I was spending time with one of my students the other day and he was flirting with the idea of one day becoming a youth minister amongst a few other careers. He didn’t flat-out say it, but basically asked “so how poor are youth ministers”? We had a great conversation and I basically told him to look at my home, clothes, cars and decide for himself if I looked poor or not.
As we kept talking I was trying to explain to him that there was an elusive blessing that many in ministry receive. Without using the term, I described the blessing of the ravens. The term is based on God’s use of these rather unattractive birds to provide for Elijah in 1 Kings 17. As the son of a pastor I remember an anonymous man stuffing our freezer with all kinds of meat, bags of hand-me-down clothes on the porch or free tickets to some kind of event for our family. In my own experience in ministry, the ravens have blessed my family in many ways and half of those blessed birds are anonymous. I now realize as I look back on my childhood that we didn’t have too many material things compared to some of my friends, but the ravens kept me from realizing that.
For Elijah, the ravens came and went and the brook actually dried up, sending Elijah packing. I firmly believe that God continues to provide throughout ministry, but he might not use the ravens in the same way or maybe not at all. What I’m really trying to say is that there is a danger in thinking “well, I’m suffering for the Lord with this puny salary as a youth minister, so these church folks better start dishing out the goods!” I confess that I have had seasons of the “poor-me’s” and they usually happen when my prayer life goes from being a willing servant to an entitled whiner. It is this very discussion of expecting God to bless us in the ways we want him to that makes me nervous about the prosperity gospel.
There was a time where the church family literally supported the priest/pastor by providing food and shelter for them. In many ways, the Catholic church still cares for their priests with basic provisions instead of large compensation packages that many protestant pastors receive. Most congregations I’ve been around have many people in the congregation who make much less than their youth minister and pastor does and these brothers and sisters could use a raven or two. I have realized the never-ending faithfulness of God as I have recently tried to be a raven to some special people in my life. Even though I have grown in the area of stewardship, I know that deep inside of me is this voice that still thinks the church owes me something. The church owes me nothing. I realize more and more that I am one amongst a local flock of ravens who owe much to our God who has really long arms.
* Inspired by Dr. Jim Singleton, my friend and pastor who has been teaching on Elijah this summer.