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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Not always easy, but good

It happened again. And I love it!

I received a beautiful articulated, deeply reflective communication from one of our interns. This came as part of an ongoing conversation we’ve been having about the stressful situation they are in. This intern reflected on what had happened (neither of us would call it good), what the intern has learned, how God appears to be at work in the midst of it, and what they are doing in response. Wonderful!

One cannot be human, or do ministry, without encountering difficulty, pain, loss, or other varieties of stress. The origins of these hard challenges vary: sometimes we cause them, sometimes we contribute to them, sometimes they just happen and we are in the way. In any case, we live with the impact.

Many of you know that I have long appreciated the lens of Bowen Family Systems theory to view and interact with the world. One of the insights of this lens is: “What happens to you matters; what you do in response matters more.” Or to paraphrase: “What happens is important; what happens next is crucial.”

We cannot possibly avoid hard realities. Bad things happen. We say dumb things. We hurt (and are hurt by) others. We make mistakes. And when those things occur, the important question is, “Now what do I do?” Our temptation is to make things even worse by using a repertoire most of us know all too well: denying, blaming, excusing, wallowing, defending, personalizing, justifying…well, you know the list. But if/when we can respond utilizing another list, e.g., admitting, apologizing, reflecting, engaging, reframing, forgiving, recreating, etc., then bad things get better, rather than worse.

I think of these times as "Romans 8 moments." Among the most helpful portions of Scripture for me is Romans 8. It is a brief, profound expression of the realities of life and the promise that God works in the midst of them with and for us.

Internship year will offer plenty of opportunity for Romans 8 moments. I’ve had conversations with several of you already, and there will be more. I don’t love it when you are in difficulty or stress. But I do love it when you respond to those challenges. And over and over again, I see you do it. If God is at work anywhere, God is surely at work in and through you at such times.

Ministry isn’t easy, but it surely is good. God be with us all.

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