Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Blues...

This one is going to be a little personal.  I don't usually get too personal on the blog, but I think it will help me make my point as well as be a little bit cathartic for myself.  In short, I battle the Holiday Blues.  This means that as the holidays roll in, I find myself struggling against sadness.  I am not the only one.  There are many of us.  Most of us struggle with the holidays because they highlight a bigger hurt that is in our life.  I am writing this so that those who are not battling the Holiday Blues can understand where we are coming from.

My Story
Next month I turn 30.  I expected that by this point in my life things would be a little bit different than what they are.  I figured I would be married, possibly have a kid or two, and would be at a thriving place in my career.  None of that is the case.

I had a career "reset" a couple years ago under less than pleasant circumstances.  This resulted in me moving back home with my folks.  I remember thinking that I would stay there for maybe 6 months.   My master degree was almost complete.  The only part I needed to finish was my internship.  So I thought I would do that and then I would jump back into ministry.

However that plan changed.  During my internship I realized that there would be value to staying in this field for a while, especially if I did want to jump back into ministry at some point.  A pastor who is skilled at counseling is a needed thing.  So I decided to stay in the field and work on earning my professional counseling licenses.  This meant committing to at least another year and half (possibly more) of working more than full time hours for low pay.  As with all careers, you pay your dues at the beginning, and so I decided I would ride it out.  Along the way I have been consistently asked to apply for different ministry positions and have even had a couple churches offer me jobs.  This is a tempting offer when you are broke and living at your parent's house. However, I knew that I needed to stay on the path of licensure.  As it stands now, it's only been in the last few months that I have begun to make a livable wage with what I am doing.  I have basically spent the last two years of my life working very hard, and making very little money.  It's been a challenge to keep my head up.

Along the way I fell in love with a great woman.  She was truly wonderful.  She fell in love with me too (I think.)  I found myself in a place where I was anticipating a future, a family, and all that comes along with it.  We began to plan a future together, but as commonly happens, things didn't play out the way we had planned.  The relationship didn't work out.  It was a very messy and painful break up that knocked me out of commission for a long time.  Its a story I don't care to tell, but it affected me in a very real way.  It's been a challenge to keep my head up.

There have been many other things in the last few years that have been pressing as well.  Because of the nature of what I do, I tend to see people at their worst, both at my job and in my personal life.  I have seen people close to me battle their personal demons, lose loved ones, have family problems, lose jobs, experience dire sicknesses, go through ministry scandals, and so many other things.  Generally, I live to promote hope and healing, but sometimes it can wear me out.  We call it "burn out" in ministry and "compassion fatigue" in counseling, but by whatever name you give it, I have to be constantly aware of it.  It's been a challenge to keep my head up.

I don't write these things so that anyone will feel bad for me.  In fact, anyone who knows me knows that if you approach me with sympathy and pity I just get uncomfortable and it becomes awkward for both of us.  I actually have a very good support system.  I share this because I want you to understand why I have the Holiday Blues.  And perhaps my openness will help you understand why other people in your life have them as well.

The Holiday Blues
So in a nutshell, the last two years have been trying times for me.  My livelihood was lost, my ability to provide for myself was gone, I jumped into a career transition that has meant so much work for so little reward, and I acquired a broken heart along the way. 

These sort of circumstances have a way of causing one to question things.  They question their value and their purpose.  They question the meaning of their life.  Their faith gets pushed as well and wrestling with God ensues.  I have been going through all of these questions for the last couple of years.  Some days I handle it well.  Some days I don't.

But it's harder during the holidays…

The Holidays are about spending time with your family.

The Holidays are about spending money and giving gifts.

The Holidays are about returning to the roots of your faith.

The Holidays are about celebrations, good times, and cheer.

Can you see why the Holidays might be hard for some of us?  The holidays are about all of these wonderful things (and they truly are wonderful) but they tend to remind those of us in the midst of a struggle that we are in fact in the midst of a struggle.  It is hard to celebrate and rejoice when you are constantly being reminded that your life has turned out to be less than what you hoped for.  The Christmas couple's party reminds the widow of her lost loved one.  The barrage of ads and conversations about gift giving reminds the man who was laid off that he can't provide gifts for his kids this year.  The crowds around the mall remind the couple with fertility concerns that they don't have a kid to take to see Santa.

Your Response
So please, whether it is me, or someone else in your world who is stricken with the Holiday Blues, don't take offense when we are not as excited about the holidays as you are.  Most of the time we are glad that you are having a good time, and we don't want to take that away from you.  We just have a hard time participating. 

Please invite us to things.  We like to know you care. But please don't get your feelings hurt when we decline.  It's not personal.

Please don't pressure us.  We already struggle with guilt and a little bit of the "what's wrong with me" because of our struggle with the holidays.  So if we decline an invite or aren't up for your holiday activities, please let it be.

Please spend time with us.  Sure, we may not be up for the Christmas party you and your roommate are throwing, but it doesn't mean we don't want to hang out and do the things that we usually do together.

Please pray for us.  Most of us struggle with the holidays because they highlight a bigger hurt that is in our life.  We need your prayers.

A Personal Conclusion
Since I started by sharing my story, I want to tell you where I am with things now.  Yes, it has been a challenge to keep my head up, however, it is a challenge I graciously accept.  I know that life is full of seasons.  Some are good, some are bad.  Some are happy, some are sad.  They can be short, they can be long.  Regardless of the nature of the season, I believe that all seasons can be stewarded well to produce fruit.  So I wake up daily and try to make the best of what I have and where I am.  I will continue to work hard, seek God, and do right by people despite the battle within me.  On the days I fail, I will trust the grace of Jesus to carry me through.  It is my prayer that those of you who battle this with me will carry yourselves the same way.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

May Peace Abound...

Chaos is everywhere.

Without getting into the depths of all things, I will say that the last couple of years of my life have been branded with chaos.  The few who are close to me know this to be true.  I don't share that in hopes that anyone reading this will feel for me, but rather because I know that I am not the only one living  in chaos.  All of us have been there.  Some of us are still there. And if you are not, you will be there one day.  Chaos aims to shake things up.  If it has its way, it will shake you to your very core.  It will instill anxiety, fear, and doubt into your being.  In these seasons of chaos, the words of Psalm 88 flow through our spirit as blood flows through our veins "…the darkness is my closest friend."

We thirst for peace and relief. 

Yet it seems that no matter what we do, we are unable to quench that thirst.

Try as we might, we may find moments of temporary relief, but they escape quickly.

We can't escape chaos.

This is because we don't really know what peace is. While we long for the chaos to be gone, the truth is that THAT is not peace.  Peace is not being removed from chaos, but rather knowing with confidence that despite the chaos, you will be ok.  You will survive.  Read that sentence again, because it is important.  Chaos never goes away.

But somehow we believe we can get rid of it.

So we end up on a treadmill, constantly working and going nowhere.  We try to put out every fire and eliminate everything that brings chaos into our lives.  This is unrealistic.  We end up spending our whole lives reacting instead of living.  We actually bring more chaos as we try to manage the existing chaos.  Don't misunderstand me.  It is often a good idea to eliminate sources of conflict that bring chaos into our lives.  Sometimes there are some very real changes we need to make, but that in and of itself is not what brings peace.  Remember, peace is not the absence of chaos, but the fortitude to endure it with confidence. 

In fact, what we learn as we study scripture and listen to The Holy Spirit is that without chaos, we will not develop peace.  Chaos helps us to build resilience so that when heavier seasons of chaos come, we can endure.  James and Paul both emphasize this…

James 1:2-4 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Romans 5:3-5 "…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

It is through enduring chaos that we develop a position of peace.

Paul speaks about peace to the Philippians (4:6-7.)  He writes "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Peace that transcends understanding…  This means that peace is there even when it makes no sense for peace to be there.  Others may look in on your situation and find themselves puzzled because you are not losing your mind.  You may even find yourself puzzled as you consider your own circumstances and see that your sanity is still somewhat there.  But that's what peace is.  Knowing with confidence that you are going to survive despite the chaos in your life.

Paul didn't tell the Philippians to eliminate the chaos.  Rather he told them to pray, to be thankful, and to share their circumstances, their chaos, with their heavenly Father.  In return God offers a peace that transcends understanding.  You see, God never promised that life would be free of chaos or pain.  In fact, quite often when we follow him and do the right thing, it leads us into chaos.  But he did promise us that peace is available.  That as we endure, we will grow stronger, and that as we rest in him we can live confidently knowing that while chaos abounds, we will be ok.  We will survive.

If you find yourself battling chaos, may I encourage you to stop reacting, but rather to find rest in the peace of God.  If you feel lost in this pursuit of peace, honestly share that with God.  Seek out men and women you trust who seem to understand this and ask them to talk to you about it.

If you seek him and his peace with sincerity, he will lead you where you need to go.

May peace abound.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beliefs That Will Destroy Your Minister, Pastor, or Ministry Leader: I Can’t Rest Because There is too Much to Do.

Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of ministry is the fact that there is no end… 

Whether that ministry is vocational or volunteer…
Whether that ministry is inside the walls of a church or out in the community…
Whether that ministry is very public or rather private…
Whether that ministry flows into the life of a large community or just one individual…

There never seems to be an end.  In fact the end of one project or task is usually met by start of another (or maybe five others, haha.)  Though this applies to anyone in ministry, this is increasingly true for those who are in vocational ministry.  More and more projects, tasks, meetings, events, etc. stack up.  Before long there is so much to do, that getting rest takes a back seat.

And rest is important.

Rest is essential.

Unfortunately it can be easy for your ministry leader to think that there is so much that has to be done, that there is no time to rest. And this belief will destroy them.

The "to-do" list often consists of spontaneous, unexpected tasks such as..

…Visiting someone who has fallen ill.
…Preparing a funeral at the last minute.
…The four o'clock in the morning crisis phone call.
…The fistful of little league, pep band, and choir schedules.
…The 15 minute shopping trip that turns into a 2 hour conversation with someone you just happen to run into from the ministry.

And there are the not-so-spontaneous, better planned moments that come along such as…

...Speaking at a local school.
...Teaching at the local Bible college.
...Working on projects with other churches.
…Performing weddings.
...Visiting with families.

Many of these tasks come outside of the typical 9-5 workday, and whether they are anticipated or not, they still take up time.  Most ministry leaders welcome them as they come.  It is part of the call.  But as the amount of things to do increases, the time for rest decreases.

Rest is necessary.

God commanded it (Exodus 20:8-11.)

Moses needed it (Exodus 18:13-27.)

Jesus needed it (John 4:6.)

Most of us neglect it. 

If your ministry leader believes that they can't rest because there is too much to do, it will destroy them.

So how do we challenge this belief?

1) Give them time to rest.  This is more practical for helping those who are in vocational ministry, but it can also spill over into volunteer ministry as well.  If you have the power, give your ministry leader time to rest. Mandate it.  For your vocational ministers this means that the elders, board of directors, senior pastors (whoever calls the shots really) need to make this a part of their minister's life.  For the volunteer minister this means that others in the ministry or the ones who are overseeing the ministry allow, even require for some time to rest.  Some churches do this by allowing their ministry staff a day off during the weekend, vacation, or some sort of regular time away.  Every ministry, ministry leader, and church is different, so one method may not work for all situations.  The overlying principal does though.  Give your ministry leader time to rest.
2) Relieve them of tasks that are specific to their ministry.  Now, this doesn't mean do all their work for them, but on occasion take the reigns.  If we are talking about a preacher, let the youth pastor or one of the elders preach from time to time.  If we are talking about a youth sponsor, hold their teen small group at your house one week so they can get a break. After a heavy season on ministry, let them check out for a bit. Because ministry often envelopes more than a steady 9-5, sometimes taking pressure off of these day to day tasks leaves room for rest.

3) Relieve them of tasks that are not specific to their ministry.  There is nothing worse than spending 9-5 in the office, 5-8 doing visits, answering a crisis call at 9, getting home at 11 only to find that there are things at home you need to do.  Perhaps we can allow them to rest by taking care of their yard one weekend or watching their kids so they can go out for a fun night with their spouse.  If you are fortunate to have something like a beach house, offer to let them use it.  The idea is that we are making it easier for them to find rest.

Now, let me be clear.  There is a fine line between taking time to rest and being lazy.  Ministry leaders are called to work, and dedicate time to their work.  In fact, most of the men and women we look at in scripture are hard workers.  I am not encouraging ministry leaders to be lazy or to run away from work, but rather to make sure they find rest AFTER their work.  As with most things that I have shared in this blog series, though we want to encourage our ministry leaders, they still have a responsibility to take care of their selves and find a balance between work and rest.  Our calling is to help them along the way so that as our ministry leader, they can help us along our path.

At the end of the day, what I know is this; if your minister, pastor, or ministry leader believes that they can’t rest because there is too much to do, it will destroy them.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I Want To Encourage You Through Your Suffering

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from a letter I wrote a friend years ago…

I want to encourage you through your suffering.

The prophet Habakkuk witnessed and endured suffering on a great level. Habakkuk 1:2-4 reads “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed, and just never prevails.  The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”  He is not shy in his conversation with God.  He lays out his complaints, and asks for an explanation.  Job was also not shy to share the depths of his suffering.  Job 30:26-28 says “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.  The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.  I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.”  The Bible is not silent on suffering, and it certainly does not pretend that suffering is not a part of life.

As I write this, I imagine it is very probable that somewhere in the world two men are currently experiencing stab wounds; their bodies experiencing great suffering.  The first man has endured a stab wound as a result of street violence.  It is a senseless, pointless injury.  A waste.  The second man endures the puncture of his skin as doctors aim to remove a cancer so venomous that it will kill him should it remain in the body.  He gladly suffers the wound.  In this case we see that the wound is necessary for survival.  And therein lies the framework for trying to make sense of suffering.  No one likes to endure suffering, however, many will endure, even gladly so, when there is a known purpose for it.  Suffering for a purpose is celebrated.  It is, however, when suffering seems to serve no purpose that we become distraught.

James and Paul both write us and tell us that our sufferings do serve a purpose and are in fact productive (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5.)  Both you and I have seen this play out in the lives of many people over and over.  We have seen endurance grow into something so much more.  Of course, I don't contend, and frankly neither do James or Paul, that this process is easy, or that we go through it without blemish.  In fact, I believe that we come out of it with scars.  Though strength is our gain for perseverance, scars come along in the process.  Scars serve as the evidence that wounds have healed.  Every scar that we acquire can be used as a bridge to find healing in the suffering of another.  Soon a time will come, if it has not already, where we will be called to use these scars to speak healing into the lives of others that God may be glorified. 

Know that your suffering does serve some purpose.  We often find ourselves praying that God would relieve our suffering; remove our burdens and afflictions.  And sometimes he does!  However, would we interrupt a surgeon mid-surgery? No.  Rather, we would allow him to finish despite the desire we may have to quit.  To stop midway would be to incur both the wound of the procedure while keeping the cancer the procedure was meant to remove.  I fear the same would happen if God were to stop refining us.  Perhaps, then, our prayer should be that God would give us comfort in knowing that our suffering will produce fruit should we see it through.  Perhaps our prayer should be that God would reveal the fruit of our suffering, rather than alleviate it from our lives.  Paul claims in Romans 8:28 that God uses all things for the good of those love Him (let us note that it says he uses, not causes.)  Our sufferings are used for good!  Only our God could take such painful matters and turn them into something of benefit.

I also encourage you to take heart!  Our sufferings aren't forever.  Through his death on the cross Jesus not only frees us of our sin, but also refreshes us and rebuilds us from the ravages of heartache and suffering.  These words from Revelation 21 are familiar to you I am sure; "Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” The day will come when sorrow ceases to exist and pain's effects will no longer be seen.  I pray that God would begin to work that peace into our lives this very day and that he would continue to strengthen us with it.  Let us hold on to the hope that Jesus gives us.  Death is a defeated enemy.  Suffering only has a temporary hold on us.  The fruit of our victory in Jesus is ahead my friend!

After Habakkuk says his peace, God replies in verse 5 by saying “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”  Though our eyes and our hearts may be blind to the purpose behind our own sufferings, may we trust that God will work in ways we would not expect and could never explain outside of His power and glory. I promise you this; God in his faithfulness will use our sufferings and experiences to produce far more than we ever imagined should we remain faithful and endure.  I don’t contend that it will be easy, but rather it is my hope that by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus that we will endure.   

May we continue to endure.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beliefs That Will Destroy Your Minister, Pastor, or Ministry Leader: I’m The Only One Capable of Doing ________.

There was a time in my youth ministry days where I experimented a bit with doing a youth worship service.  This meant getting people to help with different aspects of the service.  One of the key ingredients was music.  I wanted to have someone leading worship.  I had a couple guys who were willing to lead this aspect of the project and rotate the responsibilities. The only problem for me was that I too am a musician, singer, and worship leader.  The two guys who were wiling to serve were considerably younger and lot less experienced than I, and whether it was true or not, I always felt like I was better at it than them.  There were moments when I felt like they weren’t capable of doing what I was trying to accomplish.  I yielded those feelings and didn’t step in, but there was such a huge desire in me to just push them out of the way and take over.  I felt like I was the only one who was able to do what needed to be done.

Whether we are talking about a volunteer leader, or someone who is on paid ministry staff, if your ministry leader believes they are the only one capable of doing _____, it will destroy them.  Pride sneaks in in one of two ways…

Pride can give them an ego complex.  This brand of pride leads them to a lower view of others.  They begin to think that they are the greatest gift of God to ministry since Paul.  Ok, maybe that is a little extreme, but they can begin to think that they are better than the rest of the people who are associated with their ministry.  And they are certainly likely to think they are above the ones they serve.  You’ll notice that they start taking over.  They may relieve other workers in their ministries of their jobs and responsibilities and take it on their self.  And even as their stack of stuff piles up, they will revel in it because it continuously strokes their ego, makes them feel more important than they are,  and builds up their perception that they truly are the only person who is capable of doing _____.

On the other hand, pride can give them a martyr complex.   This brand of pride leads them to a lower view of their self.  This is more of a pride in their work as opposed to pride in their self. They see their ministry as something that is so important,  and believe that no one is else is capable of doing the work.  This belief lead them to frustration.  Their pride actually end up getting hurt because they believe if other people cared, they would make their selves able to do what is needed.  In other words, other people are not capable because they don’t care enough to become capable.  As a result they end up a workaholic out of their obligation to the ministry (as opposed to their personal pride.)  They may start to assume others don’t value the ministry, and wile on one hand they work to death for its success, on the other hand they begin to question the value of the work altogether.  They spin out into a “woe is me” depression.

So how do we challenge this belief?  This one is a little harder to intervene in because a lot of the problem rests in what is going on inside the minister leader’s heart, but here are some ideas.

1) Help.  You may not be capable of doing certain things in a person’s ministry.  However, you are probably more than capable of helping.  Can you find some task that you can help with?  Maybe it is something that falls outside of the spectrum of that particular ministry, but is helpful to the ministry leader nonetheless.  The tech savvy or the handyman are often very helpful to those in ministry.  By being helpful, you are both showing that you are capable of doing something, and helping them to recognize that maybe they do have shortcomings.  It helps to keep that pride in check.

2) Learn.  If there is a ministry that you are passionate about, but the leader is actually very correct in pointing out that you don’t have the skills or talents needed, then learn.  Go to workshops, find information on the internet.  But make that effort to learn.  This will show that the ministry is important enough to you that you want to be capable of helping.  Unless your ministry leader is completely wrapped up in his ego, he should be able to point you in the right direction in regards to learning.

3) Do Something.  Just get involved.  Don’t wait to be asked.  Make yourself known and get your hands dirty.  It is easy to get stuck waiting to be asked to help, but if our ministry leader already feels like he is the only one capable of _____, then he is not going to look for help. 

Now, let’s be fair to us.  If your ministry leader is enveloped in this level of pride (in either direction mentioned above) the root of the problem is most likely in their own heart.  So on top of trying to get involved by helping, learning, and doing, we ought to really spend time praying for them; asking God to bring them to a place where they are confronted with the problems of their heart and leading them to a better place.   The scriptures are littered with passages warning us about pride.  We are told that pride comes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18.)  We are also shown that pride is the reason Satan himself fell from the heavens (Ezekiel 28:12-18.)  Pride is a bad thing.  It is the sin above all sins because it leads to other sin.  Any other sin one commits can be traced to personal pride. 

Leading a ministry already subjects one to struggles with pride because the work is generally considered important by many, but if your ministry leader believes they are the only capable of doing _____, it will destroy them. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Beliefs That Will Destroy Your Minister, Pastor, or Ministry Leader: I’m the Only One in the Church Who Cares About ________.

You can quite literally fill that blank with almost anything.

There was a moment in my youth ministry days that left me a bit puzzled.  I received a call from a woman in our church who wanted to come in and talk to me about some concerns she was having with her daughter.  I didn’t know the woman.  I had never met her (or her daughter for that matter) before.   After I got off the phone with her I checked in with our senior minister to see if he knew who this woman was.  He informed me that she was an on and off attender and that he had not seen her around in a long time.  Of course, I told her I would be happy to meet with her and see if I could offer any sort of help or encouragement.  The time came for us to get together.  This concerned mother arrived with her daughter.  The three of us then sat down and chatted.  Well… not really.  Honestly, the mother talked, I listened and the daughter sat in silence, drifting off into her own little world.  It was a bit awkward as this mother essentially sat down with me to list out complaint after complaint about her daughter while the child was sitting there with us.  Her daughter was falling in with a bad crowd, being promiscuous, getting in trouble at school, and growing more and more disrespectful at home.  After she exhausted her list of concerns we fell into a discussion about what our youth program had to offer.  I explained the value of being involved in regular Bible study and fellowship with other Christians her daughter’s age.  She didn’t seem interested at all, and her daughter was completely checked out.  She wasn’t interested either.  I also offered to meet with them regularly to help them sort through what was going on in their family.  Again, there was no interest.  I’m not sure what she was expecting from me.  Was I supposed to give her a magical piece of advice?  Was I supposed to snap my fingers and make things all better?  I was a youth minister, not a magician.  What solution was she expecting?  Anyhow, the awkwardness of this encounter reached its pinnacle at the end of our meeting.  After talking up our youth program and offering counseling, I ended our time together with an offer to pray for them.  The mother kindly rejected my offer.  Like I said, I was puzzled.  But even more so, I was frustrated.  I felt like I cared more about this woman’s daughter and family than she did!  Of course, to be fair, I can in no way say that was true, but it was the feeling I had, and whether they are true or not, the things we feel and believe dictate our behavior.

At one point or another every single one of us has felt like we care more about ________ than other people do.  It’s frustrating.  We have all been on both sides of this as well.  Sometimes we are the one who is concerned, and other times we are the center of someone else’s concern.  Ministry leaders tend to be more vulnerable to this frustration because their is a sense (accurate or not) that their work is important.  Their work is needed for the church and for the community.  After all... 

The preacher is sharing the message of Salvation in Christ. 
The Sunday school teacher is helping children build roots in the scriptures. 
The benevolence team is seeing that people have their most basic human needs met.
The grounds team is making sure the church property is attractive to the community.

The list of ministries goes on and on.  but they are usually present because someone thinks they are important.  Sometimes they are brainstorms by the ministry leader, and other times the ministry leader is commissioned to work.  Regardless of the ministry’s origin, the leader generally attaches to it because they care about the cause.

That care leads to passion.
That passion leads to work.
That work usually leads to more work.
More work leads to being tired.

Most ministry leaders will continue to joyfully work as long as they believe what they are doing is benefitting the church, the community, or those involved in the ministry.  However, the minute they believe that no one else cares about ________, they will burn out or quit.

So how do we challenge this belief?

1) Participate in their ministry.  There is no better way to show someone you appreciate the ministry they are leading than by participating in it.  This could mean working alongside them, or letting them serve you.  When people participate, the ministry leader sees their work as valid and will want to continue.  When no one participates, they ministry leader will soon stop participating as well.

2) Share what their ministry is doing.  Maybe what they do really isn’t something you can participate in.  You may not have the skills, time, resources, etc. to participate.  However, you can still share the good they are doing with others.  This can help build a good reputation for the ministry.  If the ministry’s reputation is built up, others who are able to participate will get involved and the ministry leader will be encouraged. 

3) Encourage the ministry leader directly.  Even if you are not involved in the ministry at all, and don’t even know what to say to others about it, when you see the leader, tell them you appreciate the job they are doing.  You don’t have to be a participant or a beneficiary of someone’s ministry to recognize it as a good thing.  Next time you see that person who visits the nursing home to encourage the residents, pull them aside and tell them how great you think it is that they are willing to meet that need.  Receiving such encouragement could be the thing that helps the ministry leader stick it out for the long haul.

Now of course there is merit in discussing whether we should encourage the continuation of every ministry under the sun.  Sometimes there is a reason no one else cares.  Sometimes the ministry leaders have ulterior motives and shouldn’t be leading at all.  But that is not the focus of this post.  We want to consider how we encourage those who are serving.

If your minister, pastor, or ministry leader believes that they are the only person in the church who cares about _______, it will destroy them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beliefs That Will Destroy Your Minister, Pastor, or Ministry Leader: No One Cares About Me Unless They Need Something.

It was a Saturday night. Late. I was at Virginia Beach taking a walk and praying (that is my spot.) My heart was heavy and my future was unclear. The following morning I was going to be addressing the congregation where I served as youth minister, informing them that I was going to be leaving the church to finish my Master’s degree and pursue a career in counseling. The months leading up to that decision and transition were some of the most stressful I had endured up to that point in my life. My hope was that by spending time at the beach, praying, walking, and thinking that I would find some peace. It started getting late. I really had no concern for how late I stayed out, but when one o’clock in the morning approached, my phone buzzed. Yes, I probably should have left it in the car, but I didn’t and it buzzed. A student in my ministry that I probably hadn’t seen for over a year texted me, informed me that she didn’t know what to do, who to talk to, but that she wanted to end her life. For the next hour or so I put my burdens on hold and talked her through her crisis. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bitter. I began thinking things along the lines of “You haven’t been around for a year, and of all the times to reach out you pick when I am in the middle of my own crisis! If you had any idea what was going on in my life you would not be bothering me right now.” Anyone who has served in ministry can likely share a similar story.

Most men and women who get into ministry, be it vocationally or voluntarily, do so because they have a heart for people. They love people, want to help and guide people, and they believe that pointing them to Jesus through whatever means they are able is the best way to make a positive difference in their life. Sure, you have the occasional ego-maniac or manipulator with a hidden agenda, but most of them are people who love God, love people, and want to serve. However, doing ministry, even if a paycheck is attached, is burdensome at times. It involves putting other people first, putting their needs ahead of one’s own. There is no 9-5 in paid ministry, and their is often and additional 9-5 in volunteer ministry. As a result, the time ministry leaders spend is often abundant and spontaneous. Most paid ministers don’t get paid half of what they are worth, and volunteer ministers don’t get paid any of what they are worth. However, paid or volunteer, they generally serve with little complaint. They got in to ministry because they have a heart for people, not a heart for money. However they have lives too…

--They have marriages and kids.
--They have problems and their kids have problems.
--They struggle with temptation and sin.
--They struggle with finances and debt.
--They struggle with sickness and injury.
--They experience seasons of depression and anxiety.
--They have a past of their own and grew up with their own issues and insecurities.
--They don’t have life completely figured out.
--They need to be cared for too.

Seriously… they need to be cared for too.

When you look at that list you can probably assume that any given item, combination of items, or items that I neglected to put on the list are going on in your ministry leader’s life. All the while they are receiving phone calls, answering emails, replying to text message, having meetings, and entertaining office visits from people that are in need. This is on top of the day to day business of the church office; research and preparing for sermons or lessons, organizing volunteers for this or that; planning the upcoming events for the ministry. In the course of serving their ministry, or tending to their flock, it can be easy for a ministry leader to be convinced that no one cares about them unless they need something. If they believe this, it will destroy them.

So how do we challenge this belief?

1) Build genuine relationships with them. Did you know that it is ok to have a cup of coffee with your ministry leader just so you can hang out? You don’t even have to talk about one problem or concern. You can talk about sports, hobbies, or even Justin Bieber if that’s your thing. Invite them and their family over or out for dinner. Let your home be a place where they can take their shoes off, kick back, watch the big game and leave their role as ministry leader at the door. Ministry leaders need genuine friendship just as much as anyone else, and there really is no good reason why they can’t find it in their church. Now I know that not everyone is going to be best friend’s with the ministry leader, and that’s ok. But it might be worth giving a shot, right?

2) Offer to help them. This overflows from building genuine relationships as most people in good relationships tend to look out for each other. Often when we think of helping ministry leaders, we think of doing so in the context of their ministry. Let’s help the preacher organize the summer outreach program. Let’s help our ministry leader with some of the behind the scenes work, or organization that needs to be done. This is good. Please do this. But also, be a help in their personal life. If their kids are sick, offer to help take care of them. If they are married, offer to watch their kids so they can go out on a date. If you have a youth minister who is gone with students for weeks over the summer (which is common) see if you can help his wife with some of the yard work. The ideas and needs are endless. Be a practical help to them, and do it with no strings attached.

3) Show your gratitude for them. Even if you end up not being able to develop a deeper relationship with them (like I said, not everyone is going to be best friends) make sure to thank them. Thank them in and out of season. Thank them immediately after they have done something that warrants thanks, but also thank them when they least expect it. Send them a card to brighten their day, tell them you appreciate the work they do. You can do this even if their ministry does not directly impact you. If a ministry leader feels appreciated, they are much less likely to given in to the belief that no one cares about them.

Am I telling us to stop going to our ministry leaders when we need help? No. That is why they serve. They really do love to help. What I am saying is that we should make the relationship broader than that; that every moment we spend with them doesn’t need to revolve around our own drama and need. Let us build genuine, helpful relationships that are seasoned with thanksgiving. It can literally change the way your ministry leader sees his ministry and his life.

Let me add here that there is certainly a responsibility on the part of every ministry leader to take care of their own lives, develop healthy relationships, friendships, and nurture their own well being. However, we are constantly reminded throughout the New Testament that we should all look out for the well being of each other. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “…encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” with the assumption that we are already doing it. It is common sense. This includes us looking out for the well being of our ministry leaders just as much as it means them looking out for ours. Let us not act in a way that discourages our ministry leaders.

If your minister, pastor, or ministry leader believes that no one cares about them unless they need something, it will destroy them.