“Experience: That most brutal of teachers; but you learn, my God do you learn.”
– Clive Staples Lewis
If someone would have told me back in 2003, when I graduated high school, that 8 years later I would be an educated, ordained minister holding local, district and national offices, I would have laughed in their face. A life of ministry was the last thing I had in mind for my future, and there was no way I was about to get all wrapped up in the church for the rest of my life. Fast forward a couple of years, and I find myself at a Christian university studying theology and Biblical interpretation; okay, maybe a little education can’t hurt, right? I thought, well maybe when I’m done with college I’ll just go back home and help my grandfather with the church. Little did I know all of the responsibilities that came with that, and everything else I’d be doing. Goodness, this all happened so fast.
You know how they say that your first year of marriage is the hardest because that’s when you really start to know and find out all of these things about the person you married? Well, I wish they would have told me that the first year in full time ministry would be the hardest. Or better yet, that I would get overwhelmed pretty quickly. These past few months have been so packed full with traveling, meetings, retreats, conventions, conferences, fundraising activities, festivals, sales, etc. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into, until I was neck deep in it. I had heard the expression that ministers tend to make an idol out of Jesus, but I never knew what that truly meant until now. I was putting my ministry responsibilities before my relationship with God, and boy was that easy to do. With a full schedule and hardly any personal time, what else would I do? Surely God would understand if after spending an entire weekend doing HIS work, that I simply wanted to just come home and crash out without a prayer. I mean, I just finished giving all my energy to Him, do I really gotta talk to Him too?
I’m not going to lie, that was definitely my thought process from time to time within these last few months. I can honestly say that I made an idol out of Jesus, or better yet, I made an idol out of my ministry. I took care of those duties before my spiritual duties. I dedicated more time to administrative tasks than I did to ensuring that my lifeline was still strong. And this, my friend, quickly leads to burn out. I think it was around mid-October that I started to resent the positions I held. I started to regret the path I had chosen, and I began to dream about how good it would be to simply be a member of the church who just goes to service and does nothing but enjoy the time there. I started to become bitter.
I confided in two very close, very personal friends of mine – Emily Aisner and Krista Shipman. I think I vented more to them about my stresses and frustrations than I did to anyone else. I told them how I couldn’t seem to balance everything I had to do; at my local church I was the youth pastor, media director, associate pastor, Sunday school teacher, and co-chairman of a fundraising committee; then I had my responsibilities as an assistant youth director for the central district of Texas; and then I’m also on the National Sunday School Dept board of directors. How did I end up with such a big load, so fast? Both Emily and Krista gave me the same advice: “Resign from something before you burnout beyond repair.” … Could I really do that, though? I mean, how would it look? How would it reflect on me that I was “giving up”, so to speak, and that I wasn’t going to carry certain responsibilities anymore? I told myself that I’d give it a couple more weeks, and if I couldn’t do it anymore, I’d throw in the towel. Only problem was, I was being relient on ME doing it.
Well, a couple weeks passed and I was still feeling stressed as ever. So I did it, I wrote a letter of resignation to my pastor removing myself from one of the responsibilities at the church. To say that I was disappointed in myself would be an understatement. Sure, the stress level would go down a lot, but I just surrendered and gave up – I was not proud of myself at all. I think this was sort of the wake up call I needed, though. Because suddenly I realized that I was not capable of handling all of my responsibilities on my own, and that I could not carry this load by myself. It was then that I realized how much of an idol I had built up, and how much I had neglected my walk with God.
CS Lewis sure was right, experience is one brutal teacher. I’ve given myself a new set of priorities, that I believe I will continue to live by for the rest of my life: God first, family second, ministry third. Above all else, my relationship with God will be number one. No task or responsibility can be accomplished to it’s fullest extent without the anointing and presence of God in my life – and the only way that can happen is if my walk with Him overthrows everything else. Next will be my family; my time spent with those I love will hold a whole new meaning. This will extend further down the road when I get married and have a family of my own, they will come first before the church, and my dedication to them will be a priority over the members of my congregation. Lastly, will be the responsibilities of my positions. Not saying that I will take them lightly or put them on the back burner, but just simply stating that they will not become an idol in my life anymore. I cannot worship an office more than the One who has equipped me to fulfill it. I cannot serve others more than I serve my own family. These last several months have been rough on me, but I can confidently say that I’ve been given a fresh vision with a new momentum, and that I’ve finally figured out how to balance everything I have on my plate.
I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown a lot, and I’ve definitely experienced more in one year than I thought I’d ever experience in a lifetime. I may not have every last thing figured out, but I definitely know where to go from here – and that’s definitely a good starting point. Fellow ministers, I may be young on the job, and my experience may dim in comparison to yours – but do not take lightly the warning I give: Whatever you do, don’t make an idol out of Jesus; don’t make an idol out of your ministry.