Photo Credit: Qfamily
This week, my little sister and her husband are packing up their house and moving. My brother-in-law feels called to the ministry, so he has enrolled in seminary and has taken his first ministry job as a youth minister. Though my husband had already been working in ministry for several years when we married, their ordeal brings back memories of when I was a ministry newbie myself. I’ve learned a lot in the past fourteen+ years. Maybe I should impart some words of Wisdom to those who are just starting the journey. (Disclaimer: The author never claims to impart actual “wisdom;” all “Wisdom” referenced hereto refers to said author’s maiden name.)
- You don’t have to know it all. No one has ever completely figured out all the intricacies of faith. If you claim to, people won’t take you seriously. Don’t feel bad if someone asks you a Biblical/spiritual question that you don’t know the answer to. Memorize this phrase and use it often: “I don’t know, but I’ll be glad to study it and get back to you.” Ministers are guides not know-it-alls.
- Search out the best cook in church, and become friends immediately. Trust me. You won’t regret it.
- Prepare to be broke (at least for a while). Ministry is not necessarily a lucrative profession, but you know that, right? After all, nobody decides to pursue ministry because of the salary; there’s the whole “calling” bit. Still, like almost any profession, when you start out at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole, you get bottom-of-the-totem-pole salaries. The problem is that we generally expect this in our twenties, but many people enter ministry mid-life or after they have already begun families (like my sister and brother-in-law). It can definitely make things difficult, but it will also force you to be creative. Honestly, some of my best memories come from the days when we scraping the bottom of the barrel. We really learned how to rely on God instead of ourselves. Consider brokeness a blessing! 😉
- You can still wear cute shoes. Sure, you may not be able to wear designer shoes (see #3), but some people think that being in the ministry means giving up cute wardrobes in lieu of polyester pants suits from Sears. Not true. Just ask The Preacher’s Wife; she wrote a book about it.
- You don’t have to be perfect. Do you enjoy hanging out with perfect people who have all their ducks in a row, have angelic children who never fuss and fight, and who have a gourmet meal on the table every night promptly at 6:30 p.m.? Yeah, me either. Those people make me feel perfectly inadequate. Why would you, as a minister or minister’s wife, feel like you should be perfect? You are not the standard that others should strive to be; that person is Jesus. Relax. So what if your kids squirm during the sermon or forget to say, “please?” So what if you call the Samaritan woman a “hoochie mama” during Sunday school? If you are real and admit your inadequacies/failures with others, they will be more likely to understand and feel comfortable around you.
- Remember that people are watching you. I realize this is almost like stating the opposite of #5, but hang with me… My mom used to drive me crazy by constantly using the phrase, “You never know who’s watching you,” when I was a child. It’s actually surprising that I didn’t develop paranoia. Still, she’s right: you don’t know who’s watching you, but you can bet that somebody’s watching. There are SO many people who have not grown up in families of faith or in church and they will turn to the most visible example–the minister’s family–to determine what this looks like. While you don’t have to be perfect, you can model what it looks like to be a part of a family that respects and loves one another through thick and thin. You can model what it looks like to be an active and engaged church member. This is also probably the time to mention that you shouldn’t be seen leaving the liquor store even if you were just going in to pick up whiskey for your great-grandma’s “cough syrup.” 😉
- Ministry Wives: Encourage-Don’t Correct-Your Spouse. Once when we were still dating and I was a know-it-all fresh out of a university-level New Testament class,
The HusbandThe Boyfriend (then youth minister) was teaching. When he got to the crux of the lesson–the part where you remind people that Jesus was hanging on that cross for their sins–I decided that it would be a good time to clarify that Jesus probably died of asphyxiation rather than bleeding to death. It was really not relevant–the point was that Jesus died for us, not how he died for us–but I like to make sure the facts are straight. As you might have discerned, this went over really well. I learned a hard lesson that day: don’t correct your spouse in public. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever question him…just don’t do it in front of the people he is supposed to be leading. How would you feel if the tables were turned. Spouses (ministry or not) need encouragement not belittlement. Also, tell him when he’s done something well because we all battle discouragement. Like the song says, “we all need an ‘Atta boy’ or ‘Atta girl.'”
- Hang out with the senior adults. For reals: they always have the most fun get-togethers and the best food to boot. Why, you might even be able to mark #2 off your list while you are there! Seriously though…these people have wisdom that can only be gained through time and experience. Some of our biggest ministry supporters (whether youth ministry or pastorate) have come from the senior adult sector. Just spend time with them; you will be blessed.
- There will be things you don’t want to do…but do them anyway. You might prefer to be chillaxing by the pool with your family during the summer, instead of spending most of your time catching up on sleep or emptying your suitcase and repacking for the next youth camp. You might not want to attend the children’s Christmas musical when you could be visiting your extended family instead. You might prefer to eat a steak at home instead of attending the beans-and-cornbread community fundraiser before the football game. You might dislike hospital visits or trying to comfort someone whose spouse just died. You may hate the thought of shaking all those hands after church (germs!). Why, you might even prefer to stay at home on Sunday night to watch reruns and gorge yourself on popcorn instead of attending Sunday night services. There are a hundred little things (and sometimes big) that you will not want to do at one time or another…but do them anyway. You should be used to this by now. It’s called: “responsibility” and/or “putting others before yourself.”
- Enjoy the journey. I’ve said it before, but can’t think of any other profession where you get an instant family. People genuinely care about their ministers and their minister’s families. I have been amazed at the generosity and thoughtfulness of our church members so many times. Be thankful for the many people who you will meet and learn from along the way. There will be ups and downs as you travel the ministry trail, but take heart knowing that you are doing something that has eternal value.
Do you have any advice to share with ministry newbies? Psssttt…you don’t have to be in ministry to give good advice. 😉