well, getting regular exercise, and having enough sleep so that you can be good at your ministry.
4. Don’t be lazy: Be wise in what you do so that you don’t waste your days online.
5. Prioritize people time: This is easy for some and hard for others. Work out whether you are introverted and extroverted because this covers over so many problems. If you’re talking with people, meeting and listening, it develops a relationship that strengthens and everything else that is happening goes into the distance. It’s about the vine, not the trellis. The key ministry is the Word of God prayerfully ministered to people.
6. Establish accountability systems: Ask your supervisor to be clear about what they expect from you. What would it look like to do your job well? Get a position description. Ask your trainer to meet with you regularly. Also consider personal holiness accountability structures – who will you talk to when things come up in your life that you need to share?
7. Learn to be flexible: Different things will fill your week, and ministry doesn’t have neat edges. When you meet with someone, give yourself an hour to spare afterwards just in case. You have a license to fail, so don’t be afraid to give new things a go. You can try a bible study somewhere new and it might not work. Get out of your comfort zone and enjoy the flexibility of your time.
8. Seek to be forgiving: Know that people will fail you and will be unreliable. Don’t forget that we are all sinful and totally depraved. Don’t expect people to live up to the ideal, because you will make mistakes as well. It is part of the Christian life. Be forgiving of yourself and others, knowing that God has forgiven you.
9. Be holy and live that way: Being a Christian leader is not about working on seeking to be like Christ, but also about modeling that to others.
10. Pray: When we pray to God we say “you are God and I am not”. When we pray we acknowledge that God is in control and things are up to him. Remembering this is vital.
Ministry is not easy, it is hard. If you think it’s the dream job and easy, sometimes there will be difficulties along the way. If you’re finding the apprenticeship hard, that’s normal. Talk to your trainer and to others who have done it before. God is using you and he is going about and doing the work.
You’ll make mistakes and that’s okay. Keep trusting in God. Be confident that it is God doing the work.