Lutheran Church Extension Fund
3 Lessons from

3 Lessons from "Shooting the Rapids" of Ministry

Reading time: two minutes.

A report from the Covenant Church compares a life in ministry to rafting down a river.

The report suggests that there are three bends in the river at critical times that turn a challenging journey into a wild ride through the rapids.

See if these three trips through the rapids resonate with you. They sure did with me!

At the 3-5 year mark, nearly all pastors suddenly ask, “What am I doing?” The demands of ministry are way beyond the preparation we received at seminary.

At the 13-15 year mark, after making many enormous sacrifices, pastors ask, “Do I want to keep doing this?” You begin to count the cost at mid-career. The drop-out rate takes a big spike in this set of rapids.

Around about the 20-25 year mark, the vast majority of pastors begin to wonder, “What will I leave behind that is of lasting value for the kingdom?”

I’d love to hear if this has been your experience. I may dig deeper into each of these at another time, but today I want to take a bird’s eye view from 1,000 feet using the “journey down the river” analogy, and offer a few general thoughts about navigating these troubled waters. I hope this is an encouragement to you!

Lesson 1: The river will humble you; therefore self-awareness is essential.

Experienced river rafters advise, “Know your limitations.” Charging down the river thinking that you can handle anything that comes along is foolhardy. Humility is the essential quality of people in ministry.

You will face obstacles you never imagined. You’ll face questions for which you have no answers.

A humble heart will help you be less shocked and overwhelmed by the challenges, and more ready to seek the help of God and the Body of Christ to survive the rapids in these transition points in ministry.

Lesson 2: You’re gonna get wet; therefore just try not to get killed.

Your safety equipment for the dangerous ride down the river are the boundaries you set, and keep, as you embark on the expedition. Many church workers get swamped, overturned and even destroyed by the wild ride of ministry.

Strong spiritual, relational, sexual, physical, emotional, and financial boundaries are a safeguard against succumbing to the bumps, splashes, and unforeseen hazards along the way.

Protect yourself.

Lesson 3: The river is constantly changing; therefore stay curious and learn every day.

You’re not the only one on the crazy ride through the rapids. Stay connected to others in ministry. Be vulnerable and open about your struggles. Start some conversations about navigating uncharted waters.

Put that gift of humility to work. Enter each day with the expectation that something is likely to happen for which you are not fully prepared.

Build space into your schedule to reflect on what’s happening, and to prayerfully think through your situation: What’s happening? How am I reacting? What help do I need to get through this difficult time?

And remember that there is grace.

Our God specializes in pulling us out of the water and sending us back down the river again!

Thanks for reading.