top of page

The Danger of Romanticizing “the Ministry”

I watch boys on Wednesday nights. Lots of rambunctious, loud, sweaty, muddy-sneakered boys in continuous motion. I can barely keep up with them or imagine a game entertaining enough to hold their attention for a nanosecond. God must think He’s playing a funny joke on me for all those times I was pregnant and thought I had to have a boy, but ended up with four girls.

I came home last night and one of those girls asked how it went. “It is so haaaaaaaaaaaard!” I said. I went on to remind her, how I do every week, of how rambunctious, loud, sweaty, muddy-sneakered and non-stop those boys are.

Mind you, they are good boys. They are loved and cared for at home. They are smart, hilarious in the way boys are hilarious (think lots of fart jokes. Never-ending fart jokes) and creative. But they are boys. And I don’t do boys. For eighteen years, all I’ve done is girls. I can do nail art, hair chalk and celebrity crushes. I can even do all-out hormonal meltdowns and cat-fights about clothes. Give me emotional drama any day; I can confiscate an iPod faster than you can say “Tom Hiddleston” and make it all stop in a split second. I can do girls.

But I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to stop a 100-pound mass of spinning muscle and dirt from destroying the church nursery as he’s simply being a… boy. If you are the mother of just one of these, I am kissing every inch of the sacred ground your feet have trodden, my friend.

After boy duty last night, I collapsed into bed and had a dream. A most wonderful dream. I dreamed we were adopting a sweet little Indian boy who’d been abandoned by his mother. He was about three, with thick black hair and the most adorable little accent that ever met your ears (don’t ask me how he knew English, okay? It was a dream). I tenderly scrubbed the Calcutta off his skin and made him a bedroom with a mat on the floor, which he preferred to a bed. I announced it on Facebook: “We adopting a boy!” It was a dream come true for my girls, to have a brother. An adorable little Indian brother with an accent. I was in love and would raise this bundle of sweetness to know he was loved.

It was a little disappointing to wake up to reality. It would have been fun, adopting a little dark-skinned boy with an accent. As I lay there for a few minutes pondering the dream, I felt God’s gentle whisper on hard ears:

My darling, I have given you this boy already, many times over.

Suddenly I remembered the boy’s name in the dream. Clear as day, his name was Samuel. That’s the name he’d come with, and we’d decided to keep it.

Instantly I knew what God was telling me. In the Old Testament, Samuel was sent away to be raised in the temple by a worn-out priest. Unlike the boys I watch on Wednesdays, Samuel didn’t have the luxury of a loving mother tucking him in every night. He had Eli, an old man who couldn’t keep his own kids under control.

One night Samuel heard a voice he assumed to be Eli’s. “Samuel. Samuel.” Who was calling his name?

I can just see Eli, dragging his tired, old bones out of bed, muttering, “What is it this time?” And when he saw that boy’s dirt-streaked face in the moonlight, and heard what had happened, he knew in that moment it was high time he start doing the work of the ministry. It was all up to that worn-out priest to teach that energetic little boy how to hear the voice of the One who had a plan for Samuel beyond his wildest dreams.

My mind drifted to those “Wednesday night boys” and I knew. Those boys are Samuel. God has sent them to the temple, and it’s up to me to decide if I am going to merely “babysit” them until they’re too old for the program, or be a voice guiding them into their God-ordained futures of wonder and purpose.

The boy in my dream was my “Bible class” on Wednesday nights, which more often looks like a zoo with all the cages unlocked. The boy in my dream was my “dream ministry,” while the boys in my church class had been the thing I’ve too often done “because someone has to do it.” The problem with romanticizing “the ministry” is we don’t see true ministry when it’s right under our nose. All we see is the mess and the stress.

To all those dreamers who “just want to get to Africa” or just want to preach in a pulpit: your Africa is right next door. It’s that family down the road you’ve been ignoring because they’re smelly and inappropriate. Your pulpit is your dining table and they are hungry for your life-giving words. It’s the snot-nosed babies in the nursery you keep on Sundays so desperate mothers can hear life-giving words.

To the mommas and childcare volunteers and pastors who are tired and sometimes resentful about the load you carry: God has given you a Samuel. You have no idea what he will be someday. Love him, cherish him in all his stinky, non-stop loudness and wall-climbing. And as you get those fleeting opportunities, whisper life into his little ears. You might be tired and ready to quit, but yours is the voice that will guide him into his purpose. He is your ministry.

image credit:


bottom of page