Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Are Your People?

Today’s post wraps up our series on protecting yourself from ministry burnout, and I want to build on the practical wisdom that Ned shared. In addition to the theological truths that keep our hearts centered on Jesus, rather than ourselves, I believe that one of the primary reasons our family has not experienced burnout is because we’ve always had safe people in our lives. Broadly speaking, this has been marked by participating in healthy church community, but more specifically, this has meant cultivating vulnerable friendships in which no topic is off limits and no secret left unshared.

Early in our marriage, whenever we met up with a certain couple, one of the four of us always ended up on The Hot Seat. We joked about this repeated pattern of examining each other’s lives, but I believe there was great value in the questions, challenges, and encouragement that came out of those times. As we became more involved with leadership in the church, we kept our lives open to our colleagues and invited them into the (sometimes very) ugly parts of our story.
At nearly every point in our journey, we’ve had mentors. Early in ministry, our mentors were involved in our context and were able to address issues or concerns related to our service. Our former pastor had a habit of asking “are you walking in the Spirit or the flesh today?” As we grew in leadership and met other experienced ministers outside of our church, we benefited from mentors who encouraged us to persevere and offered counsel on sensitive issues.    

I’m also personally convinced that team leadership not only relieves the burdens of ministry but also forces you to evaluate (over and over and over) the state of your heart. Planting a church with another couple is risky and is also scarily similar to getting married. But, just as in marriage, the more you let go of your own ego, the more you move toward your partner(s) in ministry, the more blessing you experience. Ministry teamwork - intimate, truth-wrenching teamwork - exposes your sin, selfishness, and pride, but also provides the safest place to confess these weaknesses and be sanctified.

Of course, in all the examples I’ve listed, it’s not just about having safe people around you. Christian friendships are essentially worthless if you do not share openly about your struggles. I can have all the friends in the world but if I never let them see the dark corners of my heart, then I miss out on the sharpening that they offer. The best trick that Satan plays is convincing Christians that we have something to hide. We are afraid that if others saw the “real me”, then they would reject us; we cover up our messes in an effort to escape shame. And darkness cannot serve the light, so eventually, our feeble attempts to serve the church eventually overwhelm us and we burn out.

I know this to be true: all of us are sinners, wretched and without hope in this world. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who sets us free from these bodies of death! Therefore, we can confidently share our mess with one another, for we have nothing to prove and no one to impress, since there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. {a joyful paraphrase of some of the apostle Paul's words to the church in Rome} 

Friends, whether you are in vocational or lay ministry, whether you are a pastor or volunteer, if you are part of the body of Christ, then you must have "a person" who you trust with your most intimate secrets and, more importantly, who keeps pointing you back to Jesus. We must sympathize with each other, yes, but more than that, we must preach the gospel to each other so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from the living God. 

How has your person helped you keep seeking Jesus when you wanted to give up?  
How can we help one another find "our people"?  

1 comment:

  1. Nicole, I couldn't agree more with the paragraph with your bolded point. I lost 9 years of spiritual growth and developing deep friendships due to the fact that I truly believed if anyone knew the truth of my sins, they would want nothing to do with me. while I was still daily confessing to God and repenting, the shame was so deep it became the basis of the wall that didn't let anyone in. But the amazing thing is - the more people I tell, the more loved I feel. Especially since the response always is, "you're not alone with that."