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My Ministry Began with Two Words

January 16, 2022

My ministry began with two words, “Ted’s dead.”

I was a young college student and had just started my first church staff position. My title was “Youth Minister,” but to that point there had been very little ministry taking place. It was more like a part-time job. I was getting to the know the students and learning how to handle a budget, lead Bible studies, and play some games. I was handling my job, but what I was doing could not really be called “ministry.”

I do not remember how I heard about Ted’s accident. It happened over a decade before cell phones or email were available, and close to two decades before I personally had access to that kind of technology. Somehow, in between classes, I got word that one of “my kids” had been in a motorcycle accident. Assuming he was in a hospital somewhere, I quickly drove to the church. I found the pastor in the church office and asked, “How’s Ted?” I asked that question over 35 years ago, and I can still see the pastor’s face and hear him say those two words, “Ted’s dead.” I did not see that coming. I was naïve, immature, and completely out of my league. I had no idea what to do next.

When it was time for our youth group to meet, I did not pretend to know what to say. I just let the students talk. Ted was a popular senior and most of the kids in my group went to his high school. It was easy for them to talk about him and to share their grief with one another. I just monitored the meeting and let them take care of one another. I learned a lot that night and in the days that followed. My part-time job became a ministry and I never again thought of what I do as just a way to make a living. Over these many years I have received similar news countless times. It has rarely been as abrupt and shocking as “Ted’s dead,” but the news of loss and grief is never easy to hear.

Despite the good-natured jokes about pastors only working one hour a week, I think most people know that ministry involves much more than preaching. I suspect, however, that very few people recognize the emotional toll that real ministry takes on pastors. Week after week we receive those calls that someone in our church family or community has died. We just barely get through the valley of the shadow of death when we must enter it again and walk through it with people who are hurting.

Over time we learn to adjust to the grief and deal with the pain. We may even convince ourselves that we have finally “gotten used to it,” but the truth is we never really get used to it. By definition, grief hurts and it drains us. Our calling and our compassion will not let us go through the motions of ministry and avoid being affected by loss. We carry the pain, deal with the guilt, and wrestle with our emotions like everyone else. We just go through it more often than most people, so we are more familiar with it.

Ministry happens within a context of real-life issues that remind us of our need for God and for one another. Ministry is about relationships. It is not having all the answers or “getting used to” the painful experiences in life. Ministry is about being real enough to share life in meaningful ways.

The call to ministry is not a one-time event. The calls keep coming because people keep suffering. The phone never stops ringing, and the Lord never stops providing.

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