My Greatest Struggle in Ministry
Over the past eight years of pastoral work I have had to learn a lot about myself.... and others. I try hard to learn and grow... to learn from my mistakes... and improve from them... all the while trusting in the power and guidance of God, growing in my love of Him and His church.
My greatest struggle in ministry still remains my greatest struggle. It comes back regularly... and it's hard to explain in one short statement... but I'll try.
Because I live, eat, breathe, and sleep church life, I know everything going on here, far more than anyone else. That gives me more insight in where we need to go as a church... and my struggle comes when others can't see what I see... and I can't seem to get them to see it...
My heart breaks for what people are struggling with. The hurts, pain, loneliness, sins, illness, and everything else in between drives me to pray more and more for them. My heart breaks for a younger generation who walk away from the church because they feel they can't openly talk about their struggles here... or find it completely irrelevant to their lives... or feel like they are not needed in the church. My heart breaks for non-Christians who turn away from Jesus, not because of the message of Christ, but because of the hard hearts of Christian traditionalist and legalists.
Because I see all this on a regular basis I struggle when I just can't seem to get others to follow me to do something about it.
And this struggle can cause me to become frustrated on a good day... and quite angry on others. It can come out in my preaching (I'm REALLY sorry when that happens!). It can come out in my leadership style (again, REALLY sorry when that happens!)
And that's not good! For my relationship with God... or the church.
Over the years I've learned a number of ways to keep me from letting this struggle get to me. Here is the list that helps me... hopefully it can be a help to you as well.
1. Remember that they just don't see it.It's too easy for me to assume that everyone in the church sees all the problems that I do... but that's just not reality. In fact, most people don't see ANY problems. They love their church and everything about it. They simply don't notice. That's not a knock against them... that's just their reality of the church.
It is so important to guard my heart. Just because they don't notice the problems I know about is no reason to let me heart get hard against them. My role is to love, to serve, to guide, to teach, to correct, and to lead... the greatest of these is to love!
2. Lead at a pace they can followBecause I see the problems it's too easy for me to run full steam ahead to try to correct all the problems. But because they don't see them, the congregation doesn't understand why I'm rushing so far ahead of them.
It's important for me to slow down, pray, have more coffee meetings with key leaders and key volunteers and help them to see what I see. Again, my role is not the be the slave driver of the vision of the church... it's not about recruiting workers to make my vision a reality. My role is to help others make the vision of the church their own! Once they own the vision and see where we need to go as well, then we head that way as a church family. And they will accomplish so much more than I ever could alone!
But I need to slow down so we can journey together.
3. Give people permission to speak to meIt's funny how this works... you may think that you're a completely approachable person... only to learn that people don't want to approach you. I know that can be the case with me, especially if I'm getting frustrated in ministry... it's NEVER my intention... but somehow that message creeps in.
Being approachable means not simply trying to convince everyone to your opinion... but truly listening and hearing their hearts and thoughts. As the leader, it may be necessary to correct and guide... but that should be out of a heart of love and service, not drive or frustration or control.
4. Give a few mentors permission to call me outEvery pastor needs a pastor. We need someone who has gone ahead of us... and who will call us out when we are off base or letting the struggle of leading and ministry get to us.
I'm SOOOO thankful for the couple of men in my life who do this. They understand what I see and what I deal with... but they don't let me have a pity party or let frustrations take me over. They speak truth in love... and they correct and guide me in a way that models how I'm to do that to others.
5. Rejoice. I say it again REJOICE!I truly believe that serving in the church is the most important work in the world. Church leaders have been given the wonderful task of equipping Christians in their faith so that they would be the salt and light of Jesus everywhere that they go.
Pastors don't change the world. They pour their lives into men, women, boys and girls who go out and change the world! That is an amazingly humble calling. And we should rejoice it in!
I have a practice that has served me well in this... when frustrations begin to creep into my heart I blast worship music in my office and I dance around! Now, I try to do that on days when no one else is in the church :) But this is such a great reminder for me that my identity is not in my title of pastor, but rather in my position as a son of the living God, through my relationship with Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit! That's something to rejoice in!
So, that's my greatest struggle. I keep learning in it... it's been a great eight year journey learning how to deal with this better... and I hope my struggle and my learning can help you in your struggle as well.