Lately I feel myself being frustrated with how ministry is not following the plans I have laid. It is not fitting into the map I or others have created. University advertising during last year’s Welcome Week at UC seemed to be nearly absent and new students didn’t show up at our planned events. Now, a year later, I’m struggling to address this lapse and figure out ways to bring many more new students in this year. The offerings at the church I attend won’t cover a full salary for a pastor – or at least the salary suggested by the denomination. So once again the congregation starts the same old dance of focusing on raising money for this salary in lieu of other activities.
But are the real problems in either of these situations the ones I and others are seeing? Are the goals we set those that should have our focus? In the case of the campus ministry – a large influx of students at the beginning of the year – and for the church – a full-time minister paid at a level a denomination recommends. At some level we believe that if only we can get to this point then things will be all right. We’ll have it under control.
That’s the problem. We’ll have it under control. These goals are human-based. But I’m nearly positive that God does not work that way. Instead, look at Gideon in chapter seven of Judges. He had a large army, Israel would handily defeat the Midianites 32,000 men. However, God kept paring it down until only 300 men were left. This would be God’s battle – and Gideon’s trust would have to be in God. Even though it was difficult, this time the battle was won. But what about the prophets who continue to trust God even when battles weren’t won? Jeremiah lived in the midst of Jerusalem’s fall. There was no victory here, no happy ending reached. But he continued to proclaim God’s word. This is a very different way of engaging in the world and with God than I am naturally inclined to do.
In my own battles, I’m finding myself longing for the final story and uncomfortable with the transitional moments. I look for shortcuts to get to the end I envision – the thriving campus ministry and the fully salaried pastor. Instead of quickly jumping to the end, maybe God is forcing me to work in the uncomfortable space in-between – a place where my trust must rest in him and not in results. On campus, a single advertisement can’t replace the more difficult, yet transformational work of stepping out and challenging students on their discipleship journey or building relationships within the administration. At church, maybe the focus should not be on having a budget that pays staff to do ministry, but a budget that supports more ministry by the members. Neither of these new ways are comfortable or even always measurable. But one thing, it does leave room for God to work, to change up plans and hearts.