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5 Ministry Surprises {And the Gifts They Unwrapped}

5 Ministry Surprises

When I was searching for an image for this post, I asked my husband, “What image comes to mind with the word ‘surprise?'” He answered immediately with “a gift.”  And as I read through the post again for editing purposes, I realized that my husband had just unveiled a profound truth:

With each surprise comes a gift.

Ministry holds many surprises, both positive and negative.  We accept each one as God sends it; and one by one the surprises, along with the expected, create what we call ministry life.  I love my life as a ministry wife! And I’m passionate about encouraging other ministry wives and helping younger ones who are just starting out. The surprises I’ll share in this post {and at least one future post} are my own; yet they have been echoed and repeated time and time again by the pastors’ wives who write to me and from the ones I interact with in my support groups.  Those things that have taken you by surprise? They took us by surprise too. And even though joy and grief often exist simultaneously, I want to whisper into your heart that you will be ok.  You will be utterly weak and exhausted; then you will walk forward stronger, yet more dependent on God’s grace.  Your heart will break into pieces and then explode with joy. You will reel and then rest. You will be surprised and then you will discover the valuable gift that God has created just for you.

Maybe you’ll find yourself in this list of things that surprised me about ministry. And maybe…you’ve found the gifts too?

1. I’ve been surprised by how hard Satan fights against ministry couples/families.

Satanic oppression is very real. I heard about it in college and thought I was prepared for it. I wasn’t.  It came before youth activities and just before intense counseling appointments. It hung like a cloud and wouldn’t lift.  Our first ministry found us, on occasion,  praying and praying for the oppression to subside. I even emailed a mentor and asked her what to do about it. She said, “These battles are better fought with praise, than prayer.” We changed our strategy and began keeping a praise journal. It helped! We still faced oppression and we still had a self-proclaimed witch living not far from us, but our focus was different. Now, instead of saying “What in the world is going on here?!” we have learned to recognize the signs of the enemy. He will use anything…, your pet {don’t ask!}, finances, people’s words/actions, material things, kids, phone calls, etc. He will use anything to distract you, to frustrate you, to get you fussing at each other right before a ministry appointment, to bring down a leader and take many with him, to make it look like things are falling apart around you. But this is all the more reason to be sober and vigilant because our adversary wants to destroy ministry families. But…the gift? God is ALWAYS more powerful. He is ALWAYS the Victor. Satan can only do what God allows him to do. So let’s surprise the devil and be strong in the LORD.

2. I’ve been surprised at the culture shock that comes with any new ministry.

It doesn’t seem to matter what part of the town, city, state, province, country, world the new ministry is in. No matter what, when you make a change of ministry, there is a culture change and often culture shock. We had heard the term “culture shock” many times. But we didn’t have a clue what it actually would be like in real life. It’s not a big bang, it’s a trickle down effect that can leave you wondering if you came to the right place or if you’re even cut out for ministry. It can make you wonder what is wrong with the people you are trying to minister to and why they won’t get on board with what you’re trying to do. It might not be any deep or even spiritual reason. It might just be culture. Don’t rush it; don’t fight it. Take plenty of time to learn the new culture in which God has placed you. There will be disappointments, adjustments, and pleasantries. Embrace them all and you just might find another surprise waiting around the corner- that new culture may become your own. And the gift? God will change YOU to fit your new culture.

3.  I’ve been surprised by how unkind believers can be.

I had a professor in college who used to say in nearly every class, “You can’t hurt me; I’ve pastored.” He would say it in a humorous way, but it always left me confused and thinking, “What in the world does he mean?”  Well, suffice it to say that I no longer wonder. This is a common theme that I hear from pastors’ wives. And oh, how it grieves me! “Why,” they ask, “are my unsaved friends kinder to me than the people in my church?” “How can professing Christians get to the point of not even showing common courtesies?”  I wish I knew why and how. It has been one of the biggest shocks of ministry for me and for many, many others.  What I do know is that God has used those devastating times in my life to test my love for Him and for others- to take love to a whole new level.  He has helped me grow a tough skin but keep the tender heart that I often pray for. He has taught me how to forgive- to really forgive and be free- and how to make healthy choices that leave the door open for relationships to heal and to grow again.  Ask God to help you in this area and you will be surprised at how He fills your heart again with the capacity to love.  What a gift! Which brings me to my next surprise….

4. I’ve been surprised at how important bridges are.

You’ve heard the saying “Don’t burn your bridges.” Or maybe you’ve been told to burn your bridges behind you and get a fresh start. Don’t do it. Every bridge that you are tempted to burn, God will take you back to it. He will want to take you over that bridge in the opposite way that you first crossed…to heal you. And what if it’s not there anymore?  We all have times and places and people in our lives that tempt us to burn bridges. We think it will make our life easier and will create a better, less painful future. Want to know the truth? When you burn a bridge, you are actually making your future harder and more painful. My husband and I have chatted many times about the things that caused us pain in our lives and how we naturally avoided them, but how God has taken us back to every. single. one and has healed us in amazing, obvious ways. At first it was like “Um, God….don’t You remember what happened here? I don’t think we should be going this way!” “Yes, I remember,” He says, “That’s why you need to go back.” And oh, how He has surprised us with His healing….He has poured in oil and wine and has strengthened relationships and made painful places a haven of rest!  Honestly, for believers, there shouldn’t be any place you can’t return to, any person you don’t want to see or talk to.  If you do have those issues in your life, take heart! God wants to bring healing and hope to your life…via that bridge you’re tempted to burn right now.  Through eyes of faith, see that bridge as a gift.

5.  I’ve been surprised by the intensity of the joy that comes from ministering to others.

I love ministering to my ladies. There is nothing better than knowing that God used me to help meet a need or to encourage someone. To be the one they call when they need prayer or lose a loved one, to be the one they ask for counsel, to be the one they share their private burdens and joys with, to be the one they ask for help from, to know that we encouraged them through our music, to see how self sacrifice comes around to bless in return- well, I don’t know of any more humbling and  fulfilling way to spend my life. I’ve been surprised at the passion that wells up in my heart for the people God has given to us, both in our church and in our city. I’ve been surprised at the joy that explodes in my heart when I realize that God just gave me one of those divine appointments, whether with one of my own, or with a new acquaintance or even a total stranger in our city.  I’ve been surprised at how rich our family is even when we give away what we think we don’t have, whether it’s time or resources or money or food. I’ve been surprised at how, when it comes to ministering and giving to others, God’s ways seem all upside down. But, amazingly,  they just work! And who can say that deep, abiding joy is not a precious gift ?!

Let’s chat in the comments: What has surprised you the most about ministry? 


Pastors’ wives, do you need support? Join a small, private Heart-to-Heart group on Facebook and find encouragement, hope, and prayer among other pastors’ wives. I promise that you will be blessed! These groups are a ministry arm of Embracing Grace, and there are already 100 pastors’ wives who are finding support like they’ve never had before. Group #5 is waiting for you! Click here to request to join.