Stefa Chappell is the Northeast Regional Director for Chi Alpha and also leads the Georgetown Med School Chi Alpha group. She recently completed her Master's degree, and when she's not taking care of her adorable dog Finn she's probably out for a run, or helping a friend shop for the perfect outfit.
There are a million topics running through my mind as I consider the question, "What is the hardest thing about ministry" for this blog.
I immediately think of the long hours and the fact that there is never an end to what we do (you can't really say to someone, "Congratulations, you're all done being discipled. My work is done!").
I think of the middle of the night phone calls and the sadness that comes with watching people make choices that hurt themselves, others or the heart of God.
I think of all of the goodbyes that came when people left the ministry for good reasons (graduation) and not so good reasons ("I'm going somewhere else because I'm just not getting fed").
I think of the times that people flat out hurt me or other people I care about. All of these things are true (and still not as weighty as the beautiful things about being in ministry). I think, though, that the hardest thing about being in ministry comes down to one small phrase that has huge implications: unmet expectations.
There are a million ways we are met with unmet expectations on any given day. For me, the reality of this came after over twenty years of campus ministry experience on all kinds of campuses when I stepped onto a campus that was a foreign land to me.
I started serving at Georgetown Medical School--a totally new field for me. I did not think, though, that ministry at the Med School would be that different. I mean, I had been working with students in campus ministry since these med students toddled around the kitchen with applesauce on their faces! I know how to minister to students and even know a little bit about how to develop a ministry. Our first semester exceeded my expectations--we were seeing something good! And then second semester came...
I have learned that while in med school, students' lives are not their own. The med school schedule is set and secure. Classes, seminars, small groups, hospital visits, community service, rotations and more are laid out for the students and are (except for some of the class time) non-negotiable. All of these things fill the daylight hours before students go home and study for hours, late into the night. Occasionally, the school will then add a requirement during the lunch hour--right when we meet.
As the second semester of my first year at Georgetown Med began, I felt the familiar rise of anticipation that our ministry would continue our growth trajectory. I was quite excited to see our ministry grow as we reached out to more students, raised up the next generation of leaders, and increased our presence on campus.
I invited a few students to begin stepping out into more influential roles in our ministry--leading the discussion in our meetings and helping discern the topics we covered. I was so excited to see what would happen next!
I began to see how hard unmet expectations are when our numbers started dropping off a few weeks into the second semester. Then, some of the students who agreed to serve in a variety of ways had to back out because they were informed of additions to their schedules--things they had no control over.
I felt my disappointment that the expectations I had for growth would not be met. I was disappointed that the students I had pinned some hopes on for our development would not be able to participate like I expected.
It is easy, during those times, to get critical. Critical of capabilities or of the med school schedule. Critical of a field that taxes it's students so dramatically. And that's when ministry gets hard.
I'm not sure that living without expectation is possible, so I'm not recommending we just lose all expectations. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether our expectation is directed rightly on the Lord. Is my expectation--my hope--on my strategy, my knowledge, my experience or my God? This question is essential for my long term leadership health because when I put my expectation on something other than my good God, that's when ministry gets hard.