Ministry leaders are very busy people. We want to do a good job at our church or other ministry location. We care for others; we sacrifice for others. Our work is important and challenging. The demands of the work keep us very busy—teaching, administrating, traveling, attending meetings, on the phone, and dealing with emails. The consequences of our work too often are: lack of sleep, hours on the computer late at night and early in the morning, no time for exercise, limited time with our family. Perfectionism, and exhaustion have become symbols of our dedication. Productivity is our measure of self-worth. We get fatigued and discouraged, irritable and overwrought, but we say, we are doing the work necessary! If we are not careful, it will kill us-emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically.
A friend of mine who is in charge of the care and discipline of pastors in the Evangelical Covenant Church notes this formula for disaster for clergy: depletion + isolation + conflict= significant trouble. Disaster is not only seen in the melt down of our externalized lives, but also with a growing incongruity between how we present ourselves to others, and what we are like on the inside. Depletion + isolation + conflict= significant trouble. It is a formula for disaster.
Here is the reality: We can’t do anything about conflict or challenges. They are a reality for leaders. Conflict cannot be avoided. If we work for change, if we seek to move an organization forward, there will be conflict. Most of the time, we cannot escape conflict, but we have can order our lives so that we are not depleted or isolated.
Ministry always emerges out of who we are. In order to serve well, we must pay attention to our insides. Billy Graham has said: “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, everything is lost.” We strive to be people if character.
Strangely, wonderfully, we develop character in the midst of our ministry context. The place that is sometimes brings troubles and conflicts our way, is also the place where we develop, by Christ’s power, into the people the Lord want us to be. Eugene Peterson speaks to pastors and to all ministry leaders when he says: “The congregation is the pastor’s place for developing vocational holiness. It goes without saying that it is the place of ministry: we preach the word and administer the sacraments, we give pastoral care and administer community life, we teach and we give spiritual direction. But it is also the place in which we develop virtue, learn to love, advance in hope—become what we preach.”
In our work, we are to be developing in holiness. How do we do this? Maybe three simple ABC’s will help: Abide, Breath, Connect.
Abide—We need to stay connected to Jesus Christ as branches to the vine. We need to set aside time to read Scripture, to pray, to reflect to confess. We do this not as preparation for a sermon or a talk. We do this because we want to know Jesus better and become more like him.
Breathe—We need to take time away from the busyness of life. We need to take a Sabbath. We need once a week to stop working. We need to get off of the people pleasing, proving our worth to God and to ourselves treadmill. We need to just stop. One day in our lives should be different from the other six. Eugene Peterson says one day should be spent Praying and Playing.
Connect—We need to have a small group of trusted friends circling around us. These are people who love us for who we are, not our job or title. These are people we can vent to, and confide in, who pray for us, who will say the hard things to us, who give us space for laughter and fun.
The recipe for disaster is Conflict, Depletion, and Isolation.
The path towards ministering well and finishing well is Abide in Christ, Breathe in still spaces, and Connect with others in community.