As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22 (CEB)
I have to confess, some days (weeks/months) I fantasize about tropical islands. I can picture us there, my family and I, on a small Caribbean Isle. We’d live in thatch-roofed house with a wrap-around deck on a lush verdant hillside. Rough stone steps would snake a path down the hill to a rocky cay. There, the boys would explore the wonders of nature while I sat atop the hill writing. My husband would have an outdoor dockside office, owning and operating a boating guide service for tourists. We would live a quiet life, picking fruit from our trees and drinking cool water sprinkled with coconut milk.
This is the place I go to in those moments when I wonder, “Is ministry really worth it?” My husband, who is much more evolved than I, always answers that question with a resounding “YES!” I, on the other hand, ponder images of crystalline water and snorkeling.
The truth is, ministry–be it professional, personal, or volunteer–is hard. When Jesus spoke to his disciples about ministry, he didn’t use the terms competitive salary and full benefits. Rather, Jesus talked about the cost of being a disciple. He told his disciples that they would be disrespected, ridiculed, judged, imprisoned, persecuted, and even put to death for their work. For Jesus, ministry was never a question of what you got. Rather, it was a question of what you would give.
You would think that the disciples might have reconsidered their commitment at this point. You would think that they, like the young rich ruler who came to Jesus seeking eternal life, would have said, “Thanks, but, no thanks.” You would think they would have said, “Ministry really isn’t worth it.”
But they didn’t.
When Jesus called his first disciples, they came–immediately. They literally stopped working, put down their fishing nets, left their families, and followed Jesus. Immediately. There was no hesitation. Regardless of what would come, following Jesus was worth it. Of course, there were times of doubt. There were times of fear. There were times of hurt. There were times when nothing made sense. But yet, they continued on.
When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he questioned whether or not continuing in ministry was worth it. In Philippians 1, Paul writes of his conflict. He is tired. His body is worn out. He wants to go home, to live eternally with Christ. However, Paul affirms that continuing the path of ministry is worth it. He knows his journey is not yet done. He tells the Philippians, “I’m supposed to help you continue to grow in your faith.”
Throughout the history of our faith, we see faithful disciples affirming the call to ministry in spite of the overwhelming obstacles they face. Corrie Ten Boom risked her life to save the lives of others during the Holocaust. She kept her hope (and faith) alive in the midst of the horrors of a concentration camp–teaching others about Christ’s love while living in the midst of hate.
Bishop Desmond Tutu was propelled by his faith to fight for the rights of black South Africans throughout his ministry. He took on the apartheid government and fought to end segregation. Similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr. fought to end segregation in the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King was beaten, imprisoned, and ultimately gave his life for the cause. And yet, he continued on.
When I think about these champions of faith persevering through enormous obstacles, I can’t help but be a little ashamed of my island dreams. The truth is, if we are truly Jesus People, then ministry is always worth it. It’s not worth it because of the fruits of our labor, although that can be a byproduct. It is worth is because it is what we are called to do. Ministry is, and always has been, an act of obedience. Ministry is worth it because we are called to obediently follow Christ. Sometimes we will be disappointed. Sometimes we will be challenged. Sometimes we will be attacked. And sometimes, our feelings will just be plum hurt.
Even so, Jesus says, “Come–follow me.” And while I might hesitate for a moment, in the end, I know following Jesus is always worth it.
Blessings and Peace,
P.S. I love this quote from Bishop Tutu:
Despite all the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who are held in high regard are not militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try and make the world a better place.