Ministry can be the most fulfilling work ever. But it can also be the most draining, if you let it.
About two years ago now I was running a marathon in my ministry-related work. I had been leading communication in churches for over 10 years, had recently resigned from my role at my church, and was embarking on a journey to help other churches with their communication. I was co-leading a non-profit organization while traveling and spending all of my days engrossed in ministry related work, speaking, and consulting. One of these trips resulted in me living abroad for about three months and being offered what I could only describe as my “dream job” working for an incredible ministry.
While outwardly, all of this was incredible, inwardly, I knew something wasn’t right. The problem wasn’t the church or the opportunity. The problem was something inside. The problem was me.
You see, after years of being in ministry, I slowly and subtly forgot how to be ministered to. I still loved Jesus, loved the Church, and found great meaning and fulfillment in the work I was doing. But in the midst of doing the “hustle” and working like crazy, I had neglected to let God do the work He desperately wanted to do in my life. None of this had anything to do with the churches or their leadership. This wasn’t because I had left a “day job” at a church and was doing consulting work. No, this was all because I had gotten caught up in a cycle that’s all too familiar within the Christian subculture these days.
Because of things like social media, blogging, and “Christian” celebrity, we can get sucked into a cycle that causes us to feel valued and affirmed more by what we do than by who we are. We can get caught up in a persona or personality that’s not a completely accurate glimpse of who we are. Then we get consumed with keeping up appearances instead of allowing for our true value to be found in our identity as children of God.
So, despite the fact I was turning down an opportunity that most people in my position would kill to have, I knew I needed to disconnect for a while. I turned down the opportunity.
I returned home and decided I needed to go off the radar and disengage from ministry-related work for a season. It was a huge step of faith for me since all of my experience had been in the church world. But I decided if I wanted to see another decade of fruitful ministry in my future, I needed to take a breather and allow myself to be still. I stopped blogging regularly. I stopped going to conferences. I deleted my Facebook account. I stopped caring about Twitter and keeping up with everything that was going on.
Applying for jobs at Whole Foods and Starbucks was humbling to say the least, but I was literally willing to do whatever to make ends meet and also have the space to be more engaged with my own relationship with God and the great community of people He placed around me. I ended up finding a couple of freelance jobs that allowed me to do social media for non-ministry related organizations and businesses.
To be completely honest, those jobs felt more like ministry than the work I had been doing for the last few years. I wasn’t being paid to be a “professional Christian.” I was instead challenged to live out my faith day-to-day with people who didn’t share the same values or faith that I did. The entire experience challenged and stretched me in ways I would have never imagined. It was exactly what I needed for that season. I learned to make my faith my own and deepened my relationship with God in ways that would have never happened previously.
The break from ministry was necessary for me. But over time, I realized that while my skills had a place outside of ministry, my heart was still very much in the Church. I loved the work I was doing and the people I was working alongside, but knew that my true passion was for building the church. Six months later, I got an opportunity to get back into doing freelance projects with a few pastors. I decided I had allowed enough time to healthily re-engage with ministry. So I did.
Over the last year I’ve had some of the most remarkable experiences and opportunities come my way. I’ve had the honor of working with some truly significant ministries, pastors, and leaders. I know now, had I not taken the time off the grid that I did, I may not have had these opportunities. I truly believe that break afforded me the time I needed for God to His work in me. He needed to prepare me for the next chapter of the story He’s writing in my life.
Whoever you, wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, know you matter more than the work that you do. Your value is found in things deeper than what people see. Your worth is found in more than just your gifts, talents, and abilities. Your identity isn’t found in your job description or in what you do. It rests in the very fact that you are a child of God. Everything you do should be an outflow of what God is doing in you. The work you do for ministry matters. But you can’t do any of that well unless you first allow God to do the work He needs to do in you. As the saying goes, “God has to do His work in you before He can work through you.” One of my favorite passages of Scripture during my season of being offline was Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message paraphrase:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Doing ministry is a 24/7 job. It doesn’t stop at 5 PM and doesn’t respect a weekend. It’s hard work. And while it’s completely worthwhile and fulfilling, sometimes one of the best things you can do is disconnect for a bit so you can reconnect with God.