Ministry Inside.117

take five design5 Suggestions for Keeping Your Sanity in a Busy Ministry

There are seasons when a ministry feels very intense.  Quite often that intensity may be related to particular problems or issues that have surfaced in the church or in the community.

Sometimes that intensity is due to unforeseen situations.  Perhaps you have recently presided over several funerals or weddings within a period of a few weeks.  If you are a minister, you know that these can often take a lot of time.

For example, the average person sees you speak at a funeral and in that person’s mind there may not be that much time or work involved.  However, the challenge of a funeral for a minister is not just the remarks expressed.  A minister is often doing this work within the context of his own grief and sadness.  After all, the deceased may have been a friend, a confidant, an encourager or more.

A minister may spend hours at the hospital leading up to a death.  Then, that minister might spend time with the family discussing plans for the funeral and memories of the deceased.  This minister may work late into the night preparing remarks for the funeral. If the funeral is in the morning, that minister will spend most of the morning (if not all of it) doing something related to the funeral.  Not only will this minister speak at the funeral but then also at the graveside. After this funeral, this minister may eat with the family at the church building.

When I first began my ministry, I was shocked as to how much time could actually be spent when presiding at either a funeral or a wedding.

Sometimes, there will be several of these within a week.  I remember a few weeks when I had several funerals or a funeral and a wedding and came away feeling exhausted.

Finally, there are times when ministry feels intense when I have said “yes” to too many opportunities.  Maybe I am seeing too many people in my office for counseling.  Perhaps I have scheduled too many meetings.  I may have said yes to many speaking appointments.

The following are a few suggestions that you might find helpful when your ministry has become very busy.  I have found these helpful; it did, however, take me some time to learn them.

Ministry Inside.102

Stress2Under Stress?

Sometimes ministry can be very stressful.  It may be conflict with a staff member or a few of the elders. Or, perhaps you are under stress due to the church’s financial problems.  Maybe there has been an incident in the church that has become very, very draining.

Sometimes when we become stressed, we either over-function or under-function.  If I over-function, I may begin to feel like the solution to this problem is entirely up to me.  There is a sense in which I feel like I am carrying the weight of this problem on my shoulders.

That can be a real problem, especially when I begin taking responsibility for the behavior of others.  It is like a parent who feels guilty because her college student son (who is away from home studying at the university) makes poor grades.  The college student is responsible for these grades, yet his mother is shouldering the anxiety for those grades herself.  The mother seems to want good grades more than her son does.

Ministers and other church leaders who over-function often bear stress and anxiety that others ought to be carrying.  Consequently, if someone drops the ball and does not follow through on their responsibility, these over-functioners will quickly fix the problem themselves (sometimes through clenched teeth).  In times of great stress, the over-functioners often become incredibly exhausted and anxious.

Or, perhaps a person in the elder group over-functions.  When members of the congregation come to that elder with their anxiety, he takes on the anxiety and they walk away.

Now This Can Remove Some Stress!

ifonly.jpgI don’t know what you expected when you left home.  I don’t know what you expected when you, perhaps, graduated from college and started working.  I do know that many of us expected to experience much more zest/joy/passion/happiness (or whatever word you might prefer).  So often, I found myself saying, "If only." 

In fact, I can recall thinking or even saying "If only" when I was still a child.  As I got older and into my teen years, I continued to say "If only."  Here are some statements I can remember: 

  • If only I were in high school.
  • If only I had a car.
  • If only I had a job.
  • If only I had a girlfriend.
  • If only I could move out of my parents’ house.
  • If only I could go to a particular university.
  • If only I had enough money to drive a certain kind of car.
  • If only I had enough money to travel like some college students.
  • If only I had a great job after graduation.
  • If only I could get married.
  • If only we had children

Perhaps you were never like this.  Maybe you lived with a sense of contentment and peace.  For whatever reasons, I did not.

I wish I could tell you that all of this never interfered with my ministry.  It certainly did.  Here are a few statements I remember thinking: 

  • If only I could preach for a church.
  • If only I could preach for a certain church.
  • If only I could preach for a large church.
  • If only I could be noticed.
  • If only I could have a ministry that really seemed to matter.
  • If only I could have a ministry that seemed successful in the sight of others.

Now let me quickly say that I would NEVER have uttered any one of these sentences to anyone.  Furthermore, I am not even sure that I consciously thought about these desires.  Yet, I can look back and recall different times in my ministry when I know these desires were in my heart.  I say that with embarrassment.

What helped was reading and re-reading II Corinthians and hearing Paul reflect on his own ministry.  Paul’s reflections reminded me once again that this is a calling not a career.  The goal is not to be able to present a stunning resume to someone hoping that they might be impressed.  Rather, the goal is to yield myself in surrender to what God is doing in Christ.  Passages such as the following remind me that it is God who is at work in Christ and through the Spirit.  Ministry matters not because we are proving ourselves to others.  Ministry matters because God is at work, leading us in triumphal procession in Christ.  We know that much good is being done because the fragrance of the knowledge of him is being spread wherever we are and wherever he is present.

This reality makes life and ministry — as it is at the present — just right.

14But thanks
be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and
through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17Unlike
so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary,
in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

Does This Family Look Familiar? (Part 1)

familystress.jpgSeveral years ago, I sat at a table in the faculty dining room at Baylor University.  At the table with me was a man who had served as the academic dean and eventually as the president of a seminary.  He was now "semi-retired."  Most weekends, he preached at a church somewhere in the country.  I met him in a class that I was auditing.  We went to lunch and I began asking him questions about what he was seeing in these churches.  His reply?  

"Jim, I am seeing many, many very tired people."

Wow.  How interesting that this would be his immediate response.  Yet, I think I know what he is talking about.  I see them in our church as well.  Many, many people who appear to be exhausted.

Some of them are like "John and Susan Bailey."  You might have a difficult time getting to know them because it is very difficult to catch up with them.  Their schedule doesn’t allow much time for friendships.  Oh they have a few friends.  However, they spend little time relaxing with these friends.  Usually when they see one of their friends, one of them will shout, "Hey we need to have lunch sometime."  But of course, no one follows through.

John Bailey belongs to a civic club, coaches a softball team, works out several times a week, teaches the high school Sunday School class and maintains a beautiful yard.

Besides her regular part-time job, Susan Bailey finds herself juggling an exhausting schedule.  She is always creating new projects or volunteering to help someone else with theirs.  She serves on committees and volunteers at her children’s school.  If she is not taking her youngest to the dentist, she is driving her pre-teen to the store for supplies for a science project.  

At first glance, it might appear that the Bailey family spends a lot of time together.  Yet, when they are together they talk on the phone to other people, constantly check their e-mail on their phones, text their friends repeatedly and overall just seem very, very distracted.  They don’t seem to be really focused on one another.  They always seem — hurried.

Do you recognize this family?  Do you see families who seem to be in constant motion?  Do you know families who do not seem to be really listening to one another?  Do you ever wonder if they are missing the experience of the present while they are anticipating the next event?

To Keep from Being Overwhelmed

bricksWinston Churchill told the story of a Royal Navy sailor who rescued a boy who had fallen into the frigid waters of Plymouth Harbor.  The next day the sailor was walking through the downtown area.  Nearby, the boy who had fallen in and his mother were also walking.  The boy spotted the sailor, tugged at his mother’s coat, and pointed him out.  They began walking toward the sailor.  He saw them and assumed that the mother wished to thank him.  As they approached him, he looked at the boy, stuck out his chest and beamed with pride.  He took off his cap and the lady said, “Young man, are you the one who rescued my boy from Plymouth Harbor?”  The sailor replied, “Yes ma’am, I am.”  The mother then said, “Well, I would just like to know one thing: Where is that boy’s cap?”


Yes, it is an old story, but it is still relevant.  So often we do not live with a spirit of gratitude.  Instead we get preoccupied with "missing caps."


To live with gratitude is to live each day understanding that the past, the present, and the future really do belong to God.  Far too often we keep rehearsing the past (in particular our blunders, sins, etc.).  We miss the importance of the present while we worry about the future.


Now perhaps you don’t need to read any of this.  No problem.  I am actually thinking about what I need to hear today.  I find it very easy to focus on a "missing cap" and in no time I am becoming anxious and preoccupied.  My own anxiety at times is not associated with a heavy, burdensome issue in my life.  No, often it is nothing more than the accumulation of some very ordinary concerns.  A few people I need to call.  A situation I need to deal with.  Needing to check in with one daughter who has just returned from a long trip.  Meanwhile our younger daughter, Jamie, has been home from college the last few days and will be returning tomorrow.  So, I want to visit with her. 


These sound very ordinary, don’t they?  Probably these tasks are not much different than some of what you deal with every day.  Yet, these everyday tasks have a way of compiling, like trying to carry a number of bricks.  You may have started with one brick, but as you stack one on top of the other, trying to carry such a stack eventually feels overwhelming.


Think of these bricks:


  • One more project to start and complete.
  • One more unexpected bill.
  • One more doctor’s appointment that you had not anticipated.
  • One more writing assignment due.
  • One more test to take.
  • One more situation at work that needs your attention.
  • One more clarification you need to make.
  • One more conversation you need to have.


Meanwhile I read this morning Hebrews 13:5-6.  The context of this encouragement deals with money and contentment.  But I love the larger principle: God promises his forever presence.


Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

"Never will I leave you;

never will I forsake you."

So we say with confidence,

"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

What can man do to me?"