Whose ministry is it, anyway?

I must admit–sometimes I get a bit frustrated when ministry activities don’t go quite the way I expected or hoped.

The last few years, I’ve been working one tiny step at a time to launch the Fuller Institute for Relationship Education–or more affectionately, “FIRE.”  Even that sounds exaggerated.   “Launch” hardly seems like the right metaphor for something that gets done in bits and pieces.  An hour here, an hour there, as I can clear the space amongst other responsibilities.  I do have a day job, after all.

But I’ve had the vision for something like this for a long time.  For years, I wondered how we might be able to connect the resources of the Marriage and Family Department to congregations wanting to make an impact in the area of marriage and family ministry.  During the week, my faculty colleagues and I train therapists, and feel privileged to have that calling.  But on weekends, we engage in a variety of other activities and ministries, often partnering with churches to strengthen marital and family relationships.

The seeming disconnect between the curricular and the extracurricular always frustrated me.  Can’t we get these different aspects of our calling together?  Shouldn’t there be some synergy?

Thus, FIRE was born–or perhaps, is still in the process of being born.  It’s been a long labor.  It feels more like prolonged contractions than the joy of bringing new life into the light of day.

An example.  Tomorrow, I am doing a marriage seminar from 8 AM to 5 PM.  I love the work, but I know it will be a long and ultimately exhausting day.  And that’s only the first half of the seminar; I’ll be back the following week to finish up with another 8-hour day.  One purpose of the seminar is to benefit couples directly.  The other is to provide part of the training needed for couples to be certified as instructors, so that they can serve as ministry volunteers in their churches, leading marriage enrichment groups.

Bottom line, we needed a certain number of people to register, both to make the proposed certification training affordable to participants, and to recoup the costs of the training materials.  We didn’t get them–not even close–even after months of planning and promotion, getting local pastors on board with the vision.

Part of me knows that this is just how it goes sometimes–we can’t control all the logistics and other variables.  We’ll have to keep trying and tweaking.  And it may simply take years to get where we hope to be.

I know all this, but I still get frustrated, because I also know that I’m giving away a large chunk of time and energy and not getting the result I was hoping for.  In fact, I know I’m going to have to give away another chunk just to break even, so that the institute doesn’t lose money while building the ministry.  We just don’t have that kind of budget.

Obviously, this isn’t the way I planned it.

It’s been a little discouraging thinking about all this in the past week.  But then I found myself sitting in church on Sunday morning, listening to a young man’s first sermon.  I don’t remember exactly what it was he said, but I do remember this: the Holy Spirit smacked me upside the head.  “Why are you discouraged?  Whose ministry is it, anyway?  I’m not there to serve your ministry–you’re there to serve mine.  Whoever shows up for the seminar, be it one or a hundred, it will be your privilege to serve the kingdom.”

My ears, I think, are still ringing.  Whose ministry is it, anyway?  If I really believe that this is of God, will I do what needs to be done–with gladness and gratitude–and trust him for the outcome?

I’m fairly certain that some time tomorrow, while I’m training couples, I’m going to get physically tired (either that, or the adrenaline will kick in and I’ll power through the day–then collapse when I get home!).  That’s to be expected.  But God willing, I won’t be frustrated, discouraged, or spiritually tired.  I will serve with enthusiasm, just as long as I remember to whom the whole ministry really belongs.

Because if God’s not driving this bus, well, I’d better get off and find the right bus.