Christian ministry and disappointment

16 09 2016

“There’s a lot of disappointment in Christian ministry.” It was a passing comment made during a conversation in the pub. But it stuck in my head. It’s one of the great unspokens, because we are not meant to feel disappointed. Not only can disappointment undervalue the achievements or encouragements, but it feels kind of disloyal to God.

At its best, Christian ministry is the most profound and amazing role, a privilege and blessing and yes, there are those times.

But it’s worst, it can feel like trying to flog a dial-up modems to kids with 4G mobiles.


Selling a product nobody wants, let alone needs. Blank expressions of pity, or just… blankness. In early-church days, everyone believed in (a) god(s), so telling them about your (better) one made sense. Like going to a football match and telling people about the new team you’ve discovered that are way better than this one. And the pies are enormous. People will be interested. You just have to win their loyalty.

These days in this place it can feel like telling people about the new football team. Except you’ve gone to the pet shop to do it. At night. Dressed as a pelican.

We have this amazing message of hope and transformation, yet nobody gets it. We have the best ideas for social cohesion yet struggle to organise a an hour-long Sunday service. We celebrate when a few people come to church, when the other 19,000 in the parish don’t.

In Christian ministry you have to be able to genuinely celebrate small things, all the time hoping for greater things. You have to be able to manage church-envy, because no matter how good yours is, someone else’s will always look better run/resourced/taught/supernatural or just won’t have the same old crockery.

Yes, there is a lot of disappointment in Christian ministry. It is an incredibly labour-intensive project, but that’s how God works. In terms of farmers sowing seeds, God still operates in the old ‘fling it out a see’ method, no matter how much we try to adopt intensive-farming methods to streamline, make efficient, guarantee success.

It comes down to this. God is. And he calls us to exactly the same as Jesus called his friends to. And they called theirs to. Conversations, communities, the slow-burn of incarnation, of relationships, of lifestyle. Of being seeds in the dirt, that may or may not burst into life right now, or  next year, or in a decade.

Feeling disappointment isn’t failure. It doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong job. See Elijah. It’s being honest. To feel disappointment is at least to feel something, to know there’s more, to be a person who believes in hope.

It is when we fail to feel anything that we are in the wrong job.

inflatable vicar

15 12 2010

I was listening to a vicar talking about ministry being about living with disappointment. He said that often ministry feels like pushing a stone uphill, so that each encouragement needs to be savoured as if it were your last, before the weight of the stone you are pushing forces you back downhill again. Sounds a bit depressing. Indeed.

The trouble is, that vicar was me.

In conversation with a mentor though, I heard myself say this and began to think. Is this really how it is? Or is this some kind of desperate self-preservation – if I remain disappointed, then no-one can get in there first. Like the way I mock my own knobbly knees or pointy nose before anyone else can. It steals their thunder. It protects me.

A change of word helped. I was encouraged to think in terms of feeling deflated rather than disappointed. Deflated is like a balloon than can be re-inflated; disappointed is like a cancer that eats away at all that you are.

The real question is, why do I feel deflated? Because things are going really well. And even if they weren’t, ministry is not about ‘doing well’ or things ‘going well’ but about being in the centre of God’s will whatever happens. Even so, there have been great encouragements amongst wonderful people beyond all our hopes when we moved here. So why deflated?

Because I have within me this longing, this yearning, this aching desire for the kingdom of god to transform, to come, to inspire and enrich and to overflow. And this longing will always remain only partly fulfilled until the kingdom comes fully, and not in part; until that to which we look to in advent is no longer for looking towards because it is fully here. I can always be more changed, more transformed; others can always be more changed, more transformed; we can all always always always sit at Jesus’ feet and encounter him in greater and deeper ways.

So this yearning within me is (I pray) an honest hoping, a holy discontent with the status quo, because I do long and will always long for more, for better, for bigger. Because God can, and because I want not 1 person to ‘get it’, nor 2, nor 22, but everyone:  as Jesus said, from Jerusalem, through all Judea and St Helier and the ends of the earth.  Big hope! Indeed.

So deflated I may sometimes be. But no longer disappointed. And definitely not disappointed with people, if any of my folks are reading this!! You are my hope and my inspiration; your stories of hope and change are what re-inflates me. And so I sit,  awaiting re-inflating by the pneuma, the wind, the breath, the Holy Spirit of God at work in us. As it was him that gave me the absurd and wonderful and unreachable and hopeless and hopeful and unexplainable hope in the first place.

Fling wide, you Gates.

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