I once interviewed the pastor of a 16,000+ member church. By most church growth standards, he had been successful. When I spoke with him, however, he told me that there were some days he wished he could work at a coffee shop, serving lattes and mochas, instead of preaching to thousands of people. Why?
There is nothing wrong with being a barista. There is nothing ignoble or lowly about serving lattes and mochas. But why would the leader of a megachurch want to switch roles in such a dramatic way? Many who are in ministry have probably felt the same way. There are days — usually more days than we’d like to admit — where we simply want to step away, take a break, and pretend as if we had none of our heavy responsibilities.
In these periods of agitation and introspection, we may also realize that ministry is not fulfilling us like we thought it would. For years perhaps, we trained for, thought about, prepared ourselves, and finally entered “the ministry,” only to find that our hearts are the same, our habits haven’t changed, and we aren’t fulfilled like we thought we would be. We’re disappointed by it. We’ve “attained,” as it were, but we haven’t arrived at that point of satisfaction and fulfillment. What’s missing?
We become Disillusioned by the Difficulty
Often, it’s the drudgery of the role that brings times of disillusionment. Each day, men and women in ministry face some of the most challenging situations. Our job does not require hard hats or hazmat suits, but it does require spiritual armor and spiritual combat. The difficulties will come, and when they do, it’s easy to become disillusioned by our role, and completely unsatisfied by what we experience.
We Look for Fulfillment in All the Wrong Places
Perhaps the problem is that we’ve been looking for fulfillment in something that cannot fulfill. This is the problem that God spoke of in Jeremiah 2: “They have deserted me, even though I am the spring of water that gives life. And they have dug their own wells. But those wells are broken. They can’t hold any water.” Our broken wells of self-fulfillment have run dry. When this happens, our only hope for fulfillment is to run to God, the only life-giving source of satisfaction.
We’ve all experienced this type of disappointment. As a kindergartener, we look forward to joining the ranks of the “big kids” in elementary school. When we find out that sixth grade isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, we yearn to be in junior high. Those are the cool people, right? If only that were true. So, we can’t wait to enter high school, a life of joy and freedom — boyfriends, girlfriends, driver’s license, parties, jobs… until then we can’t wait for it to end. Then we go to college where we’ll finally enter that period of satisfaction, stability, direction, and success. But after a few semesters, we’re looking forward to getting out of college. What’s next? Marriage! That will be totally fulfilling, right? But after a few months, the excitement fades. What will fulfill us next? Children? So, we start a family, thinking that our children will somehow fulfill us. And on and on we go through life, looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places.
Writer Dan Bouchelle describes a point in his pastoral journey when, ”I looked to my ministry for self-validation instead of modeling self-denial.” As a result, he went through a period of anger and frustration. When we look to ministry — or anything for that matter — to find deep fulfillment and ultimate satisfaction, we will be disappointed.
Faithfulness for the Long Haul
We’re commanded to be faithful, not to seek self-fulfillment. Perhaps we’re too eager for reward on this side of heaven, whereas Christ promised the “well-done” after our journey is over. If we seldom receive a thank-you, a heartfelt commendation, or a warm encouragement, things will be tough. But it is still necessary to carry on in faithfulness — doing what we’ve been called to do.
There will be days when you wish you were cheerfully handing a customer a frappucino instead of grieving with a couple over the loss of a child. There will be times when you wish you could be cleaning the coffee shop restroom instead of laboring to patch up someone’s failing marriage. There will be times when you want to shrug off the weight of the world, and find liberation in something else…anything else!
At this point, it’s time to drink from the well that will never run dry. It’s time to flee to the only true source of fulfillment, joy, and power. It’s time to look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” By looking to Jesus, we are able to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:2-3).