“Work it, make it, do it—makes us harder, better, faster, stronger.” —Kanye West, Stronger
I really do wish ministry was always “Work it, make it, do it—makes us harder, better, faster, stronger,” but the truth is, sometimes it’s also, “Work it, make it, do it—and we still end up with little or no progress at all.”
What I mean is this: the smallness of our actual impact is a discouraging reality.
It’s not always bigger, better, breakthroughs, and bomb-diggityness. Despite our hard work and urgency, we haven’t healed the world (or ourselves, or the individuals in our churches). The actual impact of our efforts is smaller than we’d like. And slower too.
I love Father Gregory Boyle’s book Tattoos On The Heart. “Father G” for 20 years has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles—the gang capital of the world.
Something unique about this Christian book is how it showcases defeat and heartbreak just as much as victory and breakthrough. There are as many funerals as there are success stories. I so appreciate this—it feels honest and free of spin.
Father Gregory Boyle has a chapter in the book called, “Slow Work.” Speaking of ministry, he quotes Teilhard de Chardin, saying we must “trust the in the slow work of God.”
Father G continues, “I found consolation in a no doubt apocryphal story of Pope John XXIII. Apparently, at night he’d pray: I’ve done everything I can today for your church. But it’s your church, and I’m going to bed.”
Ministry, in my experience anyway, is like Father G’s book – equal parts joy and sorrow, progress and setback, life-changing moments and others we wish hadn’t happened at all. And real change usually happens slowly, slower than I like.
One of my friends said, “Something I dislike about ministry is that at the end of the day people still make their own decisions. I listen, pray with, and point to what God’s Word says about the situation. And many times, people will just do what they want anyway. It’s hard for me to be frustrated with this though, because this is also a snapshot of my own life – knowing the things God would want me to do and still doing what I want…”
Another friend said, “Unlike washing the car, there’s no finished product. You never know if you’ve done enough. The people you love and care for disappoint you and leave. You wonder if it was something you did or didn’t do—and even if it was because of you, could you have changed it?”
The Reverend Adam Smallbone in BBC’s comedy “Rev.” has an impossibly difficult job being a modern city vicar.
In the “Jesus is Awesome” episode, the archdeacon visits Adam’s church on a Sunday when only five people present. The archdeacon puts pressure on Adam to increase both the size and income of his church.
Adam prays for a miracle—which seems to come in the form of Darren, a charismatic pastor who needs a temporary place for his church to meet while his own is being renovated – along with his hip followers, white sofas, fruit smoothies, and a rapper.
Unfortunately, what looked like a breakthrough for Adam actually was more of a distraction and setback. One big step forward, and a handful of his members stepped out the back door.
Wanting breakthrough and to make a difference isn’t bad. I don’t think we should become discouraged or passive and give up. I think we should do, like Kanye says, “Work it, make it, do it.” I just don’t believe the result will always be “Better, faster, stronger.”
Maybe being faithful is more important than our stats.
Maybe urgency isn’t something Jesus ever asked us to carry.
Maybe being a success story isn’t necessarily the same as “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I want to make a difference. I want to help people. I want to see my city changed. I want to heal the world, make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race…
But I don’t do the healing. Or the changing. I’m not the Creator and I’m not the Savior. I am not, nor will I ever be, the Hero of the story.
The Hero does the making and the saving. He does the healing and the changing. The breakthroughs and the victories are His, not mine. He sets the pace (and He seems to like it slow).
My job is to show up, be present, faithful, available.
And the rest is up to Him.
What’s been your experience?
Have you found ministry to be slower and the actual impact to be smaller than you envisioned it would be?