Messes are a part of life and ministry.
When my daughter Jamie was seven years old, she decided that she wanted to go fishing with me. The next day we got up at 5:30 a.m., grabbed our fishing gear, and went to the water. Her favorite part of fishing, besides catching a fish, was casting. When I say cast, I mean rare back and let it fly! That is exactly what she did this time. She came back over her head very near where I was kneeling behind her. I could feel her lure brush the top of my head. Off came my cap. The hook was struck to the top of the cap with the minnow flailing about to get free. I took her rod and reel and began to work with it to get the hook loose from the cap. Meanwhile, I let her use my rod and reel. A few minutes later I looked at her and saw that fishing line was everywhere. Finally, in utter disgust, she said, “This thing is a mess.”
This week our area has been dealing with the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. My office is about a 30-minute drive from West. We have several families in our church who either live or work, or both, in West. On Tuesday afternoon, one of our families drove me through much of the area that suffered badly from the explosion.
Ministers and other church leaders deal with messes quite frequently. Divorce. Cancer. Death. Crime. A member sent to prison. The child of a church leader on drugs. The following are five suggestions for church leaders who must navigate through a mess.
1. Don’t rush to fix the situation. Quite often ministers will become uneasy with the questions or doubt that may be expressed. In our uneasiness, we may attempt to rush in with much advice and very little patience.
2. Don’t pronounce the situation as God showing us this or that or what trying to teach us whatever. The truth is we don’t know why so many things happen.
3. Do be present. There is great power in simply showing up and being fully present. In fact, when words are at a loss and when you don’t know what to do, one’s presence with another or a family can be huge.
4. Do be a safe place where people can ask the questions that are burning within. Loss is tough. Sometimes we are in such a rush to move on, we don’t allow others the opportunity to feel loss and its implications.
5. Don’t be trite. Some years ago my friend’s wife died of cancer leaving behind this young husband and their young children. The following Sunday, the minister began the sermon by talking about how he understood the loss that many people felt. He then proceeded to tell the story of his car being involved in a parking lot fender-bender and how frustrating that was. Some family members of the woman who died were angry that this minister insinuated that he understood how they felt by comparing their loved one’s death to a fender-bender.
What would you add to this list?