When Expectations and Reality Collide in Ministry

Visions of the great adventure awaiting me danced through my head. I couldn’t wait to see what was on the other side of the airplane door. We had just landed at Njili airport in Zaire, Africa. I was ten years old.

The “fasten seatbelt” sign went off and the adults around me got up from their seats. I stayed put until the signal from my parents that it was okay to move around the cabin. Carrying my winter coat in one arm, I grabbed my duffel bag in the other as we headed toward the front of the jet. The closer I got to the exit of the plane, the more I experienced the sweltering heat of the foreign country in which I was supposed to learn to call home.

The dazzling rays of the tropical sun blazing above us cast a vaporous sheen on the far away palm trees lining the tarmac. I blinked against its intensity and gulped my disappointment at the barrenness and the decrepit conditions of the buildings. What was once new had long since melted into the obscurity of old age. The luxury of resiliency and denial afforded to me as a child allowed me to square my shoulders and walk toward the chaos of the terminal, hoping all the way that the sights that had greeted me in these first few minutes were not indicators of what my new life was to be.

Rarely do our expectations and our reality mesh well. Usually, they collide with such force that they make us do a double take of our surroundings. The confusion that is left in the wake of the collision makes us chide ourselves at getting our hopes up yet again. It stirs in us the ache of past disappointments and can leave us swimming in the quagmire of dashed hopes.

I have searched many times for someone ahead of me on the journey of ministry to tell me that there are more falls in the beginning than there are soarings. Thankfully, I have found a brave few who have revealed the not-so-glamourous side of ministry. They have become some of my best encouragers as they have openly shared about the yawning mouth of doubt that lies just below the ledge of discouragement.

But I wish there were more who would share that there are more tears than cheers, more white-knuckle moments than not. That there are more bruised knees and torn off scabs than there are effortless sprints toward the goal. And that these occurences are not necessarily a reflection of God withholding His blessing. But instead it is the agonizing process of being called a legitimate child with the privilege of representing the Name above all names. Rejection, misunderstanding, desperation, doubt, feelings of inadequacy and walking in the dark are the scalpels and chisels that are used to chip away at this heart of stone to make it pulsate with the passion to proclaim the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But these “friends” are never embraced as friends at the first, second or hundredth introduction. They are seen as identifiers of me and can cripple me without the understanding of their presence in my life.

I am going to say it here: Ministry is supremely difficult. It must be a calling or the crushing that comes with it can snuff the life right out of the one called. I wish more women farther along on the journey with Jesus would share the early days of heartbreak and tears so that those of us behind them would be encouraged to keep going. Perfection does not exist in ministry and the misconception that it does only discourages.

How thankful I am that Jesus is called a Man of Sorrows. How wonderful to know that although He was fully God, He embraced the sufferings of ministry, its disappointments, its rejections, and its tears. His life was full of the supernatural as well as the sufferings of being fully human. I could not relate to Him otherwise. This passage blows me away every time I read it as I try to grasp its full meaning:

During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him... Hebrews 5:7-9

And because He embraced the suffering, His power enables me to keep going. And when He does allow a mountain top experience with a glimpse of His glory, I know that there is no other life for me.