When you cannot find a place to serve in ministry
I have been there, and I know it’s not fun, but in retrospect I think I learned more about honoring Christ with my life during that time than at any other.
Hardly a day goes by that I do not receive some communication from a young minister, often someone I taught in seminary, who cannot find a place of service. Forced to work a secular and usually unpleasant job while sending out countless resumes and networking as much as possible, the disappointment and frustration mount almost to the point of despair.
These men contact me in hopes that I will be able to help them find that fit, the opportunity for ministry for which they beg God or at least give them a word of encouragement.
God’s humbling of his servant
To put it mildly, I sympathize. I know exactly what that feels like. With years of ministry experience and a master’s degree in classical languages, I once served as the janitor at the Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
I argued with God and explained to Him why so many churches out there needed my particular brilliance and expertise, and the Holy Spirit kept humbling me until I was willing to honor Christ through cleaning toilets. Only when I found joy in that was I ready to serve the Lord through ministry elsewhere.
Honor Christ where he has planted you
So with empathy and experience, here is the answer I give to my young pastor friends:
I am sorry that you are going through such a difficult struggle. By this I mean that I am sorry you have to endure the emotions of it. I always find it hard to see someone I care about hurting.
On the other hand, I often have had to remind myself that my Father has denied me no good thing, that His promise is, in every circumstance, to work everything together for my good. He so carefully superintends the events of my life, including the denials, that every stream of experience results in a confluence of grace even when they seem more like floods that may drown me.
As always, I will do whatever I can to share your availability with churches and ministry opportunities, but I encourage you simply to be faithful. Faithfulness when no one is paying you and ministry when no one is asking you are marks of genuine love and devotion to Christ. Live out your calling to the best of your ability with whatever time you have after working in a job you do not like.
I have been there, and I know it’s not fun, but in retrospect I think I learned more about honoring Christ with my life during that time than at any other. I have seen that same phenomenon in the lives of many others. Don’t fail to see what God is teaching you in this. Embrace the lesson. By all means, keep sending out the resumes and looking for the right fit, but try—as hard as it may be—to do even that as unto the Lord in the same way you would do some church ministry itself. If our dependence on Christ rather than self is the goal, then anything He does to make us lean on Him is ultimately a good thing, regardless of how it feels.
We usually walk much better after God has touched us in the hollow of the thigh and given us a weakness that reminds of our striving with God than we ever could in the strength (or naiveté) of youth or natural abilities. Jacob had a limp, Joseph a prison cell, Paul a thorn, Ezekiel a spouse’s death, Peter a failure.
Jesus had a cross.
You and I are not going to escape that pattern of preparation in our lives.
I remember when I was in your situation years ago I called my dad one night and poured my heart out to him and told him that I was sick of being a janitor, that I thought my talents and training were being wasted, and I did not understand why I had invested so much only to see my family living on rice and beans. He offended me a bit when he replied that he wouldn’t change it if he could because he knew that God was doing a work in me that would make me much better prepared to shepherd His people in the future.
I didn’t like it when he said it, but he was right. And my words to you may not make your frustration and weariness go away, but I hope they at least help you see that you are being trained by God every bit as much as when you were in seminary. Every situation has a way by which we can honor Christ. Ask Him for that more than for a job in ministry. The Holy Spirit has one ministry—to glorify Jesus. The Spirit is not interested in helping us get a church or find the right position or become a great preacher. The Spirit’s single focus is to glorify Jesus, and when we get so possessed of that goal, even when working as a janitor or bagging groceries or mowing lawns, that we can delight in it regardless of the venue, then He is willing to use us in ways we could never imagine.
So I pray for you to find the right fit and ministry through which you can bless many and use the great gifts God has graciously given you, but most of all I pray for you to find joy in exalting Christ in the frustrating, sorrowful, and mundane things of life. Do that, and you will have succeeded at the thing that matters most.