Do you ever feel that church is “too” complicated? If so, this article is for you. I first realized this truth when I was thirty-one. My awareness of this truth developed in the following way. I was serving a church in rural Mississippi. We typically averaged 100-150 in worship on Sunday mornings. As a young pastor I thought I had to visit each church family once or twice a year and every prospect who visited the church. In addition, I was preaching three sermons a week and teaching a discipleship class. Plus, I visited every person who was in the hospital, I was available for counseling, and I performed all weddings and funerals. Add to that list, deacon’s meetings, church leadership meetings, budget meetings, personnel meetings and the like. Plus, I was the only full time staff member in the church. I enjoyed all of these activities. I enjoyed being a pastor. However, I soon learned I was not superman. I began to feel empty. I began to lose the joy of ministry. Where did this come from? The technical name for my condition was burnout. The burnout was induced by a complicated lifestyle. When church becomes so complicated that you do not enjoy church, something is wrong! (I refer you to Dr. Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church.)
The story of Mary and Martha helps put this concept into perspective. “But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Jesus and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42 NKJV)
Every church has ‘em. The Chronic Critic…the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased. No matter what you do, they have something negative to say.
You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times, was on a mission from God.
Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.
Complete this statement:
The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I…
Reacted, blew up, screamed, cussed, stayed silent and drove my anger inward, became defensive,
felt embarrassed, listened and learned from the critic?
Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobiah was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the 5 P's below.
A girl’s high school basketball team from our area recently won their eighth consecutive state basketball title. Today I was thinking, “I would not want to follow in that coach’s steps. He will be a hard act to follow.”
In following Jesus I sometimes feel the same way. I feel as if it is hard to follow his example. A passage from Isaiah 53 shares one such example. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah. 53:5-7)
One of the most profound TV moments happens in The Office when Michael glances at the camera.
It is a satirical way of reminding us that a reality show isn’t actual reality. People aren’t real when the camera is on. No one is truly himself when he is being observed.
America’s celebrity-driven culture is fun and interesting. But there are inherent problems. One of them is that we see our famous “friends” for an hour each week and assume this is the “real them.”
We watch our actors, singers, athletes, politicians and preachers during their most glorious moments. We stand in awe of them, and then we feel dissatisfied with our own ordinariness. But we are comparing apples to oranges: their scripted and prepared public presentation to our normal human existence.
If you want to see the real persons--famous or not--spy on them while they are changing diapers, visiting a sick friend, mowing the lawn, responding to a request for charity from a homeless person, “discussing” issues with spouse or children, performing redundant or menial tasks at their vocation.
Have you ever shot yourself in the foot? This old saying refers to an action or attitude that causes you personal harm or problems. As ministers of the gospel we can be guilty of shooting ourselves in the foot. We often do this with the best of motives and purest of intentions, but they cause us harm nonetheless. A few personal examples might help clarify the picture for you.
I remember an occasion when I got upset with a group of leaders because they failed to fulfill my expectations. Rather than sharing my disappointment with the group and letting that be the end of the matter I closed up and stopped communicating. This caused the leaders to close up and stop communicating. When all was said and done I shot myself in the foot. My self-justification blinded me to my part in the problem.
There were other occasions when I shot myself in the foot with my preaching. What preacher has not used words that came back to haunt him. For example, we might think that stern words will “correct the flock” and cause a wave of repentance. I found that stern words usually discouraged the faithful who were working hard and burdened those who did not need such a burden.
Do you ever feel like you’re climbing out of a pit when you get out of bed in the morning? I felt like that yesterday. I had two minor setbacks that threw me into a tailspin. The setbacks caused me to feel somewhat despondent and discouraged. I spent about half of my day in this pit and then God began to help me climb from it.
A number of different causes can send us to the pit: Monday morning blues, rejection by others, failed plans, a sermon that fell flat, conflict at church, burnout, family issues, just to name a few. The causes vary but the result could be the same - the pit. How do we climb out of the pit? I share the following resources that I have found over the years.
Pray - This resource should be an obvious choice for Christians, but many times it isn't. Pits can be a major inspiration to our prayer life. We tend to criticize people who turn to God in times of crisis. However, is it not human nature to pray more during times of trial? All of us are more spiritual when things are difficult. God desires to use such times to grow us.
Get out of your cave - When trials come, it often feels as if we are in a cave. I remind myself that caves are dark! Thus, it is good to get out of the cave. Visit a friend! Help someone else! Visit someone in the hospital!
Pursue fresh ideas - I find that fresh ideas refresh my spirit. Browsing a magazine, reading a new book or sharing ideas with another person always motivate me.
Share with others - When I got out of bed feeling despondent I didn’t know what the day might hold. Two ministry visits helped to change my focus. I visited a friend who had hit a deer while riding his motorcycle. After that I had lunch with a pastor friend who was struggling with church issues. This visit seemed to be a God ordained contact. That feeling always makes me say WOW!
“What depletes your energies for God?” Here are my top ten energy-depleters:
You’re doing something displeasing to the Lord and you know it. The guilt lingers and weighs you down. When you try to read your Bible, pray, or worship, the fog is so thick you could cut it. God seems far away, and you know without being told it’s because you moved. (Isaiah 59:1-2 comes to mind. “Your sins have separated you.” Confess them and move back closer.)
The discouragers around you are constantly pointing out that you cannot do this, you are not the Christian you ought to be, the Bible cannot be understood, your prayers never go beyond the ceiling, and your pitiful offering amounts to nothing. To make matters worse, sometimes that negative voice hounding us is our own. You lose heart and want to give up. (Psalm 103:1-5 comes to mind. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Speak to yourself words of faith. Believe your faith and doubt your doubts.)
A family member, a colleague in the office, or a so-called friend has taken it as their personal calling to remind you of your failures. Of course, he tells you this for your own good. You leave your friend’s presence feeling worthless and hopeless. (Philippians 4:8 comes to mind. “Whatsoever things are true, think on these things.” Choose where your mind will land and come to rest and what it will feed upon.)