When ministry is unglamorous

  • Tara Sing
  • 16 February 2017

If you’re someone imagining what a life of ministry could look like for you, it’s easy and more fun to picture it being pretty glamorous, with expanding programs and people coming to know Christ and growing in their faith. But we actually need to be content with unglamorous service.

When Jesus says we need to take up our cross daily, he’s not just talking about enduring pain and hardship from the world (although that needs to happen). We need to die to ourselves daily, completely, which includes dying to our dreams of what it will look like to serve God, both now and in the future. Dying to ourselves is about sacrificing the things we want for the kingdom of God. We don’t always get to select our opportunities—sometimes our ministries are handed to us by the Lord, and sometimes they are as far from glamorous as you can get.

What is an unglamorous ministry? It’s a ministry where nobody sees you serving. It includes faithfully walking besides someone through years of grief or pain. It’s the ministry that cuts into your personal time, for which the reward seems little and almost not worth it. It’s the faithful and quiet service of driving someone to and from church weekly, knowing they may never repay the favour or buy you a tank of fuel. It is being an ear for those whose burdens are great—and a patient one when they refuse to address problems that they could solve themselves. It is washing the feet of weary travellers or, in our modern context, putting fresh sheets on the bed and providing a hot supper when they arrive. It is cleaning toilets and sweeping empty halls when everyone else has gone. It is spending time with the person at church who is awkward and avoided. It is praying with all your might for those who are lost. Sometimes it is simply devoting yourself to caring for family members or friends who are enduring one season of hardship after another. It’s the ministry that we think is hard, that we can’t be bothered with, or that we struggle to do joyfully. 

Unglamorous ministry can be discouraging, it can feel unrewarding, and it can be frustrating because we had a different type of service in mind. Unglamorous ministry demands a little louder that we die to ourselves, and these deaths hurt a little more because they have a higher cost.

There are many ways and opportunities to serve. There are many ways that God uses us to change eternity. Not all of them involve preaching or paid ministry roles. Not all of them involve theological study or international service. Sometimes ministry simply involves taking life one step at a time with others.

We need to die to our fantasies of what ministry will look like, and instead we need to roll up our sleeves and serve. This is the kind of service that Jesus demonstrates as he allows nails to be driven through his hands. This is the kind of service Philippians 2 talks about, where the infinite becomes finite in order to let the lives he created take his life. This is the kind of service where the King of kings dies the lowest of deaths in order to save sinners like you and me. There is nothing glamorous about hanging naked on a cross—but it is where God’s glory shines brightest.

When it comes to unglamorous ministry, we need to be more than just content. This is the kind of service we need to seek out. There are many ways to serve, and not all of them can be glamorous, but they can all bring glory to God.

Self-reflection questions for diagnosing desire for glamorous ministry:

  • Do you get frustrated when people keep coming to you with the same issues and struggles?
  • What ministries do you give your money to, and why do you fund particular people and causes?
  • What makes you disappointed in ministry?
  • What do you consider success in service?
  • Are there areas you don’t volunteer to serve in because you consider them beneath you? (Or maybe you just think that other things are more worth your time?)
  • Is receiving praise and thanks from others a strong motivator for you?
  • What areas of ministry do you refuse to do? Why do you refuse to do them?
  • Who are you friends with at church? Are any of these relationships difficult?
  • Who are the people you avoid at church? Why do you avoid them?