Ministry life comes with a list of “have-tos,” those unspoken expectations and requirements. Your list may be different than mine, but I’m guessing you’ve got one. I have to attend all the services of the church. I have to loyally support the pastor and elders. I have to be hospitable. I have to reach out to church visitors.
What if I didn’t “have to”?
If I weren’t in ministry, would I attend church regularly? Probably, but I can remember how casually I skipped an occasional evening worship service when I was single. Would I be hospitable? Maybe, but wrestling three, six-pound pork roasts into the oven tonight was reason for doubt. Would I be supportive and welcoming and encouraging? Maybe. Maybe not.
I am, as hymn writer Robert Robinson said, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”
I look around and see the people in my church doing all the things on my list and more. And they don’t even have to. This leads me to the humbling conclusion that I have not been placed in ministry life because I am among the few and the proud. I have been placed in ministry life because I am weak. Jesus himself said, “’Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners.’” (Mark 2:17b)
The have tos of ministry life are just what my heavenly doctor ordered.
To illustrate: I am like a post-surgical patient who should faithfully do her knee exercises at home, but whose physician knows her weakness and so has scheduled her for daily sessions with a therapist. Without the rigorous treatment plan of ministry life, I could easily neglect to exercise my soul.
But, in my folly, I can sometimes view these ministry requirements as grounds for complaint. That’s when I need to read Psalm 23: “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” My list of to-dos and have-tos are not a burden. They are the comfort of the Lord, directing me in “paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Who knows what the state of my soul would be without my list of have tos. I don’t doubt my God. But I do doubt my own soul’s desire to cling to Him, and I marvel at His gracious mercy in telling me I have to.