It is an interesting time to be a young adult and to be in ministry in a mainline denomination. Sometimes it is hard to put into words exactly why it is an interesting time. Okay, really most of the time it is hard to put into words. It is a weird culture where people “desire” to have a young pastor and a young family while at the same time these people often suspiciously hear what a young pastor is saying because, well, “what does some young inexperienced pastor know about how things are?”
This much I have observed. I see broken hearts and spirits breaking from so many of my fellow young clergy (and I don’t exempt myself from the broken heart and breaking spirits club). There is such a passion for God and for the Body of Christ and all that it could be and because of this passion the hurt goes so deep. Sometimes, I myself feel like the picture below. I look at the picture and see my youngest son in the middle of crying his eyes out while my other son sits off staring into the distance (while picking his nose..oh boy) and I can’t help but feel sometimes like this picture captures my feeling. Whether it is fair or not, I sometimes feel like my heart is breaking for the church and the church is just staring off into the distance unmoved and to busy with other stuff (could committee meetings be like my son picking his nose?….okay, probably not fair but that is how I feel sometimes).
I don’t think I am the only one who can identify with this. Over and over I hear stories of friends and colleagues with such deep love and passion struggling with broken hearts and breaking spirits because they know the Body of Christ could be so much more than it is. Some have the strength and determination to push forward with determination to see renewal. Others whose spirits are breaking contemplate walking away disillusioned and still others are becoming resigned to the reality and believing that this is it and just keep going through the motions the status quo requires and desires. I have to admit that all three of the above situations have run through my mind when I look toward the future and I struggle with God’s calling/purpose for my ministry.
But I wonder if many of us need to hear words like Timothy received from Paul. Perhaps we need our elders to stand alongside us and give us the same words, but whether or not our elders do that we need to hear Paul’s words to Timothy as words of God to us:
Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.
Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation. (1 Timothy 4:11-16 from The Message)
This is a message of perseverance. A message to stay the course, but also a message of affirmation with challenge. Sometimes I think we as young people are used to hearing affirmation and perhaps too much affirmation. We have been told from a young age that we could change the world and all the while we often were able to accomplish many things with minimal effort (thanks to technology and well many of our parents protecting us from failure and criticism) and resistance. Now I do think we can change the world and I don’t think the roadblocks to change are as big as some may think they are, but I also realize that it isn’t going to be easy. (I often wish it was though) But often I also wonder if we are too quick to let our spirits break because we fail to hear the challenges with the affirmation. (not always by our own account…sometimes the picture we are told by our elders is one that minimizes the challenges that really lie in the ministry setting and then we face disillusionment after reality is so different)
The question becomes this: Can the challenging affirmation by Paul to Timothy be the message of hope to help us young clergy through the broken hearts and breaking spirits? I want to see my weeping turn to dancing. I want to see the Kingdom of God tangibly breaking through in significant ways. My heart longs for these things and I wonder if my heart can be strengthened through God’s truth conveyed in Paul’s words.