By Steven Ackley
Ministry cannot happen without relationships. Relationships cannot happen without people. And people are often unpredictable.
If these three statements are true, and I believe they are, this is one of the many reasons ministry can be challenging. It’s difficult to minister to a people who often surprise you with their needs, the uniqueness of their needs, and the timing of their needs. How do you plan for what is unpredictable? How do you create space for what you don’t yet know? How do you schedule the spur of the moment? These questions can paralyze control freaks like me, but I think the answer is found in a mindset change, not a calendering technique.
So, how do you navigate ministry and keep your sanity? I have become committed to making room for inconvenience as I serve college students and young adults. Here are three ways to begin making that mindshift.
1. Say yes, as often as possible.
Not long ago, I got a text from a 20-something who was in my student ministry a decade ago. He was coming to town last-minute and looking for a place to crash. I had a crazy week but, saying yes proved to be worth the inconvenience. I got to encourage him in his ministry journey and hear stories of how my ministry 10 years ago impacted him, which was unbelievably encouraging to me.
The tyranny of the urgent often rules the lives of ministers. So when the opportunity comes up for you to participate in the life of someone in your ministry, saying yes can be a challenge because it usually costs you something else.
Here’s where theology and practice meet. If we believe that ministry is serving people as much or more than it is completing tasks, we’ll prioritize both. So, when the opportunity arises to serve someone at an inconvenient time or in an inconvenient way, if at all possible, say yes.
2. Realize that ministry is not synonymous with office hours.
The text came in around 10 p.m. Hey man, can you talk? Every minister knows what that means. Either someone has made a terrible decision, is considering making a terrible decision, knows someone who has made a terrible decision, or, if you work with single young adults, there’s relationship drama. For next hour, I talked this student off the ledge of a dramatic relationship issue and had the chance to speak truth into his life in a sensitive moment for him.
One challenge of ministry comes in a demand that no office hours can contain. You can be super diligent to maintain regularly scheduled slots of availability. You can have an amazing assistant to help maintain those hours and schedule appointments. But people’s needs don’t stay isolated to those hours. Whether it is early morning coffee, late night phone calls, or an urgent text while you’re in the middle of an important meeting, it is never convenient to help the hurting. The needs of the people you lead will never be contained to a time slot, so anticipate inconvenience at any moment.
3. Invite people to join you.
You want to come over for dinner? My son has a baseball game tonight, do you want to come hang with us at the ballpark? I’m speaking at an event next week, want to ride with me?
These are the questions that I’ll often ask college students or young adults in my ministry. And what I’ve found time and time again is they say yes! When this happens, my family is a part of my ministry and those in my ministry are a part of my family.
So much of what we do in a day can become a ministry opportunity, if we’d just invite people along with us. The natural tendency for people like me is to do things on our own. But when we invite others along in our lives and in our ministry, the inconvenience proves to be worth it down the road because of the relationships we’ve formed, the influence we’ve had, and seeing the fruit of our labor.
At the end of every day, we can look back and determine if we completed a long list of tasks, gave a great talk, or maintained our office hours. Or we can consider, did I make room for those in my life and in my ministry no matter the amount of inconvenience it required?
If you serve in ministry, prepare to make room for inconvenience. If people matter, we’ll do this willingly with hopes of reaching, developing, and deploying people for the mission of God and the growth of the church.