When my husband and I converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism nine years ago, I knew it was God’s voice calling us, and I wanted to obey him wholeheartedly. I had just one tiny request: Lord, could the church we go to have a really kick-butt music ministry? Coming from a background rich with musical worship experiences, and as a vocalist myself, this aspect of Mass was an important bridge from one era of my faith life to the next. God in his mercy graciously obliged. When we were confirmed nine years ago, my husband and I slid comfortably into our church’s vibrant music ministry.
As the years have gone by, however, this once-thriving ministry has seen many changes, and in the last couple of years has become a shadow of its former self. After our previous music minister moved away, things have never been quite the same. All but a handful of singers and instrumentalists have left, the sense of camaraderie previously so robust has dwindled, and parishioners have begun to speak up about the declining quality of music at Mass.
It’s tempting–so very tempting–to walk away myself. But I haven’t, and I won’t. I’m committing to stay the course, even though this ministry has hit a rough patch.
For me, this commitment comes down to a calling. It’s not guilt or obligation holding me to a ministry that has taken a downturn. I certainly can’t single-handedly save it or whip it back into its former sunshine-and-rainbows shape. Rather, I feel moved to step up when others have chosen not to or haven’t been able to. God has given me the talent of singing. I still enjoy it, and I believe he can still use me—perhaps even use me more—now that others have abandoned ship. “It’s not exciting anymore” or “It could be so much better” or “But others have left, why shouldn’t I?” aren’t compelling enough reasons for me to drop out. When a ministry has value—whether leading others to worship through music, catechizing children, or serving the poor—and there are no imperative reasons to leave it, I’m opting to remain.
Choosing to stick it out through a low season in ministry can bring surprising blessings. I’ve repeatedly been amazed at how God has worked through me when I’ve simply shown up to serve. Years ago I was a youth leader for junior high girls, though I had no experience working with preteens. From those couple of years of involvement, I saw enormous growth in the girls I mentored. I also gained a community of friends that still exists today—even though that ministry, too, had its share of challenges. Who knows what unforeseen graces may result from continuing to serve my current less-than-perfect church group?
Still, there is a time and place to leave a lifeless or unhealthy ministry. Sometimes it’s even necessary to leave a thriving ministry if God has made it clear that’s his will. Using tools of discernment can help us determine when to stay and when to go. Some questions to ask in the midst of a ministry funk include: “Do my values still align with this ministry?” “Do I have time in my life to give meaningfully to this cause?” and “Is this ministry genuinely dysfunctional, or just not optimal?” Seeking input from a trusted mentor, listing pros and cons, and of course, prayer are all resources that can lead to either a feeling of release or a call to stay.
Not surprisingly, these discernment methods can be used in many other areas of decision-making as well, be it deciding about staying in a job, a living situation, or dating relationship. Taking time to listen for God’s voice can help us determine what’s holding us to a commitment–and whether that commitment is worth continuing.
Every ministry experiences seasons of strength and weakness. Realizing this truth makes riding the waves of this natural process more bearable. This too shall pass. And on the other side of it, seeing the fruits of your perseverance may make you very thankful you stuck it out.