What is ministry? In seeking to answer this important life-defining question in a meaningful way, I tried to begin at the beginning.
Being a writer, I tend to consider the words I use carefully, often reverting to the dictionary to be sure I choose the word which most exactly communicates my intended message. So I looked up “ministry.” The dictionary defines ministry as “service, functions, or profession of a minister of religion.” I laughed. I thought, well this will be short. It’s ministry because I’m doing it!
This amused me for awhile. But then I realized it’s not so far from the truth. I believe there are a number of ingredients that make my community work “ministry.” And one of those ingredients is me. What makes work ministry is about who is doing it, why we are doing it, and how we are doing it.
In Divinity School one enhancing experience for me was when seminarians swapped stories about their “Call.” Some were humble about it; some were arrogant; some were actually surprised to find themselves studying for the ministry. But everyone there had chosen to follow the call.
So, who are ministers? For starters, we are folks who listen to voices! I always leave that part out when psychiatrists and lawyers ask me about my life choices! But the truth is we are human beings who have chosen to look and listen within – knowing that life is about more than the external world.
I began working in the child abuse field in 1989 while I was studying for the ministry. I gave sermons and led workshops for ministers and religious educators. I wrote a book on child sexual abuse (A Moral Emergency: Breaking the Cycle of Child Sexual Abuse) specifically for religious communities. This was an easy way to make it look like ministry – connect it to a church. But ministers and religious educators and congregations are not really interested in my work. In fact, people have told me that child sexual abuse is not an appropriate topic for Sunday worship. My vision of a church based child abuse ministry faded because there is no apparent need for my service.
I refocused my attention on manuscripts I began writing during my seminary internship at the District Attorney’s Office. I sought a publisher and found one. So how does writing a book about the prosecution process for teenagers who have been sexually abused translate into ministry? Well, because I’m doing it, right? But we’ve already covered that. So let’s move from the person part of the equation onto purpose.
“To minister” means to give service, care, or aid. During the course of my internship at the DA’s office, I learned that there were numerous court-oriented resources for young children, but none for adolescents who make up the majority of sexual abuse victims in the courts.
People are impressed that I have published these books. And with humility I tell you that I am not the world’s greatest writer. These books were published not because of my talent, but because they meet a need. These books are ministry because they provide care and aid to an unserved population of victims of child sexual abuse. Providing this aid was my primary purpose for completing the project. It took me twelve years, and required me to intentionally overcome professional obstacles and personal resistance. I did not want to do the final two years of work. But I did it anyway. I did it because in addition to service, I consider perseverance and completion to be core spiritual values. And the joy I now feel, knowing that this resource will aid abused teens and their parents, has replaced any angst I experienced along the way.
What makes these books ministry is evident in the title: We Are Not Alone. In the Foreword to the workbooks for the victims, Dr. Renee Brant, a child psychiatrist, wrote that the title carries a two-fold message. It tells teen victims of abuse that there are other kids going through similar trials; and it tells them that there are trained adults available to guide them through the process. I think it’s great that people think this is what the title means. It sounds reasonable and professional. But for me, the meaning of the title is in the dedication: For all the abused children who lie awake at night, feeling helpless, hopeless, and forsaken, longing for merciful sleep. You are not alone. “God is with you,” is what I hoped to communicate.
These books are ministry because they let abused teens know that they are important; they have rights; they deserve to be respected and protected; they are precious children of God.
How I do my ministry encircles both the person and the purpose – the who and the why of my ministry. I do my ministry with God’s help. I am never alone in my work. I did not write these books. God and I wrote them. Before beginning the first chapter in the Guidebook for parents and helping professionals, I sat outside in the sun on the deck of my home because my mind was blank from resistance – writer’s block they call it. I sat and then I paced. And finally a crow soaring across the sky caught my eye....suddenly my mind opened and words poured onto the blank page.
How I always try to do my ministry is with humility and integrity. It’s not about me; and it’s all about me. In addition to meaning “honesty,” integrity means “whole.” I try to bring all of who I am to my work. To the writing of these books I brought my desire to provide aid, my resistance, my perseverance, and my satisfaction in completion. I brought my reality...and part of my reality is that I seek God’s presence and guidance and assistance in everything I do.
Who, why, how? The Answers to these questions – that’s what makes it ministry.