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.