What does it take to persevere long-term in ministry? It’s the question that the Rev Neil Scott and the Rev David Morgan attempted to answer at the recent Ministry in Marginalised Areas Conference.
People gathered at St Mark’s, Lalor Park from across the Diocese to hear from those serving in these areas, and to be strengthened for ministry among men and women living on the fringes of society.
The conference committee defines a marginalised area as containing a group of people who have been pushed to the margins of society in some way, and are looked down upon by some because of their economic and/or cultural background.
Mr Morgan is senior minister at St Mark’s, Sadleir, a suburb near Liverpool where only one in three people have a job. At Albion Park Rail in the Illawarra, where Mr Scott serves as senior minister, 40 per cent of the community are not in the workforce and a third of families live on less than $800 per week.
In a workshop on perseverance, they shared their experiences of ministry in marginalised areas and advice on how to keep going.
What makes it tough
One of the toughest parts of the job, according to Mr Scott, is walking alongside people in their daily struggles and suffering. Doing this through the past few years, which have been a mess of COVID lockdowns and cost-of-living crisis, has been exceptionally challenging.
“I would go out [in lockdown] each day with hampers and be on the street with people, on their doorsteps at a safe distance,” he says. “I’d be reading them the Bible. I’d be praying with them. I’d be talking to them. They’d just be weeping.
“If you put struggling families in lockdown in houses, domestic violence is going up. We’ve got people attempting suicide. We’ve got people actually committing suicide. My community was on fire…. [I’m] walking every day with the spiritual armour on, but there were a lot of bruises below the surface.”
Caring for the community is hard work, but Mr Morgan adds that it’s harder when there’s mistrust and misjudgement surrounding your efforts.
“Many years ago, I approached a couple [at a former church I pastored] to share my concern that they’d missed church ten weeks in a row. And one of them absolutely shredded me. ‘How dare you judge us? You don’t have the right to call yourself our pastor.’ ... What's really hard is when your motives are misunderstood or misjudged. That happens everywhere, including tough communities, and it's one of the things I have found most difficult for endurance in ministry.”
How we persevere
The key to continuing to serve when it’s really tough is pursuing joy in the Lord and clinging to it. Both ministers recommend having a Christian support network, made up of friends and professionals, who can remind you of this joy when things are difficult.
Friends aren’t the only way to be reminded, though. Says Mr Morgan: “The number one thing I’ve found helpful to pursue joy is praying written prayers of believers who have persevered in ministry before us. They remind me of the truth about God and the Scriptures, and they keep my eyes lifted to him”.
Both emphasised the importance of caring for yourself physically as well, and not neglecting yourself for the sake of those you’re trying to serve. Mr Morgan recommends more sleep, while Mr Scott encourages guilt-free days off.
“I go and grab a surf, bicycle and just enjoy God’s beautiful creation,” he says.
“Don’t feel guilty because you have stacked up emails – they’re always going to be there. You need to look after yourself as well.”
Mr Scott, who has a regular fortnightly phone call with a mentor to help him talk through issues, says it’s important not to think of professional support as a negative thing. “Think of it as a really positive thing that may encourage you and protect you in the ministry to do it long term.”
Tips for persevering in ministry
Surround yourself with Christian support
Embrace professional support
Care for yourself physically: keep an eye on your sleep, diet and exercise
Establish healthy boundaries around serving others and taking time to rest
Know what refreshes you in ministry and include it in your week among everything else