I recently had the opportunity to speak with a dear friend I don’t often get to see. He and I briefly crossed paths 13 years ago, only to spend most of the time since then living in different cities. First he and his family moved away, then they moved back, then we moved away, and then we moved back, and then they moved away again. It’s almost comical how our paths interact like same-pole magnets: the moment one of us comes near the other, we move apart.
This dear friend of mine made the decision a few months ago to leave his corporate life with his nice salary and benefits package to move into full-time ministry – a huge sacrifice, no doubt. He no longer had his title, nor his position of influence and leadership, none of which matter as he believed this is where God was leading him. With his love for the Lord and his charismatic personality, I couldn’t help but be excited for him and his family. Everywhere they have attended church, they have made a lasting impact, and I was confident he would do the same this time around. Unfortunately, it’s not going as planned, and not because he’s doing a bad job or making mistakes. It’s not going well for my friend for the same reasons it didn’t go well for me many years ago.
Thirteen years ago when we first crossed paths, I was a new youth pastor, recently transitioning from a career in teaching to full-time ministry. I wanted to have an impact spiritually on the lives of young people and I was excited about working in church. My dear friend, as he has come to be, just so happened to be the 11th grade Sunday school teacher of our youth group. I could tell immediately that he was one of the best teachers we had, both liked by the students in his class and trusted by the other leaders in the youth group.
It was difficult at first to navigate the waters of youth ministry, as I had never held this position before. I made some mistakes, ate way too much people, and learned a lot about myself and about ministry. However, what I learned most during my brief stint as a youth pastor, and what my friend is learning now, is that the church is not the perfect place to work, as both of us thought it would be. It’s not filled with Chris Tomlin songs in the background and the beatitudes written all over the walls. It’s not all roses, quite to the contrary. What it is is a building where humans work. It is, most fundamentally, a business run by people, and if people are involved, you can expect to find problems.
Now, before you go throwing your cross necklace at me and accuse me of blasphemy for saying the church is like every other business, hear me out. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that whether you are in a church building or an office building, the mere presence of people often causes problems because the nature of people is that we’re broken. And that is the point: you and me, we’re broken people. We’re hurting, we’re struggling, we make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes affect others. We are broken.
James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many ways.” We ALL, everyone one of us, and working at a church doesn’t change that. In fact, sometimes working in a church makes it worse, because it’s easy to become prideful in ministry, to believe one’s self is better than others.
So I feel compassion for my dear friend. My heart hurts for what he and his family must endure right now, and I pray that those who work in church will extend grace to one another and not be concerned about their power or position. The saying goes that there is no limit to what a group of people can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit. That saying is even more powerful in a church, in that it’s amazing what God can do among a group of people when the only concern is that Jesus is seen.
I love you, brother. Hang in there!