About every other year, I attempt a full or partial decent into the Grand Canyon. “The Hike” is amazing. While many would immediately recognize the physical challenge of such a trek (the round trip is an approximate 18-mile quest), they might miss the fact that the experience can be spiritually invigorating. My dad, Dr. Jerry Tetreau, has been leading groups for nearly two decades. One of the things Dad does each year is to send out a list of items needed. One of the most important components of this guide is the necessary preconditioning required to survive the day without ending the trip en route to the South Rim ER.
I’ve often thought that it might be helpful to send out a similar “heads up” survival guide, especially for those leaders serving in new ministries or retooling existing ones. (I’m convinced that these two groups make up an overwhelming majority of ministry “out there.”) I suppose in a sense the list isn’t necessary because, in fact, such wisdom already exists in authoritative terms within Holy Writ. However, if I were to write a systematic theology of ministry survival, what might I put into such a list? Consider the following:
1. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Antiquity still isn’t entirely sure how many centuries it took for the main of Rome to be built. In a sense, Rome is still being built. One of the chief causes for burnout in ministry homes is the fact that we forget the promise of Christ. “I will build my church.” Howard Hendricks (aka, “the prof”) makes the point that burnout is especially dangerous for those who feel they’ve had a measure of success. If not biblically balanced, we can begin to lust for more and more success. Sometimes this desire may start out with heavenly intentions, but it can quickly descend into a fleshly pursuit of self glory. Don’t compare yourself or your ministry to some other ministry. All that will result is bitterness and resentment. It simply isn’t reasonable to expect your ministry to grow at the same speed or breadth as others. Growth is God’s responsibility. The only requirement He has is for us to be faithful.
Relax! Not with God-given responsibilities, but relax when it comes to fulfilling irresponsible expectations from yourself and/or from others. The Christian race is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Perhaps a more accurate description would be a triathlon. God has given you the remainder of your life (the length and effect of which is entirely dependent on His wisdom) and the needed resources of heaven to accomplish what He has set before you. If we are going to be involved in a successful ministry, God will have to bring it to pass. It’s not up to you to change hearts; it’s only up to you to be faithful. The central thought here is one of contentment (1 Tim. 6:6; Phil. 4:11-13) as well as of a willingness to minister without status seeking (Luke 9:46-48). May God forgive me for the times my heart has lusted for status. What worthless pile of rubbish will be at the Bema Seat! I pray God will continue to rescue me from the wasted desire for the applause of “earthlings.” Well, the idea of remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day and of applying that to having the long-look for ministry is aided by our commitment to waiting on the Lord instead of “shoving it through” (see Ps. 46:10; Ecc. 3:11; Micah 7:7; 1 John 5:14-15).
2. Celebrate small victories.
Ministry success is not found as the result of a special Sunday or a slick ministry program or campaign. Ministry success is not the result of manipulating people into giving larger amounts of time, money, or service. We discover ministry success along the long, patient, and quiet road of ministry. Ministry success is built on the small victories God gives us each day and each week in ministry. Each time a visitor returns, that’s a small victory. Each time we’re able to get to know someone deeper, that’s another victory. Each time a believer is willing to give more of himself to the Savior with the result of increased service to Christ, to his family, and to others, that’s another victory. Obviously, seeing nonbelievers come to Christ is huge. Obedience in the waters of baptism and in fellowship in membership thrills our hearts. Let’s be equally grateful for the small victories. Those are the bricks and mortar of a lifelong and eternally significant ministry.
3. Take a hike!
I recently tore my left Achilles tendon. That injury means no canyon hike this year. My wife and I were trying to bike several days each week. In addition, I had been getting in two or three significant hikes (or similar workouts) each week. Lord willing, once I recover and heal from surgery, we’ll get back at a consistent exercise program. What a wonderful thrill to stretch our bodies, to breathe fresh air, and to enjoy time with a spouse, a child, or a friend! (Yes, you can have friends in and out of the congregation.) Dedicate time to turning off that nasty cellphone that too often seems surgically attached to our bodies. Some prefer an indoor hobby. That’s fine. I’m still convinced there’s no substitute for getting out in God’s creation (except when it’s 115 degrees in the middle of July. You might consider escaping to the air-conditioned mall or gym for a brisk walk. What’s even better is an occasional escape to Flagstaff during a few of those hot days!). Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. That’s just one of several considerations that should spur us on to be good stewards of our bodies. That’s not to suggest that we make our bodies our idols. A health-body-perfect “cult” has taken over parts of society. Again, balance is key.
4. You think. Don’t worry about groupthink.
Fear brings a snare. That is especially true within the context of ministry. My friends Bob Bixby and Thomas Pryde have said much already about the dangers of “groupthink.” You need to make up your mind now that you will not make the opinions of others the idol more than a “few” in Christian ministry are bowing to. Certainly there is the danger of becoming careless and ignoring wisdom from others. However, in the final analysis, if you are convinced that God is pleased with a certain direction, if your congregation is in agreement that the direction charted is right, if you believe it is right, and if your family is behind you, isn’t that more than enough reason not to worry about what some of “the brethren” might think of you? Did they die for your sin? Did they call you into the service of King Jesus?
5. Enjoy God.
God’s love for us is total. We often teach on the clear issue of loving God (Matt. 322:37-39; 2 Cor. 5:14-15). I wonder, though, if we understand that God wants us to “enjoy Him.” John Piper has written a number of helpful works on this thought. One of the biblical examples that is impressive to me is Abraham. James 2:23 gives Abraham the status of being God’s friend. I’m afraid too many of us in ministry too often don’t enjoy God. I admit that I’ve had too many seasons in my life and ministry when I allowed my focus on ministry to rob my focus of simply enjoying God. How’s that for painful transparency?
One of the clearest indicators of this lack of enjoyment is seasons of prayerlessness. God has brought a few friends into my life who are prayer giants. I praise God for the reminder through godly friends of the power and roll of prayer in the life of family and ministry. Prayerlessness is an indication that we are not enjoying God in the midst of ministry. Actually, it’s not too hard to admit to this fault because I know every reader who is honest will admit to this kind of idolatry from time to time. If I’m honest, I’ll admit ministry isn’t all I’ve placed above God. I’m sure I’ve put friendships, family, comforts, pride, desires and a whole host of other substitutes in place of the Savor. For my own part, I’m asking the Lord to help me become a man of prayer. I’m discovering that the more faithful I am in sweet private communion with Christ, the less I’m tempted to trade His preeminence for my own.
6. Enjoy ministry.
The Greek root for joy (n) and rejoicing (v) is found 16 times in the book of Philippians. It’s evident that Paul expressed and experienced joy in serving Christ alongside the fellowship of brothers and sisters. What do you really enjoy in ministry? Here’s a question. Why don’t you do more of that? Sure, we all have to do things in ministry we don’t enjoy. But if I understand Scripture correctly, God gives us the desires of our hearts (when our hearts are following after God), and we are most delighted when we are serving where we are gifted. Ministry in the main should not be drudgery; most often it should be a thrill! If you don’t enjoy ministry, it’s a sure bet that no one in ministry will really enjoy you! If you’re not enjoying ministry in the main, the problem isn’t God. There are three possible reasons. First, the problem is with you. Second, the problem is with the ministry. Third, the problem is somehow a combination of either you or that specific ministry. Something or someone needs to change. Pray about that. God will direct.
7. Enjoy marriage.
“Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you” (Ecc. 9:9). A good practice is a “date night” or appointment. My wife and I do or say something sweet or special each 17th of the month. We were married August 17, 1991, and we’ve tried to honor that date each month over the years. Marital intimacy is awesome. That aspect of marriage should be a priority. However, there’s a world of pleasure with your mate outside of the bedroom that many of us need to consider. What I’m saying is mostly for the benefit of my brothers in ministry.
Guys, you need to enjoy your wife more. For example, let me encourage you to start with her brain. She does think and can talk. Some of us need to work on the talking part of marriage. When you’ve satisfied her that you know how to engage her brain, may I suggest looking into her eyes. Then why not look at her face? Notice how your undivided attention will bring smiles to her countenance. By the way, let me remind us men that we are responsible for the spiritual care of our wives. The best window into the spirit or soul of her heart is her eyes. Don’t be the idiot I’ve been in the past and forgotten that she often has even more of a burden in life and ministry than we do. You had better pay attention to her spirit. Look into her eyes! More than anyone else on earth, you are responsible to comfort and help your bride surf the “killer waves” of family and ministry. Now, for some of you who have been ignoring your mate for a while, it may take some time for the looking, the thinking, and the sharing to bring the smile back. You keep at it. Eventually, the smile will come back, even for the wife who suffers some form of depression and/or anxiety. Stay focused on her brain, on her face, and on her eyes. You’ll be flying together through the universe in no time!
8. Enjoy family.
All three of my boys are some of my favorite people in the world. You might think that’s an odd or needless statement. Frankly, the way I’ve heard some speak of their kids, I’ve often wondered if they even like their children. (Remember, your children are God’s gifts to you. See Ps. 127:3.) My boys and I have a good time together. We love ball games, camping, video games, bedtime stories (“Max the Earwax” is the best!), and going places together. For too many years, I regularly put ministry appointments in front of family ones. After finishing my doctorate a few years ago, I promised myself that I would do a better job of protecting “Family Time.” Sure, sometimes the family must be willing to sacrifice Dad for the sake of ministry, but every night? Every other night? There is no way God is honored when we in ministry are not involved with our families. I think I can make a fairly easy case from 1 Timothy 3 that such a leader is frankly disqualified from the office of elder or deacon. (Both this point and the next are obvious applications of Ecc. 9:15.)
|Dr. Joel Tetreau is senior pastor at Southeast Valley Baptist Church (Gilbert, AZ). He is on the adjunct faculty at International Baptist College and serves as co-director of SW Romania Missions Project.|