For a few years now I have been one of the “”people at the front””. My name has appeared on Christian websites, in the Sunday bulletin, on a church paycheck. I suspect that to most people, this means I am a “”model”” Christian – after all, I’m the one with the microphone, right?
However, there are a few things I want you to know about working in Christian ministry.
On the one hand: it is an exhilarating and privileged job.
Like counselors and doctors, we get to walk really closely with people through much of the deeply profound and personal stuff of life. It is a privilege to be allowed “close” to people’s significant life events. It is a joy to attend weddings. It is a distinct and sombre honor to stand with people in ICU. It is an incredible thing to get a front-row seat and witness people experience life, and the work of God in their life. Those kind of details are seldom shared on Facebook, but they are spilled on my couch.
On the other hand, though: ministry can be lonely and dangerous.
Lonely, because so many (rightly) see me as a servant of their needs and a companion in their grief, but seldom think that I might be needy or grieving too.
More significant than the loneliness, though, is the danger involved in ministry. Working in any kind of up-front ministry means you need to practice the constant discipline of climbing off pedestals. Pedestals are dangerous things to stand on. They are unstable, and falling hurts more from a height.
Sometimes Christian ministers are on pedestals because we wrongfully and pridefully climbed up there ourselves. Like all people, I struggle with the temptation not to think myself better than others or silently judge people whose choices are different from my own. The call to humility and loving acceptance of others is a challenge for everyone.
Sometimes, though, I find myself on a pedestal created by others. People who admire and appreciate what God and the church do, or who are helped and encouraged by the message of the Bible, sometimes put me (the messenger) on a pedestal. It’s flattering. It feels good. It is terribly, terribly dangerous.
Pedestals are dangerous for me – because standing a pedestal of my own or others’ creation means I lose touch with the central truth of Christianity: that none of us deserve God’s favor, but He has loved us anyway. The Christian message, at its heart, is supposed to be about the greatness of God’s message, and not the greatness of the messengers. When I forget that, I am slow to see my own faults, slow to learn, and less effective. As Karen Yates wisely pointed out, it is perilous when our ministry platform turns into a ministry pedestal.
Pedestals are dangerous for others too though, because they begin to believe that if I am some kind of “super Christian”, then they are somehow less useful, less gifted, less significant – and NOTHING could be further from the truth. Martin Luther wrote about the “priesthood of all believers”; a phrase which emphasized the truth that ALL Christians are equally able and valu-able in God’s economy.
When Christian workers, be they bible study leaders or pastors or conference speakers or prolific bloggers, are held up as somehow being better, or less sinful, or “holier” – everyone suffers. Those friends who have had the courage to point out when I make mistakes or when I have one foot stepping up onto the soapbox of hypocrisy, are more valuable than gold.
I suspect that many people think I’m a “model” Christian – after all, I’m the one with the microphone, right?
I am not a model in the first sense of the definition: “a standard or example for imitation or comparison.” I am not a runway model: meant to be admired from afar or looked up to from below.
However, perhaps if I am a model, then I am a model in the second sense: “a representation, generally in miniature, to show the construction or appearance of something.” I want you to know that Christian ministers are just regular people, like all Christians are supposed to be regular people – but what we’re aiming for (with all our hits and misses), is to be a miniature representation of Jesus, whom we follow.