ThoughtShades FrameWork

Essays, Themes, Opinions

Constructs, Practical Ideas, Applications

Poetry, Impression Writing

Sermons, Devotions

Personal Revelations, Illustrations

Viewpoint: Politics, Contemporary Issues, Editorials


Choice Offerings by Others

Powered by Squarespace
« Are You A Practicing Christian? | Main | Fearing the Wrong Enemy »

The Identity Evolution of a Minister

A tense moment in my high school debate career is permanently etched into my mind.  Our coach, a wise old man who was due for retirement, announced his selection for the captain of the team.  Roger, a senior, took the honors over Bill, a junior.  Bill was livid.  He had better grades, a tougher scholastic program, better command of the language and he delivered his speeches with more fire than Roger or any anyone else on the team.   Bill couldn’t hold back his anger at the coach.  This was the first time I had ever heard a student raise his voice at a teacher.  

Red in the face and veins bulging, Bill screamed, “I can’t believe this!  Everyone knows that I am the most qualified student in the room.  I should be captain!”  

Coach Fall didn’t back down an inch.  He yelled back.  “Roger is a year older than you.  You might have better grades, but Roger has more experience in life!” 

At the time, I couldn’t see it.  Bill was a friend of mine and I thought he should have won the spot over Roger.  Now, I know.  The coach was right.  Experience matters.  The longer you live, the more you see, the more miles you travel, the more valuable experience becomes. 

Heading into the final years of my ministerial career, I have evolved into a state of mind and heart that I could not have predicted ten to twenty years ago, let alone at the outset of my profession.  It is not so much that I have a different set of beliefs or convictions now.  I certainly have not strayed outside the parameters of the faith.  It has more to do with the reasons why I continue to embrace my ministry.  It is more vertical than horizontal, more introspective than praxotic, more philosophical than managerial.  I suppose it is much like the layers of the onion.  The more layers you peel away, the deeper you go, you do not change the essence of the vegetable.  What does change as you cut to the core is the release of a more powerful and pungent fragrance.  A minister settles into these seasoned years with a deeper sense of personal security, perhaps because the level of self-understanding has been elevated by experience and tempered by time.   

Experience does not always define itself.  A man with experience knows things that he cannot articulate.  He may not even know that he knows.  Sometimes his announced solutions seem arbitrary.  He may not always be able to supply he reasons why he believes something or dispenses a particular piece of advice.  It just rises to the surface from this mysterious little, black box called experience.  

And so, I am the same, but in different ways and perhaps for different reasons.  Yet, in some ways, I have come full circle, cautiously returning to the set of idealistic passions that propelled me into the ministry in the first place.  It seems to me that this complex process can be simplified into the basic questions that all solid news stories follow.  It begins with the question why.  It then moves on to what.  The who, where and when follow, not necessarily in that order.  Then, the how must be figured out.  The how consumes the major portions of a minister’s career.  Finally, the how loses its compelling attraction and he finds himself back, slogging around in the machinations of why.  

The initial why.  No minister comes out of the starting gates without encountering the question of why.  Why am I here?  Why would I want to do this?  Why do I think God has called me?  Why would I make such a radical move in my life’s pathway?  In wrestling with the why, all the peripheral issues and people become factors in the equation.  It covers the spectrum of the past, present and future.  The process gets intense and harrowing, but, done honestly, it is cathartic.  

One must always remember, however, that the initial foray into this complex field can only deal with the undeveloped perceptions of a young mind.  At this age, the experience in life lacks depth, and is typically idealistic and naïve.  The rich context of life’s meaning, of the value of relationships, of conquest and achievement, and of failure and despair still exists in the potential state.  Youthful eyesight may see farther and with greater clarity, but it often focuses on its obsessions and misses the breadth of the view.  And yet, it is this very passion and fire that propels the young into the mission.  It was not the much older, more cynical and more fearful King Saul who strode into the valley to meet Goliath.  It was the seventeen year old David, confident in his victories over a couple of wild animals and absolutely sure that the cause was worth the sacrifice of his very life.  

The young person who is just beginning to break into his or her calling operates out of an ardent sense of mission.  The world is lost; precious souls need the gospel; the compelling voice of God cannot be denied; nothing else matters.  Admittedly, there are psychological and personological forces at work, such as a need to find significance, a need to prove self-worth, a need for self-expression, or a desire to make a mark in the world.  A legitimate call of God will eclipse these other drives, but it will not silence them.  They will always be present to some degree, making the decision to enter the ministry supremely difficult.  Through prayer, fasting, meditation, study and counsel, one has to sort out and prioritize all of these factors until the pathway ahead reluctantly reveals itself. 

Once a minister concludes the why phase, the what becomes the focus of inquiry.  What is true doctrine?  What constitutes full salvation?  What are the tenets of faith?  What is the difference between essentials and non-essentials?  What is the mission of the church?  Theology plays the dominant role here, but secondary issues also need to be settled as well.  Will the preferred style be preaching?  Teaching?  Administration?  Will the specific burden or calling be home or foreign missions?  Will ministry take the form of pastoring?  Evangelizing?  Assisting?  Will specialized ministries such as children’s evangelism, education, music ministry, writing or leadership training become the path of ministry?  

The what of ministry is much too rigorous and intense to be embraced without first answering the question of why.  Yet, it turns out that what one believes is more important than why he or she believes it.  If the minister’s search leads him or her into false doctrine, then all is lost.  And, just because one ends up embracing beliefs that are not right, the why does not necessarily evaporate.  In fact, the impulse for ministry may be stronger than ever, even though the doctrinal structure falls into error.  It may be observed, for example, that those who embrace radical ideas often do so with more zeal and energy than those whose doctrine is aligned with scripture.  This is why the church must never minimize the importance of doctrine.  

After the minister settles on the why of the calling and then the what of his or her beliefs—and possibly while the process is still unfolding—the next stage of identity evolution asserts itself.  I call it the who, where and when of ministry.  This idea is only offered as a way to think about this process, and not as an easily recognizable pattern.  These questions will probably not find their answers in a clear, well-managed sequence.  Much depends on the variables of friends, relatives, venues and opportunities.  Yet, the individual minister makes decisions based on these questions, thus making the responsibility of the decision personal and not just the result of chance events.  

These questions constitute the practical considerations of ministry.  They may be much easier to ask than the why and the what, but they must not be dismissed as unimportant.  The answers will have a profound effect on one’s ministerial career.  The questions may look like these:  Who will be my role models, my mentors, my heroes and my associates?  Who will I allow the freedom and authority to speak into my life?  Where will I go to fulfill my ministry?  Where is my greatest compulsion or sense of burden for expressing my passion?  Where is the place that seems to be opening up to me?  When should I make my commitment?  When should I make the major decisions that will take me to my destination?  

The importance of these questions lies in the reverse effect they can have on the why and what of one’s ministry.  Your associates and role models will probably be the biggest influencers in what you believe and why you believe it.  Where you go to fulfill your ministry will place you in the context of influences that may seem incidental at the time, but eventually will shape your identity.  You cannot live in a vacuum, insulated from the people and conditions around you.  For example, most people who move to a different region of the country will eventually absorb the accent, the traits and the values of the new place.  Finally, when ministers make a major move, they subject themselves to a number of factors that quite possibly would have been different a year earlier or a year later.  Timing is everything.  

The minister who knows why he or she wants to be in ministry, knows what to believe, has chosen good role models, knows where to go and is on location, is now positioned to begin doing ministry.  This is where the next question, how, looms large.  How do I do this?  This question, in my experience, runs the gamut of methodology and style, and takes up the lion’s share of the years of ministry.  I know very few ministers who haven’t tried it all as some point in their lives.  How can I achieve the greatest level of effectiveness in ministering the gospel?  How do I produce the kind of people that will be productive in the kingdom of God?  How do I build a great church?  How do I develop the best outreach program, children’s ministry, praise and worship team, educational program and all the other aspects of a powerful spiritual program?  Arriving at the how involves books, DVD’s, magazine subscriptions, seminars, workshops, conferences, websites, coursework, continuing education, certificate programs, and so on, all in the hopes of learning how to do ministry better.  It is a never-ending search.  Not only is there a compulsion to know how to do the old things better, there is also the need to learn about all the new innovations and technologies.  

The question of how impacts the minister on a number of levels.  There is the corporate quest, that is, how do I lead my church, or develop my ministry, in ways that will affect the greatest number of people?  How can I develop a spiritual program that will benefit my entire congregation?  How do I understand the myriad ways that the present culture interacts with the church and what role does the church play in the world?  The political, economic and social aspects of the church in the world occupy many in top leadership positions, but it also has broad implications for the rank and file minister.  

But, there is also a compelling need to minister to individuals.  It seems that this challenge grows more complicated every day.  How can I minister to the dysfunctional person and/or family?  How can I meet the needs of the discouraged and depressed? How can I help people who are dealing with addictions?  How do I counsel with those having marital problems?  How do I deal with bereavement?  How do I advise young people about their educational paths or their professional or vocational careers?  

At the heart of it all is the ongoing need to work on one’s own life.  How much do I invest into my private devotional life?  How do I find a strategy that works for me?  What books do I read?  How should I improve my ministry, my relationships, my administrative duties and my own self image?  How do I take better care of my finances?  How can I manage my personal health and well being?  

How, how, how? There is no final answer.  The years are spent in this quest, and, unfortunately, the game is always changing.  The answers obtained even six months ago do not seem to work today.  Ministers who grow weary asking the question stop growing.  They may not suffer the consequences immediately, but, sooner or later, they will be overwhelmed by the tsunami of life and ministry in the twenty-first century.  

There comes a point, most likely later in the minister’s life, that all of the above questions have been answered, at least to the extent that one person can answer them, given his or her unique position.  Personally, I am not asking the initial why of ministry.  I am not in a fog about what I believe.  The question of who, where and when no longer occupy my time.  I am still figuring out the how question, but, in a more relaxed manner than in my earlier years.  I now ask how, but with a greater sense of my own abilities and inadequacies.  The far more intriguing question for me today is a return to the why.  It is not the same why as in the beginning stages of my ministry.  It revolves around three areas:  legitimacy, legacy and love. 

Why do I believe the things I do?  Are the doctrines, the beliefs I have about God and the teachings I have dispensed over the years legitimate?  After a lifetime of exposure to the whole spectrum of theologies, I am often driven to take a second, careful look at my own positions.  This process is not driven by the emotions that characterized my initial quest into the why of ministry.  This is a balanced, contemplative study of the legitimacy of Apostolic doctrines.  This study must stand up to the divergent paths that others have taken, many of whom are my friends.  Regardless of what anybody says, what one’s friends believe can have a major impact upon a minister.  And, if left up to human reasoning alone, the minister may either follow a similar pathway or be resigned to a hollow, disillusioned existence.  Neither option is legitimate.  I have discovered that the only stabilizing course to take is a return to the Scriptures.  Jesus said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”  John 5:39.  I believe what I believe today, not just because it was taught to me by my elders, or that it was a politically correct thing to do, but because I have found that these truths are legitimate doctrines taught in the Bible.  Obviously, there is much more that could be said about this, but this is one of the basic reasons why I believe this Apostolic message and lifestyle. 

Second, my motivation for continuing in ministry has less to do with me and more to do with others.  I am more aware today than ever before that there is a legacy that I must leave behind.  Those who believe that a legacy is a personal and selfish agenda to perpetuate one’s memory have not yet encountered this stage in life.  A legacy is a set of values, a doctrinal paradigm, the sum and substance of everything that life is all about.  No one who leaves a powerful legacy does so because of any personal benefit derived.  “Great leaders—whether they lead entire organizations or groups within them—leave a legacy that transcends them and cements their contribution to the growth and transformation of their organization. How they close out their tenure has a lasting impact. As their term of influence grows shorter, leaders must channel their energy, hopes, and fears toward helping their successor and the team they leave behind. This will help the next leader be ready on Day One.”  -Steve Krupp, HBR.  

A legacy is born out of a profound grasp of the mission of the church.  The church must be equipped to fight off every enemy, to resist every corrosive influence and to strive for purity in doctrine and faith.  The why of my mission today has a broader base than when I was a fledgling minister, trying to find my place in the church.  I believe the same things, but for different reasons. 

Finally, corporate mission and leaving a legacy aside, I experience a genuine love for people today that I doubt I had at the beginning of my ministry.  The most I wanted from people then was their acceptance and admiration.  The minister who is still searching for acceptance and admiration in the closing years of his ministerial career is in serious trouble.  As I consider the needs of people, I now see them in holistic terms, not just faces in a crowd at a given moment in time.  The babies I dedicated in the past now bring me their babies to dedicate.  The young couples I married in the past now beam at the weddings of their children, and dote over their own grandchildren.  Because I love them, I have a greater love for the things I taught them from the Word of God.  These were the teachings that became the strongholds of their faith.  It provided a structure for them to live honorable lives and raise loving families.  I have found that love for people inspires and motivates me in my present ministry more than anything else, including homiletic excellence, mastering some new technology or temporal blessings. 

The Apostle Paul’s ministry evolved from a passionate, zealous evangel of the gospel to a steady, reasoned leader of the church.  This account comes from his early days as a minister of Jesus Christ.  “Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,  And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?  And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.  Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.  Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.  Acts 13:9-13 

Now, read his final words to Timothy, his son in the gospel.  “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:1-8. 

In the beginning, I loved to preach.  Now, I preach because I love.  The message is the same; the motive is much better.  This is the evolution of a minister’s identity from my perspective.  Hopefully, this will help some who are unsure about the changes in their ministerial careers.  You can change while remaining the same. 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>