Doing ministry in a small town can feel a bit like living in a fishbowl.
There are few sacred or protected areas in this fishbowl. The details of my life are seemingly on display and can often generate unsolicited commentary or advice:
- How you raise your children
- What you wear
- Where you go
- What you spend money on
If your family is in ministry, that fishbowl can feel like it is made of magnifying glass.
We are in ministry serving Jesus in a small rural town. While we love serving Jesus where we are, occasionally, it can be really hard. While many would be envious of life and ministry in a small town, there are some unique challenges. Sometimes I am tempted to think that it would be nice to be able to process the trials, heartaches, and train wrecks of life and church in the anonymity of the crowded city, or at least a large suburb. But that is not where I live. Where I live, everything is known the second it happens (at least it seems this way). Even things that don’t have anything to do with me, affect me. And maybe I’m making this part up, but it does seem as if everyone is watching me, to see how I’ll respond.
The truth of Hebrews 12:1 seems to ring loud right now…
Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…
And how great that cloud is (although that is not what that verse is referring to).
Here are a few things that God has taught me while living in the fishbowl.
1. We can’t check out
When life gets extremely hard, the temptation is to withdraw. We want the pain to stop. And also, we might not want anyone to know that we are struggling.
2. My real joy comes only from Him
In the excruciating seasons of life, God is teaching me that my joy CANNOT come from any other source, whatsoever. Problems and trials will rise up as we are faithful to God. Trials come, not as a result of faithlessness, but as one of faithfulness. We are not exempt from deep pain and sorrow as we follow God.
We expect people outside of the church to hurt us. But why is it so difficult when those inside the church are the ones inflicting pain? On our best days, we are still fallen people. People everywhere will let you down, betray you, and just be human. Since I am human, I have to give them the same freedom to be human, to make mistakes, to sin against each other. I need forgiveness daily, therefore, I must keep extending it.
My joy cannot be in how well our church is doing.
My joy cannot be found in the fluctuating opinions of others.
3. God is present even in the hurting
I can know that God is with me, and for me, even while experiencing suffering, defeat, and failure. I can’t stop when I feel like a failure. I have to keep going. As tough as it is, I have to press on. I don’t want to stay in the pit, that’s for sure.
4. I win by submitting myself to Christ
From the outside, I’m definitely losing. But if I will continually submit to the Lord by believing Him instead of my feelings, I can win.
5. Keep an outward focus
Pain causes us to look inward. I can’t focus on myself, no matter how much I want to withdraw from society. I have to keep looking up, looking out for those who need help along the way.
I came across two encouraging things at a critical point. One was a sermon on success and failure. The other was a song.
I believe God gives us music to help us when we don’t know what to say or how to express ourselves. Some songs become our anthem, just when we need them most.
Keep looking to God because He is faithful. He does not discount our pain. He sees it and He sees us. He isn’t through with us yet.
Sailing in the Storm, by Jonathan Pokluda
Because sometimes, you just need to play it loud and shout it out. It can be a real battle for joy.
But, it’s worth it.