- The Ministry Crisis
- If you’re a statistically average group here tonight, at least fifty percent of you will not last the distance in the vocation you believe God has chosen for you. When you make a transition out of that ministry-vocation it will mostly be in the context of conflict. The majority of you will experience anger, some depression, and maybe a crisis of faith in the process. In our research we’ve found that the question “Why did you leave … ministry?” evokes many responses.
- Beneath these, however, there is usually a collision between the “minister” and some powerful
people who do not approve of the way you’re carrying out the ministry. But the way you handle that conflict usually has its roots in family-of-origin issues which may not yet be resolved.
Jesus’ Promise: The Bad News
- Jesus promised trouble for his followers. The apostles promised–and experienced–trouble. So will you.
I think it’s good to begin a ministry-journey with a “Cosmic Conspiracy Theory” firmly in your consciousness. The Evil One has a strategy to destroy your life, your family, the ministry to which you are called, your church, your denomination, your
- The Devil has a particular strategy to destroy the work of God in each of the 23,000 different Christian denominations in our world. In other words, the Devil is active in all the churches, the Holy Spirit is active in most of them! You’d better get a feel for what that strategy is and do something to thwart the Devil. The New Testament is full of advice about how to do that. He’s (are masculine pronouns OK for Satan?) out to get you.
- Watch out, indeed “watch and pray.”
The Good News: Ten Keys
- The good news is that there are about 10 bits of classical wisdom for ministers. If you follow them you’ll be saved some of the trouble and stupidities we humans get ourselves into.
- When I use the word “minister” I’m including evangelists, youth pastors, parish clergy, social welfare workers, homemakers, parents, church planters — any vocation the Lord
is calling you to…
1. Love God More Than You Love The Ministry.
- The first and greatest commandment is still (as Eugene Peterson translates it) “You shall love the Lord with all your passion, prayer and intelligence”.
- Some “ministers” seek to be successful in ministry to feed their egos. You won’t last if that’s your motivation. In our culture we males, in particular, define our worth in terms of our performance, compared with that of our peers.
- Now how do you get to know and love God? There are two suggestions I’d make.
- First, get to know Jesus, very well. He is “the human face of God.” “If God is like Jesus, nothing is too good to be true!” as the Jesus freaks used to say. When Jesus confronted sinners, for example, grace precedes the legalism; acceptance precedes repentance.
- I once asked a Bible college class what Jesus said to the woman caught in the act of adultery. “Go and sin no more,” they responded in unison. “You Pharisees,” I retorted. They’d forgotten that “I do not condemn you” comes first. The Pharisee in us emphasizes (our perception of) truth over love, law over grace. Jesus invites us to repent of that perspective.
- Second, develop some spiritual disciplines. Read Richard Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline once a year in the first five years after graduation. Make an “oratory” somewhere in your house or garden where you read the Scriptures and pray and do some devotional reading. Be disciplined. You won’t last in ministry unless you develop these time-honored habits of prayer.
- 2. Love Your People.
- They are not pawns in your grand scheme to be famous. A layperson said to me, “I think I only have value to my pastor in terms of a statistic in his church growth vision.” Church growth is good, but don’t aim for growth: aim for health.
* Don’t commit yourself to success, but to faithfulness and effectiveness.
* Be big enough to encourage the ministry of others. Weak pastors, for example, see the strongest people in their churches leave over time because those pastors are threatened by others’ giftedness.
* Relate pastorally and lovingly to your enemies.
* Listen to their heart. Richard Rohr says “Your enemy is your best friend.” Your enemy is the only person who’s likely to tell you the truth about yourself. Who was the mystic who said “You love God just as much, and no more, than you love the person you love least?”
- 3. Know Yourself.
- * Know Your Family Of Origin. In every case of emotional burnout I have counseled there were some unresolved family-of-origin issues behind it all. Find a good counselor and talk through these! If you don’t, these issues will inevitably surface in times of conflict. The motto of my little counseling practice is “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood!”
- * Know Your Personality Type. It’s a good idea to get a handle on your personality type. Do a Meyers-Briggs test or the Enneagram–or both. Buy a couple of good Christian books that explain how your personality type best relates to God. I’m an INTJ and a five: the “I” means I’m more introverted than extroverted–severely introverted, in fact.
- I don’t believe you have to be locked in to a personality type: God can change us. But when I think back to my days as pastor of 1500 people, with 25 salaried staff at Blackburn Baptist Church, I can understand why I came home emotionally drained too often, with little to give my family. If only I had known better in those heady days!
- 4. Know The Faith.
- 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts us to be ready to make our defense to those who challenge “the hope that is in us; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” This is the only time, I think, in the entire Bible where we are commanded to treat other people–even adversaries–as we treat God: with reverence.
- “Knowing the faith” is more, much more, than knowing creeds or systems of apologetics. Our faith is not primarily a body of doctrine, but a relationship with the living God, in Christ, by the power of the Spirit. Our little systems will “have their day.” This is why we are always committed to the idea that “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his holy Word.”
- 5. Know The World.
- Today’s “post-modern” world is unique. There are many groups in this world who demonstrate worldliness in their own unique way. The Generation X-ers who inhabit this new world are an example of a unique generation. They
- * Are the group of people born between 1960 and 1980
- * Are a group in search of an identity
- * Are the electronic generation, brought up on TV
- * Are the first to wrestle with issues of global ecological catastrophes and AIDS
- * Are shaped by music and MTV
- * Are the best-educated and most-traveled generation in history
- * On average, will have eight major jobs in their lifetime
- * Are anti-materialistic
- * Will have, on average, more partners than children
- * Had more than two parental authority figures as they grew up
- * Are the most counseled generation in history, and the most suicidal
- * Are the most aborted generation
- * Hate institutions and prefer to work collaboratively
- Generation X-ers’ worship is not traditional, but interactive and experiential.
- Their most pervasive feelings are despair, confusion and narcissism.
- Now how do you reach this generation? Not primarily with pat answers, but through authentic relationships. This, of course, is actually the way Jesus operated!
- 6. Find A Mentor
- I now carry copies of John Mallison’s book, Mentoring, everywhere I go, to give away or to sell. It’s an important book about a vital concept.
- The story of the boy Jesus in the Temple is one of the most important–and least understood–stories in the Gospels. Here are the male VIP’s in Jesus’ world pausing in their task of running the universe to give quality time to this boy. Every young adolescent boy needs that experience.
- A wall-full of literature from the men’s movement tells us that all the pre-industrial cultures know the incredible importance of initiating boys into manhood. If that doesn’t happen intentionally, boys may not know how to be men. They may not learn how to be strong and tender. They may not learn how to relate to women other than as sex-objects or as maternal nurturing or authority figures. They may not learn how to lead.
- In my talks to men’s groups I find on average only one man in 100 spent more quality-time with male elders during his early teenage years than with women. Most of the social problems of the Western world stem back to this lacking.
- It’s never too late to find a mentor. Go to the best-put-together adult (preferably a mature man, if you’re male, and probably also a mature safe male, if you’re female, as most women were not properly fathered in our culture either), and ask “Can I talk to you sometimes?”
- Try it! Part of the process will involve reality-checking. It will also involve the so-called “getting of wisdom.” Confucius said, “The wise person learns from others’ mistakes before they make their own!”
- 7. Find A Confessor!
- The Protestants got it wrong when they ditched the confessional. By and large they “threw the baby out with the bath water.”
- There was a lot of medieval hocus-pocus mixed up in Reformation ideas. If you check the Epistle of James in the New Testament, you will find that the text is still there about confessing your sins to another, praying for one another, and being healed.
- The reasons we don’t confess to another are not largely theological. They are rooted in fear and pride. We carry an incredible amount of unresolved guilt and shame around with us that stymies God’s work through our lives. 1 Peter says, “Keep your conscience clear.” Do that!
- Don’t forget Derek Prince’s illustration of the two neighbors. One had a beautiful garden, weed-free, but he used a watering-can to nurture it. The other had a powerful hose and sprinkler system but through lack of discipline rarely used it, so his garden was overgrown and ugly.
- God gives all Christians great power for Chritian ministry. But what’s the use of power without a disciplined and clean life? Why not begin and end every day with the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
8. Pursue Excellence!
- We used to sing a very meaningful little song, “Have I done my very best for Jesus?” Good question! There are two reasons to do your best. First, doing your best honours God. The second reason is that mediocrity will lead to failure.
- People expect you to do well. Whether we like it or not, the consumer culture has invaded the church. There’s a good and evil side to this. The good aspect is that there are higher expectations of the church’s leaders to do well at what they’re called to do. There’s nothing wrong with that.
- The ugly side is that we now have a population of “church-shoppers” who are looking for the perfect church. Many of them drop out of church altogether through disenchantment with the church’s imperfections!
- Lyle Schaller, probably the Western world’s foremost church analyst and consultant says it doesn’t matter whether your church is large or small. Instead, the most important thing is to find the best thing your church can do and do it very well!
- Preach well. Prepare sermons thoroughly. Watch yourself preaching on a video (and experience some of the suffering others have to endure!). Some Christian preachers think all they have to do is “wait on the Lord” and the words will just come. Well, words may come, but there’s often more heat than light in their preaching! Intelligent people won’t stay around when all they get, as one commentator described, is “pink theological fluff.”
- Master the English language. Learn the meanings of the words you use. Develop the habit of communicating in non-sexist language. This is a matter of courtesy and justice to our sisters in the Lord.
- Read. “Leaders are readers!” No leader can afford not to spend “half their life with God, and half with people, and the rest in administration.” In the half you spend on your own life, spend half of that reading good devotional and theological books. John Mark Ministries’ Still Waters Deep Waters five-volume devotional series is full of quotes from the best spiritual writers, poets and theologians in the English-speaking world. Read Eugene Peterson’s books, especially Take and Read and Under the Unpredictable Plant.
- Whatever devotional literature you choose, the bottom line is “Read!”
9. Have A Vision/Goal For Your Life.
- Write out your eulogy. If you died today, what would the pastor say about you at your funeral?
- As a boy of fourteen I developed a burning passion to educate people about God. I’d leave gospel tracts everywhere–on trains, in library books and in letter-boxes. I had a vision to develop resources and to share them with others. I put together a filing system of illustrations, Bible studies, magazine articles etc. They now occupy twelve four-drawer filing cabinets!
- When you make goals, I think it’s not a good idea to be over-specific. God will need room to help you achieve your goals as He desires. What He does with your vision and goals may surprise you.
- I’m counseling young pastors who “believed God” to bring 1000 people into their congregations. After five years, many were burned out and saw their churches split. I’m talking to many people quite disappointed that God has not fulfilled “prophecies” said over them. I have a conspiracy theory about prophecies–or, at least, most of them! Many are not God speaking at all, but someone playing at omniscience! Be very careful before you link your future to someone else’s prophecy over you.
- One of the key goals for your ministry-life is to become redundant. Do what Jesus and the apostles did, and train others to take your place.
- 10. Finally, Take Care Of Yourself.
- Have a sabbath each week. Remember, you are not called to work harder than God! Be rigorous about the sabbath (a mid-week, say Thursday, is best for preachers), but not legalistic.
- I know clergy who are out of the pastoral ministry now because they would not return calls from desperate people on their day off. You are allowed to “heal on the Sabbath” just as Jesus taught us!
- Have fun! Develop a hobby…but make sure it’s not all-consuming. Enjoy your life. You’ll never get out of it alive! Finally, never forget, as Hugh of St. Victor said,
“God does not share His love between all of His creatures. He gives all of His love to each one of His creatures.”
* This article is taken from a commencement address delivered to Tabor College, Sydney, Australia, February 15, 1999. It is edited from its original format.
Dr. Croucher’s website, John Mark Ministries, http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm, contains thousands of excellent resources for pastors, leaders and all Christians. This article is reprinted by permission in edited form by Rowland Croucher.