I have often thought about what kind of work I would be doing if I were not called to work in ministry. After much thought I honestly would say with all seriousness that I would like to work in landscaping. I would love to mow lawns, weed-eat, plant, trim, dig, or otherwise shape the land for people or businesses. Often when I am sitting around working at my computer I think that I would prefer to be doing some manual labor and working up a sweat.
To be clear, I love my current position in collegiate ministry and I am not looking to change it any time too soon, but there is a part of me that desires something more physical and something more simple. One summer when I was in college I worked at a church camp where I spent roughly 80% of my work week doing these things. I didn’t realize that I was living my dream job at the time, but I certainly didn’t squander that time either. I quickly became aware of how rewarding it was to finish a days worth of work that could be visibly observed. I also realized how easily I could spend several hours talking to God and meditating on His works while mowing the lawn. Working at Highland Lakes was fantastic and I often reminisce on those days with my wife (who I met that summer at the camp). As enjoyable as keeping the grounds was at camp, I think the thing I miss about it most is how I knew exactly what was expected of me each day. Every morning I would wake up and eat breakfast with the rest of my coworkers and discuss what work needed to be accomplished by what time. With an adequate breakfast in my stomach I would begin the day’s work.
As a collegiate minister who is completely funded by independent partners (as opposed to my church or denomination), I have no one telling me what exactly is expected of me on a daily basis. In fact, there are very few fixed responsibilities that I have in a given week. The amount of freedom I have in my position is incredible and I really am grateful that my pastor has allowed me that freedom. As a result of the structure of my ministry, I have learned much about self discipline and what it means to be accountable to God’s desire for my day to day life. Most of the time I view my work as that of an entrepreneur. With the counsel of the Holy Spirit I am free to try to make disciples as I see fit. As I said before though, there is a part of me that still desires simplicity of having a task list and quantifiable results at the end of the day.
Many times at the end of the day I am left wondering if I made an impact in anyone’s life that day. This is because I work with people, not grass. Grass will show you immediately whether or not you achieved your goal, people do not. Before a person shows outward signs of growing closer to God they are changed inwardly (without visible indication). When a heart is changed, the result might not be outwardly visible for a while. So and the reality of working in ministry is that it is possible to go longer periods of time without being able to notice that change has taken place. It is in this waiting that most of the work of ministry takes place, meaning that most of the work of ministry is done without seeing the results. This idea is not surprising considering the life work of many from the Bible. Abraham did not see many descendants, Moses did not get to live in the Promised Land, Nehemiah did not get to live in Jerusalem, Paul did not get to see the survival and growth of the churches he started.
It is this reality of working in ministry that gives us meaning and hope in Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Lives being changed and conformed to the image of Jesus often go unseen, but the good news is that this has eternal significance (even if we don’t see it).
And so to be honest I still desire to see physical results of my labor. Although I have hope that is more than sustaining for when I do not.
If I am completely honest though, I know I would probably complain about not having enough freedom if I was working in landscaping.