On ministry success. Honestly.

I’ve played in a ton of bands. Lots of them have gone on to get Dove Awards, Grammys, Emmys, sold hundreds of thousands of albums, saved babies from runaway trains… you know, stuff like that. I won’t spend time namedropping further, but I tell you this so you know that I’ve had a front row seat to watch many others’ success. Front row? Maybe a backseat? Or the car behind?

I’ve spent lots of time comparing myself to others. Am I as good as? Am I a better _____? Am I thin enough? Should I have said/done _____? Does anyone care about what I’m doing? I want to be in the driver’s seat if I’m honest.

One of the triggers for me for this conflicted questioning comes at the beginning of many events with which I’m involved. No merch table? The sound man didn’t show? The lyrics for corporate worship don’t follow the music? The piano is located where I can’t even SEE the congregation? I’m opening for a freaking magician? No one asked if I’d had a chance to eat – or even had a rental car in this new city to get food? What town is this again? And on and on and on. It gets me in a tizzy where I can’t figure out if I’m in it for serving the Lord or not. I mean, it’s not about me – so maybe I shouldn’t worry about how many CDs are sold or if I’m visible to the “audience” or if anyone gives me an intro. At the same time, I’m not here to be a cover band. I don’t want to show up just to get the music box “checked”. I’ve prepared in a way that I trust the Lord brought me with a purpose for the weekend/week/night. If audio/visual/logistical things are oversights or, worse, distractions, these interfere. Naturally, any hard worker would be bothered.

What sneaks in for me though are these thoughts:

“…if Natalie Grant were showing up, they sure as hell wouldn’t have forgotten the merch table”

“… if Sara Groves were here, people would be preparing a fully stocked green room out of respect and care for their guest”

“… if Sandi Patty were coming, they’d give her a kind introduction and people would line up for her CDs”

Those kinds of thoughts lead to these next ones:

“…no one cares if I’m here”

“…I’m too exhausted to do all of this myself”

“…I’m not successful”

“…they don’t take me seriously”

And those kinds of thoughts lead to anger, bringing up the worst thoughts of all:

“… the church sucks”

“… I should’ve been a dentist/lawyer/accountant”

“… I deserve better than this” ***** CRINGE*****

Yes, I’m being flat out honest and saying that I can fall into this sinkhole of thinking that because I have done a, b, and c, then I should successfully be x, y, and z. And if x, y, and z don’t happen, then, by the transitive property (ummmm), I have been robbed of something that should be mine. The brass ring. The awards, the recognition, the _____. I deserve better than this?? I’m leading worship under the cross – literally, under a cross hanging or standing in a sanctuary – saying “I DESERVE better than this?!?” Yikes. Um, wake up call, Captain Obvious. I don’t.

I’ve been leading worship and performing at events for about twenty years. While I love my work and have connected with so many people around the world, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that for many of them I hoped it would bring more business and exposure and the speakers would have me back and hook me up with bigger and better gigs. And then, FINALLY, I will be successful. I’ll have arrived. It’s natural to want to do well in your career, but I do wonder how many moments I failed to be present in because I wondered if they were going to lead to the next big thing I certainly was “destined” for.

“As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel… Then Samuel took a stone… and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” ~ 1 Samuel 7:10, 12

Recently, I vividly pictured myself on a rapidly rushing stream. Going across the stream were large stepping stones. I was bouncing across the stream from rock to rock. Each rock represented an event with which I’d been involved in my ministry. God stopped me in my tracks and I felt Him remind me:

Every stepping stone has, in fact, been an Ebenezer.

God brought me to each rock and provided the stream, the landing place, the legs to get to the next dry spot. He gave me experiences on each of the various rocks. He has helped me every step of the way. How many more must I take before I see that the stepping stones have been the destination all along?

There’s no tidy wrap up for this. There’s no Nobel Peace Prize for the new book I’m releasing or news that one of my songs is nominated for an award. Just sharing honestly that the struggle is realz, y’all. As I tell my kids though, nothing easy is worth doing. (Except for the beach… and even then, it’s a pain in the @$$ to get all of the crap for a family of 7 down to the shoreline where we can hang out in the water…)

Peace to you and yours…



Sarah McLaughlin