I started working for my church in September 2013, back when I was also still working retail. The extra cash was nice, but I also had the idea that I wanted to be involved in ministry somehow in the future, and I figured being behind the scenes at my church would be a good way to dip my toe into those waters.
Fast forward to February 2015, when the church got shaken up in a pretty major way, and everyone was hurt and shocked and sad and angry, including me. And I don’t know about anyone else, but it opened up a lot of things for me. I’ve had two different counselors describe the way I’ve dealt with it as post-traumatic stress–I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my whole life, but something about this situation broke it open in a way I’ve never really experienced before. I had panic attacks and breakdowns; I was so afraid that our church was going to fall apart.
And I kept working. I took on a lot of work so other people wouldn’t have to do it, and I kept thinking, I have to do this or else. Or else what, I wonder. I was afraid of other people burning out or leaving; I was afraid that if I quit it would mean I was a failure or a disappointment–all variations on themes that have played themselves out in my life since I was a kid. I’m afraid of people leaving or being hurt and that when they do it’s because of me. I know that’s irrational, and I know the gospel says that even if everyone else left I would still have Jesus, but that’s a hard fear to get untangled from around your heart.
So it kept going and going and I kept doing the work not out of love or service for God and His people, but out of anxiety. It became more evident that the gifts God’s given me weren’t really suited for the work I was doing, and vice versa. And I kept drifting farther away from God Himself–prayer got more difficult. So did reading the Bible. My Christianity became something I was good at, at least when people were looking. And that’s kind of a terrible place to do ministry from.
Finally, I hit the wall. Or maybe God crashed me into the wall so I’d finally pay attention. And after talking with some wise people, I don’t work for my church anymore.
It feels weird to write that the work of ministry got in the way of my relationship with God, but it’s true, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So now the work looks like trying to remember who I am in Jesus and finding my hope and trust in Him, and trying to figure out what my gifts are and how they can be used to serve and encourage people in my local congregation.
I’m writing this not as some kind of confessional, but maybe in hopes that someone will benefit from reading it. Maybe you’re burned out, or you think that you have to be some kind of super-Christian all the time for God to be pleased with you. But know that the Church will not stand or fall because of you; know that you are already loved and known and accepted by God. And maybe you shouldn’t be doing the ministry you’re doing, or at least not for the reasons you’re doing them. But don’t let yourself get to a bad place before you understand that. Get good counsel and surround yourself with wise people.