Vocational ministry, like many jobs, contains a never-ending list of tasks. There is no reason to fear finishing all of one’s tasks and having nothing more to do. The sun will rise in the morning with plenty to be accomplished.
I was a pastor for 34 years (that seems short to me now), and I retired in my late fifties in 2006. I resisted the term ‘retired’ because I was so soon involved, thanks to God’s hand, in the Indiana Prison Education program of Grace College. This opportunity allowed me to teach and lead and administer though the learning curve was steep (and impossible for a truly ‘retired’ guy). I did that for twelve years.
I have the luxury of admiring both of my former churches (and we are welcomed there) even though I am completely confident that I could not have led them to the excellence they are enjoying now.
I’m glad I was able to fulfill my role for my time at each church and avoid ministry burnout.
Did I hit a home run for Jesus? Well, no. Did I want to? Sure.
Hitting a Triple for Jesus
We all know people who have hit homers for Jesus in vocational ministry. They are impressive; they are well-known within our circles or even more broadly and occasionally nationally. These are the home run hitters, and we need them. Sometimes they set the standard for excellence in ministry, touching hearts or minds with their books, inspiring us with their impact in speaking or through the media and even scholarship in our schools. I can think of plenty of names…you can too.
Most of us are happy to get on base and then, once we have succeeded somewhere at some ministry, we set our sights on a homer. Of course, we are glad for any doubles or triples we may get.
Here are the reasons I think most of us should be happy with setting our sights on a triple.
- You can avoid being endlessly hungry or, worse, envious in pursuit of the rare and nearly impossible ministry home run. Isn’t a homer something God will arrange and accomplish anyway?
- A triple really is a big deal. Some believe it is actually harder to achieve than a homerun, so you can allow yourself to be content.
- Too many men could have been safe at third, but were thrown out on the way to the plate. This is the scenario that causes me heartburn in vocational ministry: thinking of the near heroes who were thrown out at the plate.
- Ambition and empires: “God wants me to leverage my influence.”
- Moral destruction: “The rules do not fully apply to me.”
- Arrogance: “Other people just can’t take the pressure.”
- The God seminar: “Here’s how I did it…I mean how God did it.”
- The Peter Principle: “I was promoted to this, and I believe I’m perfect for the job.”
- Insanity: This includes all the double-life people and the charmers who have charm only.
If you have seen the movie Moneyball, you may remember this pivotal line. “Baseball is a boys’ game. You can play it till you’re told to quit when you are 10 or 16 or 21 or 30 or 35, but the day will come when you can no longer play this boys’ game.” There are many home run hitters, but there is only one Babe Ruth. Even the Babe should have quit. Remember the Babe’s last appearance at Yankee Stadium? Not pretty.
So there’s time pressure when we try to hit our homers. Not only a limited time, but there is a tenor to the times (think decades) that passes away quickly. We may be perfect for the wrong decade.
I saw that each of the decades I served presented a major shift. If you entered the ministry as a KJV explainer in 1965, and became a sought-after expert counselor in 1985, and did well in the worship wars, you were still a dinosaur by 2005. How could we go from the middle of the road, to cool, to extinct so very fast?
It will also be difficult to know when you have hit a homerun while living in a society where they keep moving the wall. The standards for success are constantly changing, so you may discover you’re aiming at a moving target, even in vocational ministry.
Rather than risk ministry burnout, or manufacture miracles, implode, or even settle for a fake homer, I’d say that being content with a triple is worthy. Those last 90 feet seem to be filled with many serious dangers.
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Get started today with GTS and prepare yourself to excel wherever God puts you in the lineup!
John Teevan is the Adjunct Professor in the Seminary and SOMS. He has taught a variety of courses since 2000. He comes from two long pastorates and twelve years working for Grace College in the Indiana State Prison system as an educator/director. He also served in the four cities where Grace worked to open commuter sites. These diverse experiences along with community involvement have sensitized him to social side of ministering to people in a variety of situations. A five-year engagement with the Acton Institute led to the publication of his book on Social Justice.