I'm spoiled rotten when it comes to my ministry job. I have incredible leaders, amazing coworkers, and an awesome vision to work towards as a community. Without these things, I would not have lasted this long in the ministry world, because it can be tough. However, the tough I work with is not abusive, it's just tough. Unfortunately as I have talked with (or observed) some of my other friends in their first (or early) ministry jobs, I'm seeing that many churches or ministry non-profits can be abusive to young ministry hopefuls...and I hate it.
I spent many of my formative years in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Texas. And let me tell you something, young ministry hopefuls are coming out of the woodworks in Texas, and churches know it. Here are some tips you can use as you search for your first job in the wonderful world of ministry and churches that will keep you out of an abusive ministry situation!
1. KNOW YOUR CALLING
Here's the deal: we aren't all called to work in ministry, and that's ok! I've seen so many people pursue a Bible degree because they think that's the only God-glorifying thing that they can do with their life. Then they finish up that degree and go ruin a church or at least their relationship with the church because they hate it or they just aren't gifted by God to lead in that way. God lives outside of "ministry work." If you are called to be an art teacher, then go out there and be the most God-glorifying art teacher out there. You will be more impactful working where you are gifted and called in a job outside of a church, than begrudgingly working inside a church because you think other jobs aren't as valuable in the kingdom. People, I'm begging you to stop putting "ministry" specific work on a pedestal. It leads to bad pastors, and undervalued salesmen. God created us to thrive wherever we are if we are following him: "Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing." -Ephesians 2:7-10 MSG
Summary: Stop putting God in a box. He can work in the real world. He can work in the ministry world. He will work through you if you follow him to where he leads you, no matter what!
2. KNOW YOUR VALUE
Ok so I just got done with the huge rant about knowing your call. Now you need to know that if you are called into a certain ministry work, that you offer a tremendous value to that field. "Well, Bonni, here's the thing...I've got zero experience, just a few ideas. I need to get my feet wet before I get started." Bull, my friend, bull. Let me just get you to reference Ephesians 2:7-10 one more time, or how about this one: "God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done." - 2 Corinthians 9:8 MSG I like The Message version a lot right here because it says we are ready to do more than just what needs to be done! WHAT? You are equipped beyond what you know, because God asked you into this life. As long as you are seeking him, he will bless your efforts! Why the heck wouldn't he? You've taken the steps to follow after him wholeheartedly and that sort of thing makes his heart smile. Oh, BTDubs, you folks living your ministry in your "normal" jobs, these verses apply to you too! If God calls you to something in life, you are beyond equipped for it.
Summary: You are uniquely gifted. You are worth it. Be confident in God by being confident in yourself.
3. WORK HARD FOR IT
Ok just because God has equipped you for your calling, doesn't mean it's going to be easy. I said it earlier, ministry work is HARD! You've got projects, visions, goals, objectives, oh and peoples lives and emotions in the balance! If you think ministry work is all Starbucks and plaid shirts with the occasional mission trip scattered in, you are beyond deceived, my friend. Real ministry life leads to lots of all-nighters, tears, blood, sweat, and occasionally walking through the campus parking lot in the pitch black darkness alone! Sometimes all that blood, sweat, and tears get poured into something that suddenly isn't even needed any more, or worse, they're poured into something that someone loudly hates and you have to deal with that nasty email. Guess what: that's ok! Move on to the next thing and pursue it with the same fervor you gave the last project.
My working hard meant that the first few months in my ministry calling were pretty much pro-bono. Yep, I volunteered for months. But I loved it. Here's the thing, the only reason they didn't pay me, I later found out, is because the money wasn't there. They saw my heart, passion, and hard work and wanted me as part of the team! Once the money was there, I was on board as paid staff!
Summary: [Read this in your cheesy church-lady voice] "The only thing free in this world is salvation, hunny."
4. RESPECT YOUR LEAD PASTOR TOTALLY
I can't emphasize this point enough. If you walk into a ministry job thinking that your lead pastor is a fool on any level, walk away immediately. Let me help you understand something: unless God is calling you to be a lead pastor, you are not the lead pastor. The lead pastor is the one who determines the vision of your church and he even has a lot of say in how you are going to go about accomplishing this vision. If you don't respect him, then you can't disagree in a healthy way about anything. Let me clarify. Occasionally disagreeing with your pastor, and disrespecting him/her are two totally different things. If you respect your pastor, you can disagree on mechanics of how to accomplish the God-given vision of the church, and guess what, sometimes you might be right! If you disrespect your pastor on any level, this opens the door (then lights up a big neon sign that says "RIGHT THIS WAY!") for conflict within your church. Get over your stupid ego. Just because you like the location, size, or resources of a particular church body does not mean it is yours to take over if you could just get the right pastor in the door. This sort of insanity has GOT to stop in the church world. Either be called to be a lead pastor, or don't be. Stop letting hell win, and work with leaders you respect immensely and would be ok following for the rest of your life. Attitudes feel temporary, but they leave a forever impact. Make sure your attitudes are godly ripples into eternity, not the other kind.
Summary: Don't skip this section, read the whole thing.
5. MAKE SURE YOUR LEAD PASTOR RESPECTS YOU
So if you actually respect your lead pastor, chances are he/she will respect you too. If they don't, it will be a sore disappointment later on, but you need this point just as much as point number four. Remember how we were talking about your call and your value? A solid lead pastor (and lead team in general) will notice and respect that in you. They will feel your passion and recognize that you are on the same mission, together. Then they will feel that they can trust you with their church community, and you will be able to do so much more with the support and trust of your lead pastor behind you. You will be able to take more risks and push your community harder and faster towards Christ.
Be careful here, friends! Especially in the Bible Belt, many church lead teams see young ministry hopefuls as expendable, and that is abusive. They use this subtle threat as a way to stretch you beyond your limits, tear you from your home life, pay you too little, and control your programs in a way that they should not do. How do you see past the facade in interviews? Well, chat with the other staff members. Assess morale, ask them about the process behind scheduling a doctor's appointment during work hours, or vacation policies, or staff expectations outside of business hours. These are all key indicators of how a lead team views their young staff members. Perhaps the strongest indicator of a healthy ministry environment would be asking around to see when the last time the lead team asked about another staff member's home life, or when was the last time they were prayed for, or cared for in a meaningful way? If a pastor or lead team is not being Jesus to their current staff, then you know they won't be for you, and, chances are, they are not being Jesus for their congregation either. RUN QUICK!
Summary: In order to fully contribute your value to a church community, you need the respect of your lead pastor and lead team.
6. REMEMBER, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU
Ministry can be the least rewarding industry on this earth...or it can be the most rewarding by miles. It's all about how you go in to it. If #ministrylife is about you, your goals, and your brand, chances are you are going to be stinking miserable all the dang time. If you walk in to this call ready to do all you can for the glory of the Father, it's going to be hard to walk away even in the toughest of circumstances. There's something immensely powerful about looking past your own eyeballs in this field. Suddenly a personal attack from a disgruntled church-person doesn't slow you down, or you find yourself picking up a used cough drop from the floor because it was there and someone else would have to if you didn't (true story folks, hand-sanitizer is from heaven). But all of those things are ok, because...it's not about me. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." - Romans 11:36
Well that's all I've got. What advice would you give? Who needs to read this post in your life? Send this along, send your words of wisdom with it. My generation of ministry people needs your encouragement more than you know!