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.