Looking back on more than a decade of vocational Christian ministry, the difficulties I anticipated are not the difficulties I have experienced.
Challenges of Vocational Christian Ministry
Would knowing these challenges in advance have helped me and my family to persevere through them in vocational Christian ministry? I’m not sure.
I do know, however, that I talk about them with every intern I oversee in the hopes that their adjustment will be smoother than mine has been.
1. Attacks from within.
Maybe I was naive. I fully expected difficulty in pastoral ministry. But I expected the attacks to come from somewhere “out there” rather than somewhere “in here.”
I had no category for sheep who bite. Somehow, I missed the fact that Paul suffered repeatedly at the hands of those who claimed the name of Christ (2 Timothy 4:9-18). Fellow Christians deserted him in a dark hour. Alexander did him “great harm.” No one came to his defense when accusations were made.
Almost every seasoned pastor I know has seen this playbook repeated in his life.
I wonder how many pastors are shocked when they get the first nasty email telling them that they are not a good teacher, a poor fit for the church or that the last pastor had real vision.
I wonder how many enter vocational Christian ministry realizing that some of the people they welcome for dinner, drink coffee with and confide in will turn around and slander them, gossip about them, betray confidences and even mobilize support against them.
Amid this hardship, pastors must pray for the ability to love people and to walk into God’s courts with them with mutual affection, having forgiven them as the Lord forgave, even if they must forgive over and over and over again. Pastors must humbly ask the Lord whether or not they have themselves sinned in the process, or if there is even the smallest validity to the accusations.
When attacks come, the temptation is to circle the wagons and play defense. Not only does this approach shut down opportunities to heal your attacker with a Christlike response, but in licking your wounds, you also can also easily cut yourself off from the rest of your sheep.
2. Nature of the work.
I worked my way through college doing manual jobs. There were plenty of days that I hit the pillow at night physically spent, my limbs aching.
The beauty of that labor, though, was that I never took it home. This is not the nature of pastoral ministry, or many other careers for that matter. There are always more people to check in on.