Thinking about Ministry and Personal Mistakes

Tony Payne has a good interview with Phillip Jenson on his experiences in the ministry. The interview is titled, “The Mistakes of Philip Jenson.” Here is one section of it. Tony asks, “Well, knowing what you do now, thinking back over decades in ministry: if you were talking to a young man or woman in ministry just getting started, what would you say to them?” Jenson says,

You’ve got to take up your cross and follow Jesus. So this is no career move for the faint-hearted. This is no career move for someone who wants an easy life or a nice life. You’re not going to be accepted, and you’re not going to be liked: you are following the crucified one.

So grasp that reality before you start. That’s not an invitation for nasty people to join the ministry. If you enjoy conflict you have a spiritual problem. But if you withdraw from conflict, or think you’re going to win people over by niceness, you have a major problem because you’re not actually dealing with Christianity. People like using the suffering servant of the cross as an image of loving service. It is that. But it is also an image of painful martyrdom and alienation and rejection. That’s what Christian ministry is always going to be about.

Secondly then, it’s really important to be at one with your spouse about it. Family life is really important, and without a good wife beside me I could not have survived the years that God has given me in the work that I’ve been doing. Helen’s strength has been massive in enabling me to do what I do.

The third thing is: expect to make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, it’s good to make mistakes. A person who hasn’t made mistakes hasn’t tried hard enough. You can’t be in a people ministry without making mistakes. You can’t be in something as complicated as Christian ministry without making mistakes. But you’ve got to learn how to deal with mistakes. You’ve got to be able to say, “Yeah, I got that dead wrong. I need to say sorry, and to fix up the things I can fix up, and to leave the rest to God. I have to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.” Mind you, some mistakes have consequences that you bear for the rest of your life. You can’t avoid that.


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