I recently read an article in The Weekend Australian Magazine about unfortunately-named “bulls*** jobs”: jobs that are meaningless, that don’t add value to anyone’s life, that are designed just to make others look good, or, more troublingly, to make other people’s lives more difficult, or to solve problems caused by other employees who should know better. Reading the article made me thankful that I am getting paid to do a job that is deeply meaningful and which I love!
I am thankful that I am getting paid to do a job that is deeply meaningful and which I love!
I work (half-time) as the Women’s Discipleship Minister at St Jude’s Anglican Church, in Carlton, inner-city Melbourne. St Jude’s is a five-minute walk from Melbourne University, and the evening congregation I work with (called Unichurch) is focused on uni students and young adults. I work under and alongside the Unichurch Minister.
Mentoring and Training for Eternity
I love the fact that my job has eternal significance: my overarching aim is to help young adults become Christians and/or grow as disciples of Christ. What is at stake is not just life now, but for eternity.
For believers and unbelievers alike, young adulthood is often a time to review what you believe, to set long-term goals, to make decisions about career and marriage, and to work out who you are and what kind of a person you want to be. Hence, the time people spend at Unichurch is a great opportunity to be given a solid foundation in the Bible; and to be trained in ministry skills, including preparing and leading a small group Bible study; leading Sunday services; gaining the confidence to read the Bible one-to-one with another Christian or with someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus; preparing a talk for a women’s event; and helping to organise conferences and other events.
The aim of these mentoring relationships is to help these women grow in their understanding of God’s Word and to make the most of the relational richness provided by a one-to-one relationship to apply God’s Word to their lives.
The core part of my work is mentoring women in the congregation. There are usually five with whom I meet one-on-one on a fortnightly basis to read the Bible and pray. We usually work through a book of the Bible (currently, I’m reading Genesis, Leviticus, Habakkuk, 1 Timothy and James). The aim of these mentoring relationships is to help these women grow in their understanding of God’s Word and in obedience to it, to equip them to “rightly handle the word of truth” themselves, and to make the most of the relational richness provided by a one-to-one relationship to apply God’s Word to their lives. This is often a context where they are able to share personal struggles and joys (e.g. issues to do with sexuality; various stresses; whether to get married, or to break up; how to relate to others at church) and to discuss questions about theology (e.g. “Did Adam go to heaven?”, “How does ceremonial uncleanness in Leviticus relate to spiritual uncleanness?”). Quite often there are tears (I always carry a mini-pack of tissues!). I am humbled when people trust me enough to share personal, painful things with me.
Aside from this more intensive mentoring ministry, our congregation is small enough (about 95 each Sunday) for me to get to know everyone personally. I aim to meet one-to-one with women new to the congregation, as well as with those facing challenges of various kinds, and with “lost sheep” who are drifting away. Often I will read a Bible passage with them—usually the passage for the following Sunday’s sermon. I love getting to know new people, finding out their story, who they are, what their church/religious background is, what their particular needs and opportunities are at this time. It’s helpful that I am an extrovert (though I confess to being less extroverted now that I used to be!).
I am also involved alongside the Unichurch minister in training our small group leaders. Three Sundays out of four, we run training for our small group leaders before our evening service. It’s wonderful to see them grow in their understanding of the Bible, their confidence in the power of God’s word, and their ability to explain it to others. This year we are spending the whole year working through the book of Romans, digging deep into this challenging book.
I appreciate working alongside a leader who recognises the value of having a female staff member to focus on work with women, while he focuses on work with men; and who invites my input on various decisions to do with the life of the congregation. I also love being part of a wider staff team at St Jude’s and am conscious of how lonely and isolated ministry can be in a small church. It’s wonderful to get support when things are hard, to share joys, and to have easy access to advice and suggestions about resources.
I also pray regularly for those at Unichurch—both regular members and those on the fringes—which helps me get to know people better, remember names, and grow in love for them.
The Costs of Ministry
Ministry is costly. Firstly, there’s the fact that relating to people constantly is tiring and often emotionally draining. Often, every conversation feels spiritually loaded, and I’m always thinking about what to say that will be helpful and pastoral and true. Investing deeply in women’s lives has an emotional and spiritual toll. Loving people makes us vulnerable – to the grief I feel when people move away (or when a mentoring relationship comes to an end), to sharing others’ pain and suffering and struggles, to anxiety for ‘lost sheep’ who are straying.
Secondly, as with any ministry, there always seems to be more that I could be doing, so keeping my workload (and my expectations of myself) reasonable is a constant struggle.
A particular temptation in my job is the arrogance and inflated ego that can come from being 25 years older than most of the congregation, and having others look up to me. When someone I meet with is assiduously writing down the pearls of wisdom that drop from my lips (!), or I’m used to always asking the questions and letting others be vulnerable, but not being vulnerable myself, this can foster self-righteousness and pride. I am thankful for a husband who keeps me grounded, and for friends with whom I can share honestly about what’s going on in my life.
The insecurity of ministry makes it costly. Sometimes women’s ministry roles are unpaid (as I’ve experienced in the past), which can lead to a devaluing of ministry done by women.
Finally, the insecurity of ministry makes it costly. Sometimes women’s ministry roles are unpaid (as I’ve experienced in the past), which can lead to a devaluing of ministry done by women. Even when they are paid, they are often part-time, insecure and temporary. These roles are usually the last to be appointed and the first to go when there’s a budget crisis. Sometimes I am tempted to worry that I am in my mid-40s and don’t have a stable career: but I need to keep reorienting myself to God’s values and God’s way of seeing things and judging what is worthwhile.
The joys of ministry
Let me reiterate that the joys outweigh the sorrows! It’s a thrill seeing people come to faith, serving, growing, making costly decisions for the sake of Christ. My heart sings when I see shy people making an effort to greet newcomers at church; when someone tells me they have started reading the Bible with a work colleague or fellow-student; when I see people come to church faithfully each week (even when they have an essay due the next morning!); when someone tells me they are trying to work out how much money to give to church; when someone grapples with how to love their extended family. And I grow through reading the Bible with others – gaining new insights from their comments and questions, such as being moved almost to tears recently as I discussed with one of the girls whom I mentor what faith meant from Habakkuk 2:4.
I love what I do! I am very thankful for the opportunities I have to serve, and for a life that is not meaningless, but full and rich and stimulating and satisfying.
Photo: Naomi Hutchinson, unsplash.com
 David Graeber, “My Bullsh*t Career”, The Weekend Australian Magazine, May 12-13, 2018, pages 20-23.