As the weather reminds us that summer is moving into autumn, we also find natural changes in life on mission. While they may not leave us shell-shocked because they’re unexpected, new seasons of service do bring their own surprises and challenges. It’s helpful to not just be aware that ministry may look different, but that some avenues of ministry may be closed while new ones open.
A change in marital status changes ministry.
I have served as a single, married, and widowed woman in ministry. For men or women, ministry as singles has its unique focus, especially toward children or other singles of the same sex. Also, as singles, we are able to go at our own pace, undeterred by family duties. This is not to say that married life hinders our ministry, but it does add a new dimension to our lives, as God calls on us to focus on our spouse and children first. They are simply a new aspect of our service to God.
For many who marry while on the field, the shift can be jarring. It’s important not to push back against the seeming loss of freedom, but to yield to one’s spouse and begin to work together, like Aquilla and Priscilla, to find the ways the Lord can use you as a couple. As married couples, we gain access to homes that most singles never enjoy, expanding our reach for the Kingdom. Moving from a single to married worker means a new look at how you schedule your time to gain a new balance that benefits both your marriage and ministry.
Losing a spouse in ministry also changes a person’s direction, and while closing doors to a ministry of two, eventually opens doors to new ways to serve as single again. The important thing in this season of change is to give yourself time and not rush in or try to continue a ministry when you’re still grieving.
Moving from a language learner to language speaker.
Being in the language learning season feels like it will never end for most who’ve endured the experience, and yet, when you’ve passed that last level and are released, you’re not sure what to do. I’m here to tell you—you’ll always be learning the language! However, you will now be free to move into your assigned ministry role, and that can be intimidating in itself. For those who are moving into this season, I encourage you to get a national or ex-pat believer to walk with you in the early days. This will help to make sure you’ve got a good grasp of not only the language to do your job but an understanding of the culture in which you’ll serve.
Working hard to learn a new language is crucial to effective ministry. Do what you need to do to build your skills during the language learning season but also as you move into full-time ministry.
The move from full-time ministry to being a veteran worker and mentor.
This season can come in stages, and it’s not always intuitive to see. As the years pass in service, you may suddenly find you’re the veteran on your team. If anything is true in mission service, it’s that people come and go through the years, sometimes leaving even the newbies as the veterans for a while. Here, however, I’m talking about those who have mastered the language, served faithfully through the years, and now are becoming the go-to source for advice and leadership.
As we served in the Middle East and North Africa, we found that we were called on to speak at conferences, train new personnel, and be sounding boards in times of conflict. This put our day-to-day ministry on pause to allow for travel and counseling. This can be a wonderful time of seeing the next generation develop and learn the ropes in service. It’s wonderful if you’ve not made yourself indispensable in ministry but have raised up local believers to carry on without you. For us, we decided a move to another country would facilitate this changing season and allow those we left behind to carry on without growing dependent.
Even when our bodies don’t let us do much outside our homes, a war remains for us to actively wage on our knees.
As we serve in ministry and age in life, ministry changes. Be open to how the Lord wants to use you in each season and watch for the blessings he’s sure to bring.
Grace and Peace
For more on the seasons of ministry, read When Doors Close: Changing Course in Missions Without Losing Your Way.