I know that I have many friends who serve in ministry in any number of capacities. I definitely believe in the priesthood of all believers and that each follower of Jesus Christ is called to ministry. Your occupation is one thing, but your ministry may be another thing completely.
That said, those of us who serve in professional ministry or “titled” ministry enjoy a particular set of phenomena that occur when people discover that we serve in ministry. I myself am not ordained, but claim a ministry title so that when people ask me what I do, I often respond in what I’ve found to be the simplest way possible: “I’m a youth minister.” Sometimes, “I’m a minister to youth and children.”
Many things might happen at this point:
1. The person is obviously embarrassed that they just swore during our conversation, or that they said something not entirely appropriate for ministers. (Whatever that means. Those of you who know me know that I am occasionally inappropriate–OCCASIONALLY, of course–and that this is more amusing to me than anything else.)
2. The person tells me about every relative they ever had who was in ministry or missions or went to church.
3. The person tells me about how they keep meaning to go to church, but haven’t for awhile or don’t yet.
4. The person launches into delightful stories about his or her own church or minister.
And my ministry friends probably have tons of other common responses people have on hearing they are ministers. But the one I want to address is this:
5. The person pulls up a chair, a bench, a patch of sidewalk or floor and tells me his or her life story or a current piece–all the heartache, all the trials, all the issues.
Sometimes the person has deep questions about God or the church or faith. Sometimes I think the person is longing for a holy connection and hopes to make it by telling his or her story to a “holy” person.
This fifth thing isn’t actually entirely ministry-related for me. All of my life, I’ve been a person that people tell their stories to. I suppose I just seem approachable and I know how to listen and give non-verbal cues that I’m hearing what they are saying. Many times during my life, strangers have invited me to sit and talk and listen with them, or have struck up conversations with me in line at the bank or the grocery store, or have pulled me into their worlds while I was attempting to go about doing other things.
Most of the time, I don’t mind at all and I enjoy these interactions. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to put people first and not the tasks I’m attempting to finish.
It happened to me today while I was at the salon having my hair cut. I was introduced by my stylist to a woman as “the youth minister at our church.” The woman sat on a stool near me and asked me, “What kind of church are you?” I replied, “Presbyterian.” She said, “Oh, so a normal church. Not too out there?” I answered, “No, most people wouldn’t consider Presbyterians to be very ‘out there’.”
And then her story began. Abusive childhood, foster home to foster home (she lived in over 50 homes total as a child), a baby when she was 14, a rough and tumble young adulthood…and finally, a turn around. A marriage, another child. She proudly told me she was a singer and pulled out her phone and played me a song she had written and recorded. She has a beautiful voice. “People cry when I sing,” she confessed. “I think it’s because all of the pain I’ve overcome–it comes out in my songs.”
At one point, my stylist answered her phone. It was someone from our church. “Guess who’s here?” I heard her ask. “Don’t worry–she’s not at the church, but she’s working right here in the salon!”
Ministry happens everywhere. There are things I’m officially paid to handle and oversee and there are things that happen around me every day that become ministry I wasn’t expected or expecting to do.
People everywhere are longing to have someone who will listen to their stories and their songs. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s you. May we both be faithful as God calls us to minister.