No one will deny that we are all bombarded daily by an abundance of ideas/images of what churches and ministries are supposed to be like. On social media, our favorite blogs, the bestsellers list, everyone has a tip or a secret to building or growing the best church and ministry possible.
Without our noticing, these ideas/images—particularly through social media—have changed the ministerial landscape of our thinking and feeling and can send us on a vain pursuit of two things: constant novelty and consumer identity.
Most of us enter into ministry with some level of excitement, intense or heightened emotion. We imagine that “it will always be this way”. We take that passion and make the basis of our relationship to/with ministry what is supposed to be the result of it.
So when feelings of excitement or interest or “inloveness” begin to fade, we think something is wrong. We then make it our mission in life to make it exciting again (or to seek it in a new ministry relationship or endeavor). We pursue constant novelty but out of fear of any boredom or normalcy, because we’ve come to believe that ministries fall or rise on the level of our passion or excitement.
However, novelty for it’s own sake will only produce an “ever-increasing craving for an ever-decreasing pleasure” (C.S. Lewis). In the end, we’ll still be disillusioned.
Today, as in every day and culture and time, there is “the fashionable”. The trends of the day are marked out for us and affect our lives for good and for bad. On the one hand, if you resist them you will find yourself “behind the times” and out of place. On the other, and especially with regards to our present ministries, if we don’t resist them we will find ourselves discontent in our ministering.
A consumer culture sells a consumer identity. We may have a great family, good friends, and a healthy church, but if we’re not identified by them or by others with some brand or ideal or image, we feel lost and without purpose. To be is to be seen. We feel the push and the pull: “I do everything with you in mind.” But who is the “you”?
As soon as we go on social media we encounter standards and values, means and ends, for how we’re supposed to live, to think, to want, to feel, to look, to act in ministry. We surrender to them by choice, but they are self-imposed, not God-given. They construct an imaginary web that traps and holds on to us; they create an unreality that in reality no one person, pastor, church, or ministry can ever live up to.
For example, the emotions or attitudes we are drawn into, and then drawn to, are mostly and often purely negative. One cannot help but instantly and easily get entangled in anger and resentment, comparison and jealousy, grumbling and criticism, stress and anxiety. How you think and feel and act towards the real people you are in real ministry with begins to be shaped by the “idea,” the “image,” or the “identity” you are being ruled by.
The truth is that we all want to be part of an “Inner Ring”. There is for each of us a group of people, a circle of influence (fame?), a church movement that we want or feel we need to be a part of to be successful. We will do anything to be in, because we believe they possess the “real” knowledge, or power, or mission, or vision.
The descent into this Inner Ring is gradual, never all at once. One day I love my church, flaws and all, and then a year or two down the road, I can’t stand them and wonder to myself (and accuse them) why they can’t be like that church. This descent, though, is sped up today by social media, where I feel “true value” is determined and can daily measure against it myself and my ministry.
LITTLE TO LOSE, MUCH TO GAIN
Being discontent in our ministry is often the result of wanting our idea of our ministry/church, not our real ministry/church. But God has not given us an idea or an image. He has given us a people, a church body. It is only in the realness of another that we will find completeness and contentedness.
Being content in the ministry God has called you to and equips you for will never occur so long as you are caught up and caught in the high but false ideals and images that, in particular, social media holds up. Get off of social media (for a month or two or six) and you may find your relationship to your ministry and with the people you minister to getting better. You would have lost little and gained much from this exchange.
In any relationship, the secret to being content is sharing—sharing life with another, sharing inthe life of another. In ministry we must learn to share in the excitement and boredom, hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, strengths and flaws, dreams and fears, confession and forgiveness of those God has called us to love and to serve. These are the highs and the lows of life. You can’t have the highest without the lowest.
But sharing these times means the real you being really there. “Your” ministry is you laying down your life out of love for another. Or, more beautifully and powerfully, it is Christ, who loved you and gave himself for you, living in you.
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)