The Unbearable Heaviness of Ministry (with apologies to Milan Kundera)

I’ve just started a year working for my church as an apprentice with our student team. After 10 days of ‘full-time ministry’ (terrible phrase, but I can’t call it the marginally better ‘paid Christian work’, because I’m not being paid!) I can’t believe how big the task is. That sounds very melodramatic, doesn’t it? I often think ministry is ‘no big deal’ – or, at least, it’s no different from any other job. There’s lots of similarities – admin, meetings, deadlines, supervisors….clients, of a kind. And then I look at a passage like 1 Thess 2:1-12:

You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children[a] among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Look at the the purity of Paul’s motives (v3-6) – aiming always ‘to please God and not people’

Look at the hard-work of gospel service (v9) – toiling night and day…well beyond office hours.

Look at the self-giving love that is so deep and thorough-going that the only metaphor that properly captures it is the love of a parent for their child.

When I see that vision for ministry, it’s amazing and also utterly terrifying, because it’s beyond human capability. On bad days I choose to respond by panicking. On good days, it drives me to my knees in desperate, dependent prayer. Which, I guess, is probably the right place to start.

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