Lay people who love God often have romantic ideas about vocational ministry. They think it will be like getting paid to go to an endless church camp. The reality is that vocational ministry IS very much like church camp; WORKING at a church camp! Employees cook meals, wash dishes, mow the lawn, maintain the property, fix the broken pipes, set up the games, do the logistics and air out the mildewed mattresses so campers can have a great experience with Jesus! There is nothing LESS like going to church camp than working at a church camp!
That being said, I am glad lay people who love God have romantic ideas about vocational ministry…or we would have no vocational ministers!
I am often approached by people exploring a call to vocational ministry. They feel the initial “ping” but are unsure what to do next.
Here is what I tell them:
- Did God REALLY call you? (or do you just hate your current job?)
- Test your gifts (do you have the right skill set and temperament?)
- Assess your effectiveness (have you been highly effective as a lay person?)
- Can you work under significant stress?
- Realize that it is really hard to keep friends
- Be prepared for criticism
- Be prepared for isolation
- Realize you can’t quit if you were called (you can be released)
- Understand that vocational ministry is life in a fish bowl
For those already in vocational ministry, there is another challenge; surviving in the fishbowl. Melissa and I have had some fish over the years. The fishbowl stays the same; the fish come and go. Mainly go. Most fish do really well…at first. And one day you awaken and they are floating at the top. Surviving in the fishbowl for the long haul seems to be a challenge…for fish and in ministry.
So how to you survive and stay effective in ministry for the long haul?
Here are my thoughts:
SURVIVING IN THE FISH BOWL
- Prioritize your relationship with God Matthew 6:33
- Prioritize your primary relationships The ones you will still have upon retirement.
- Work hard when you are at work
- Be home when you are at home
- Don’t do dumb crap
- Be careful on the edges (Social Media, counseling)
- Remember everything you search, email, write or post is permanent and public
- Differentiate “personal” from “professional” If what is stressing you would go away if you quit your job, it is professional.
- Take your vacations Don’t apologize for them.
- Guard your day off Actually go somewhere.
- Get a life “When I am not working, I love to ____________?” Whatever you wrote in the blank, do more of that!
- Keep emotionally, mentally and physically fit
- Be conscious of what a ministry win is for you Then go get as many as you can!
- Enjoy your life No one is going to do it for you.
Ministry is hard. It is going to get harder but it is manageable. You can best take care of others when you take care of yourself. With a little intentionality, you can not only survive but you can actually thrive in the fishbowl.
Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL since 1997.