It was a beautiful service at church on Sunday. After searching for a new worship pastor for the past several months, the personnel committee recommended our associate worship pastor for the position. When asked to stand in agreement with this decision, I was surrounded by fellow church members who all agreed that this young man and his sweet family were who God had called to lead our church in worship. And while it was truly moving to be able to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” my heart also began to ache.
Maybe the ache will never go away. Maybe it will always hurt as I think of all the dreams that have been lost over these past few years.
Most of my adult years I have been involved in church ministry. For almost ten years I was employed by the church that I grew up in. A church my grandfather helped to build, the one that my mother had gone to for over 50 years, where my parents meet and got married, where my brother and I were saved and baptized, where my husband and I met and were married, and where all three of our children were dedicated.
It was more than a building. It was family. They had seen our family through some of the most traumatic experiences we had ever been through. Even the ministry that I worked for as created by a family friend who had a vision to reach the people of Hawaii with the gospel by setting up a lecture series. I loved my job. It was a joy to carry on the legacy of a man who meant so much to our family and to serve at my home church. I learned and grew so much. I discovered my gifts and talents and it was a privilege to be a part of something that I knew was bigger than myself. I could have served there my whole life.
And yet, God had other plans in store.
I won’t go into too much detail. There is no need for it. It’s not edifying. I know and love many people who still go to church there, and I do not wish any ill will. But at the end of 2017, after many months agonizing in prayer, I submitted my resignation. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make.
I was crushed and it felt like my dreams had been shattered.
Then several months later, Shelby’s boss, and former president at the seminary he attends, went through the most public modern-day character assassination I have ever witnessed. He was disgraced, shunned, and treated like a leper. Even prominent Christian leaders were rejoicing in his demise. It was awful. We had front row seats to this tragedy that was unfolding right before our eyes. And then it wouldn’t be long until Shelby and the rest of the staff he worked with were also fired.
So, as I watched this young man and his family forge ahead in ministry, I couldn’t help but wonder why our dreams had been crushed, no…more like blown up by an atomic bomb into a million fractured pieces. We set off on this journey in ministry with such passion and excitement, and now we’ve been robbed of that naivety. We didn’t ask to be involved in the politics, the harshness, the rawness of ministry.
Is our journey in ministry over? Has it been destroyed? Damaged beyond repair? Where do the lost dreams of people who have once been involved in ministry go?
Maybe we weren’t even supposed to go down this path from the very beginning and God is saving us from ourselves. Maybe we aren’t cut out for the cold cruel world of ministry. Perhaps God has something else in store for us. Maybe we minister to people in a different capacity that isn’t within the confines of church walls.
Or maybe God is going to take all of this mess, all of this ash and dust and He’s going to make something beautiful out of it. Something that only He can do. I certainly know that I do not have the strength to do it. If we make it out alive, only the Lord can receive any glory. It won’t be us. We have been done in. If this mess gets made into a masterpiece, I’m telling you now, we had nothing to do with it.
A few days ago, I was also listening to a message by Chuck Swindoll. In his broadcast library he has a message entitled, “Meaningful Messages in Misfortune”. He speaks to a group of seminary students (of course!) and talks about things that will enhance their years in ministry. It’s really for anyone in ministry, not just seminary students, but the whole thing is brilliant. At the very end, he talks about his 5 hopes for those seminary students:
- I hope you will not know early success. Rather, I hope you will encounter difficulties that drive you to your knees.
- I hope you will experience obscurity and anonymity after you leave these halls of learning—especially if you are greatly gifted and bright. The result will be a true humility that will keep you surprised when and if God ever chooses to use you.
- I hope you will fail because you relied on your own flesh to reach certain goals. . . . You will learn far more from times of failure than through great accomplishments.
- I hope you will be forced to deal with a difficult leader in the church you serve or face disagreements with someone with whom you serve closely, it will teach you discernment.
- I hope you will be hindered by unexpected obstacles that keep you from reaching your goals in ministry as you had planned. It is no accident. It is exactly what God has planned.
Shelby and I might as well have been sitting in with that group of students he spoke to because I feel like we have gone through each of these.
So maybe, just maybe, God’s not through with us being in ministry. Everything that we have encountered thus far is a part of His plan. His plan where all things work for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
In the notes for the message, Swindoll writes:
Ultimately, the only way to learn full dependence on the Lord is to experience misfortunes and failures that bring you to the end of your own resourcefulness. Only then can you turn in full confidence and humility to the One who delivered you from a past from which you could never recover and who leads you into a future you cannot see.
A FINAL PRAYER
Father, thank You for this trial—this misfortune—that I face today. Forgive me for complaining about my circumstances and expressing such dismay at my current lot in life. Open my eyes to Your plans and purposes in the gathering clouds of defeat or failure . . . and shelter me with Your gracious presence and love until this storm passes by.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.