What part of your ministry is the most difficult? As our culture becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity, ministry can take an adverse toll on your emotional well-being.
Upon occasion, I like to answer questions that leaders (often young) ask about ministry. One that often comes up: What part of your ministry is the most difficult?
Nearly everyone who asks this question is someone who is new to ministry and seeking to anticipate a possible landmine in front of them.
The most soul-aching concern I face.
For me, the answer is simple: family safety.
By far and away, this is the most constant, soul-aching concern that I deal with. Those ministering in more family-friendly suburban communities that welcome megachurches and gated neighborhoods may not understand the complexities of a ministry that is more urban and the dangers it can pose.
In 1 Corinthians 7:32–35, the Apostle Paul speaks about how a family, though a blessing, can also be a burden. I used to assume that he merely meant that someone who was single would have more time for ministry, but now I know the issue is much deeper.
Paul worked mainly in hostile, urban contexts where the backlash against the gospel was so strong that he faced very real danger. Having a family in such circumstances would have been even more difficult and dangerous. It’s one thing if opponents seek to harm or kill a single man, but a husband and father holding hands with his wife and little girl prompts an entirely different level of concern.
I recently celebrated 17 years of ministry at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Before that, I spent a few years doing college ministry, which means I’m knocking on the door of 20 total years of ministry service, by God’s grace.
Here’s a partial list of some of the dangers I’ve encountered so far:
- On two occasions, men brought large knives into the church and started approaching the stage to stab me while I preached. Our security team prevented this and law enforcement was called.
- On one occasion, a man tried to get into my home in the middle of the night. Demanding to meet with me, he woke up and frightened my family. The police arrested him and put him in a mental health facility. The man escaped and started walking back to my home in his underwear. The police intercepted him when he was not far away.
- Twice I have arrived home from work to find a registered sex offender seeking to engage with my family while waiting to talk with me.
- A few times, someone showed up at my home to cuss me out in front of my family.
- I received a letter from a troubled man who said he heard voices telling him I either needed to stop preaching or he was supposed to drive to Seattle and make me stop preaching. When I checked the address on the letter, I noticed it was from a state prison. He was incarcerated for a violent crime and, according to the parole officer we contacted, in the process of being released.
- On multiple occasions, while I was traveling out of town, people would post directions to my house on social media and encourage my critics to come to my home. This caused great anxiety for my wife and children because every time I traveled, they felt unsafe and in danger. Nearly everyone who has ever done this to me has claimed to be a Christian, and none have children, but they’ve shown no regard for the safety of my own.
- Last year, I came home from a day at the office to find an enormous pile of human excrement on my front porch. Not in a bag or shovel in sight, someone apparently dropped their drawers to leave a “gift” on my porch. This happened while my family was home and unaware of what was going on.
- Whenever there is a threat risk according to a police officer, my kids actually know the drill: Don’t go near dad at the church or event, sit far away and pretend like he’s not your dad in public.
I literally had to hold back tears when the reality of the safety issue hit me in a big way. My two younger kids asked, “Dad, is it safe to go out and play today, or are the people who hate you coming over?”
The fact that my little kids have to worry about harm invading their own yard is something I grieve.