“Ministry is messy.” That’s something my college group pastor told me oh so long ago when I was a fresh-faced new believer ready to serve Christ. I wanted to go out there and tell people about Jesus, love them, and see hearts and lives changed. Great goals!
But what I didn’t understand quite yet is that as wonderful and amazing as it is to minister to others and to share Christ’s love with them, it’s not always easy, and it’s not going to be wrapped up in a nice, neat package.
People are imperfect. They’re sinful. Our emotions and actions and reactions can get downright messy at times. But we’re still called to love, serve, honor, and respect them. I was thinking about my college pastor’s words this morning as I reflected on some of my own personal ministry challenges during this season.
The mothers’ group I’m helping to lead at my church is not going as smoothly as I’d like. Some of our leadership team isn’t doing what I think is their job. Childcare volunteers have had to quit for various reasons, and we desperately need more help. And some of our members could be labeled (gasp!) “difficult.”
My ministry at home has had its challenges as well. I’m dealing with a four-year-old who has suddenly decided that now is the time in his life when tantrums and yelling and disrespect seem appropriate. I’m struggling to find the right way to discipline and correct him that will be effective without letting my punishment pendulum swing too much to the hammer side or too much to the permissive side.
In both instances, I had expectations (somewhat unrealistic) of how things would go. I’ve been discouraged lately by all the messiness and have sometimes wondered, Is all this effort I put into these things even worth it?
Jesus certainly knew that ministry could get messy. He performed amazing miracles, like healing the sick, and got criticized for it by the religious leaders. He was often followed by large crowds (think needy, dirty, and smelly) who all wanted something from Him. At one point, after one of His teaching times, many of His followers chose to leave (John 6:66). And among His twelve closest friends—those who should have totally understood His ministry—there was bickering about who would be seated next to Him in heaven (Matt. 20:20–24). Yeah. That sounds pretty messy to me.
But Jesus’ response? He had compassion on the crowd (Matt. 9:36). He became a servant and washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1–20). He took abuse and mockery from the Roman soldiers and willingly let Himself be nailed to the cross—because He understood His purpose and knew His ministry was worth it.
So when I was wondering this morning if what I was doing even mattered, God reminded me of:
- that mom in my group who has a difficult marriage and financial situation. She needs the support of this group and to hear the Christ-centered message we provide.
- when my son was kind and helpful and obedient without any prompting from me. When he told his toddler sister about the cross and how Jesus died for our sins. And how in our family jam session the other night, he belted out at the top of his lungs:
All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong*
Oh, yeah, the messiness is worth it. What messiness in your ministry have you experienced lately? How do you handle those times without getting discouraged?
*Building 429, “Where I Belong”