People often ask me what the hardest part of ministry is. And usually they want me to name a particular part of my work: preaching a sermon, running a stewardship campaign, planning a mission trip, pastoral care, or administration of staff and volunteers. Each of these things could be hard. But they are not the hardest thing that I do.
The truth is that every week of my 12 and a half years of ministry has been different. Each week has its challenges, and what is going on will determine what makes that particular week hard. At the same time, the constant building up of big and little things that are happening in our community is also what calls us into a life together. And it is both messy and beautiful.
The Challenge of Time
When I am honest with myself, the hardest part of ministry is time. I only think I know what my week is going to look like when I open my calendar. I don’t know what might land in my e-mail inbox, who will show up in my office, or where I will fit in the time to dedicate to my sermon in a week of a crisis. It is the constant push and pull of grief, gratitude, and grace that pulls me back and forth from getting things off my to-do list (which I really like to do) and reminds me what ministry is really all about—time.
Time Is More Than a Number
It is not about a distinct number of hours that I work, but time listening, time sharing a meal, time working together, time serving, and time to just be together. That is exactly what makes it the hardest part: I want to be there for every grief, gratitude, and grace, and I can’t.
In my best moments I remember the words a mentor once said to me as I prepared for seminary: “Only plan 50 percent of your week; God will fill the rest.” In the moment, I laughed, but all these years later I know it to be true.
Time for Self
I can’t do it all, because if I did, the time that would get left out would be for me. I wouldn’t have time for the important work that I do in my own faith life: seeking the presence of the God who loves me and calls me to return that love. I wouldn’t have time to hike with my dog, cook a good meal, and spend time with friends and family. And each of these things is just as important as a mission trip, stewardship brochure, family crisis, or Sunday sermon.
“How Can I Do It All?!”
The practical answer to time is that God has already provided exactly what I need in order to get it all done. And usually it is found in the untapped potential of the community. Maybe it is the faithful person who could join in the prayer rotation with folks at the hospital. The detail-oriented and newly-retired businesswoman who could help hold all the details of the mission trip. The graphic designer who could help with the stewardship brochure. The baker who wishes for someone to ask them to provide a meal. The person whose energy seems electric who could help with youth group.
Often these are folks sitting in the pews already. But sometimes they are members of our community beyond the church, yearning for someone to notice that they too can be used by God. Sometimes these volunteers have obvious gifts for ministry opportunities but haven’t been asked. Often it is the untapped potential that really helps make things happen.
Letting Go and Letting God
I don’t have an answer for how to fit it all in except to say that I have stopped trying. Ok, I still try! But then, when I am halfway through my to-do list at the end of the day, I remember what my time is all about—God’s call to be there in the grief, gratitude, and grace of this community. And I remember that the only one who is in all and through all is God. For the rest, God will provide.