The Heart of the Matter
At the risk of being provocative, I’d like to ask you a question. Assuming you’re not reading this out loud, no one else will know your answer, so be honest with yourself. What role does ego play in your ministry?
You may be thinking, “I don’t have a big ego. I devote my life to the Lord and helping others.” There are, of course, rock star ministry leaders out there, who are in it for recognition and fame. But, in my experience, these big-ego driven types are few and far between. What’s far more common than a big ego in ministry circles is a self-protecting one.
Does any of this sound familiar?
- I have to maintain a façade that all is well, even when I’m hurting.
- I can’t talk to anyone about my needs because I’m supposed to have it all together.
- I can’t admit my fears because God is supposed to be enough.
- I have to keep up the appearance of a perfect family, ministry and life.
It does to me.
So, what happens when a ministry leader’s marriage is in trouble, when they can’t pay their bills, when they’re stressed or battling depression? More often than not, we concede to the constant and palpable pressure to “present well”, and hide the problem. But, when we are not truly in a peaceful, content place in our lives, it’s a lie to pretend that we are. And lies never help to advance the Kingdom of God.
As ministry leaders, we need to cultivate a culture of truth and be willing to share our struggles and vulnerabilities with others.
If we set ourselves up as being perfect, the message to a fallen world is that they have to be perfect to be found acceptable. Only by being real with others, can we demonstrate that the hurt, the broken and the sinful can find freedom and salvation in the Lord—and can even be used by Him.
So, let’s begin by admitting we’re not perfect. Let’s delve into our real struggles and needs, and let’s honestly work through those issues together. Because being real with ourselves and others is how we will truly succeed in the ministry we were called to do.
- Preventing Failure in Ministry by Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann
- A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
- Whiter Than Snow by Paul David Tripp
So here we are at the end of January, less than one month into a new year. Have you been weighing yourself?
One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight. But the weighing—that is so much a part of knowing whether we’re succeeding or not—can also be a hammer that can, ironically, keep us from experiencing the very success we hope for.
Here’s how it often plays out for me:
- I set a goal.
- I get myself motivated, by thinking positively of my goals—how I’ll feel, how I’ll look, all the things I can achieve, etc.
- I weigh myself. Success. I’m happy, I’m proud, I’m motivated.
- The next day, I weigh myself. Success. I’m happier, I’m prouder, I’m more motivated.
- The next day, I weigh myself. Success. I’m even happier, I’m even prouder, I’m even more motivated.
- The next day, I weigh myself. Failure. I’m sad, I’m frustrated, I consider that I might never be able to achieve my goal.
But that’s so short-sighted…and doesn’t reveal the truth. The truth is that—although the scale may have gone up a pound, or a half pound, from the previous day—my diligence towards my goal is having a positive effect over time. If I stand back and look at the big picture, I’ll have a much clearer, and more encouraging view of what’s actually taking place. If I just look at that single day, I could easily get sucked into a downward spiral of failure and just give up.
This truth about weight loss can also be applied to our ministries. As ministry leaders, we are motivated and determined, and we put much planning and daily effort into our ministry goals. Sometimes, when we weigh ourselves against our goals, our hopes and our plans, we feel that we are succeeding in doing something meaningful and powerful for the Lord. But then, there are times when we weigh our ministries and find them lacking. And, just as with dieting, these temporary bumps don’t always feel so temporary. It’s easy to feel dejected and defeated. And it’s easy to consider giving up.
But God sees the big picture, and that’s what He wants for us, too.
One of the Bible verses I’m so encouraged by when I feel as if my ministry is lacking, is 2 Corinthians 4:17. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. It’s one of those verses that may be so familiar to us that it almost seems trite. But let’s take a moment to unpack it. Our troubles are light and momentary. That’s not trivializing our problems; it’s putting them into perspective. God is seeing our ministries from His viewpoint and, in sharing this bit of information with us, He’s encouraging us. He’s telling us that, what seems so big and overwhelming and insurmountable to us now, is nothing compared to the eternal glory that far outweighs them all. And, after all, isn’t that why we’re in ministry…because we want eternal glory, for ourselves and for others?
Weighing our ministry’s success against our goals can be a valuable tool to keep us heading in the right direction, but is not the final word on whether we have served God well. He is the Ultimate Authority on that; I will listen to the Truth that’s been revealed to me through the God of the universe, and not a finite scale that only reveals a fleeting moment in time.
So, beyond losing weight, my New Year’s resolution is to live in God’s Truth. Because, whether my scale goes up or down, and whether my ministry is in a season of growth or disappointment, my challenges are momentary. And, in His big picture, it all works together for good, because we love Him.
Blessings in the New Year!
- Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman
A Hope and a Future: God’s Provision in Difficult Times by Jack Graham
God Speaks: Finding Hope in the Midst of Hopelessness by Ray Comfort
I’m just going to come right out and admit it. I am the donkey.
In many of the iconic images of the nativity, somewhere lingering in the background is the donkey. He’s never up front…in the image above, he didn’t even make it into the frame. All of the other players, full of wonder and amazement, have front row seats to the miracle of the Christ Child’s birth. But not the donkey. He’s lying somewhere in the shadows, too comfortable in his straw bed to move. Now, in fairness to the donkey, he had just been through a long journey, toiling under the weight of a pregnant woman. He was tired.
Our church had a live nativity on Christmas Eve. Of course, it was precious. Little ones portrayed Mary and Joseph and all of the animals…the cows, the sheep, and even the donkey. The scenario was very different last year. Last year, rather than the donkey being represented by a child in costume, there was a real live donkey. And, as real live donkeys are known to do, when it was time for him to enter the church, he wouldn’t budge. He planted his feet firmly where he stood and was immovable. He saw that scene unfolding before him in the distance and refused to step into it.
Here are some of the ways I am like the donkey:
1. Sometimes I get tired.
Carrying the responsibilities of leadership can feel like a burden. And sometimes, I just get tired. Sometimes, I can be so heavy laden with concerns, that a brief reprieve is my greatest desire.
2. Sometimes I get too comfortable.
Once I find a comfortable spot, it’s difficult for me to want to leave. Sure, there may be amazing things happening beyond the soft cocoon I’ve created for myself. But sometimes, I just want to stay in the comfortable, the familiar and the easy.
3. Sometimes I am immovable.
Although I want to believe that I am led by God’s will for my ministry and my life, the truth is, I can be stubborn. Sometimes, even though I clearly see the thing the Lord is asking me to do, I dig in. Because, sometimes, I like where I am and I’m just not willing to move.
4. Sometimes I miss the miracle.
Everything I do in ministry is to celebrate and proclaim the miracle of the Christ Child. And, yet, when I am given the opportunity to experience and share the joy and wonder of this miracle, I miss the opportunity because I am so focused on my own concerns.
So the takeaway for me (and possibly for you, if you have a little bit of donkey in you) is that as a ministry leader, I have been given a key role in introducing the world to Jesus. I do not want my tiredness or stubbornness or anything else to get in the way of that. Sharing that Good News is not a burden to retire from; it is a precious, special opportunity. And I want to be fully present, so that I can experience and enjoy the blessing myself, and then—as an outpouring of my own delight—share it with others.
No matter what we’ve been burdened by in our ministries, it’s my prayer that we will all experience the hope and blessing the Christ Child brings, so that we can touch lives for Him with a willing spirit, renewed in joy and vision for the coming year!