Over the course of fourteen years in ministry, I’ve saved a few particularly meaningful cards and emails from parishioners. These notes name specific ways that my care made a difference in the life of the writer or in his/her church as a whole. I am grateful for the time these folks took to sit down and put their experiences into words. Whenever I feel inadequate in my vocation, I can re-read their thoughts from years ago and be emboldened to do good ministry now.
One of the biggest predictors of pastoral satisfaction is feeling like your ministry matters. According to Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, this factor is significantly more important than both compensation and the number of hours spent at work. However, some congregations and constituents are better than others at expressing (or even owning) their appreciation for your preaching, teaching, pastoral care, or administration. So if you don’t hear “thank you” enough, it’s not necessarily because you’re doing an underwhelming job.
It does mean, though, that you might want to strengthen your internal sense of your vocational worth. Here are a few ways you might go about that:
- Take time at the end of each day to reflect on glimmers of God-ness you experienced. Where is somewhere unexpected that God popped up? How did God work through you or through someone in your care? Look for the smallest of sightings.
- Take time at the end of each week to think about what you accomplished, even if there is no tangible work product. (In ministry, there rarely is!)
- Follow-up with people who tell you a simple but heartfelt “thanks.” Ask what you did or said that made an impact. This helps you to know what you did well and trains that person to give you specifics.
- Give yourself grace and space to learn if you took a misstep. Sometimes we gain the most useful insight for ministry that matters from those hard lessons – times we unintentionally affected people we care about in negative ways.
You are doing ministry that matters. Even if you serve congregations of somewhat reserved people – engineers, farmers, introverts – who rarely tell you what you’re doing right. Even if you have a few very vocal complainers who make you dread coming to the office. Even if the pastor-parish fit is not precise and you’re looking for a better match. Find ways to remind yourself of that so that you can persist in the work to which you have been called.