It’s been a bit since I have let anything post to the blog. There’s a reason for it. For any of you born after 2000, I’m going to use some terms related to a Video Cassette Recorder. That’s a device that plays these things called cassette tapes that were the predecessors to DVD, which proceeded Blu-ray, which preceded Netflix. Just Google it.
Sometimes you just have to hit pause. That’s not an easy thing to do. But you have to. Recently I had to hit pause on my blog. It wasn’t that I was overwhelmed or too busy or anything like that. It was because my heart was broken over reading responses to a survey of my peers. I knew the next thing that needed to post had to be about the stuff that was weighing on me. And I had to pause in order to figure out what that needed to be. So, I put all my scheduled posts on draft and just spent some time thinking about and praying about what to say next.
I serve an organization of my peers throughout the US. We recently sent a survey out to get a pulse on our group. Among the questions you typically find on a survey of this type, we included some asks about current struggles. We also asked about things they could use help with in ministry. Sadly, those basically ended up being almost the same question based on the responses. As I read through the answers given, I was just simply saddened by what I saw. Here are a group of people that are doing exactly what I’m doing in ministry and they are hurting, struggling, and feeling discouraged.
So, this post is going to have two points of view to share. One is for those of you that may be facing a current season of discouragement. My desire for you is to give you some inkling of hope without being too cliché. And you don’t have to be in the same exact ministry or job position that I am in for this to do that for you. The other point of view is that of the person leading the people that are my peers. My desire for you is to help you see and understand the value you should place on my peers. I also hope you will choose to encourage and respect them if they shared this rather than holding it against them. These are my words, not theirs.
I’m going to hit pause on this post now. I should interrupt this soapbox moment to brag about my current employer. Not because I’m concerned they might read this and be offended. I think they have bigger britches than that. The reality is that I can write this BECAUSE of where I serve. It’s not a perfect place. I heard it again recently, if you ever find a perfect church, don’t go there, you’ll mess it up. I serve in a church that is as messed up as any other because it’s an organization of humans led by a human. All humans are imperfect and as such, all churches are messed up. All employers period are messed up. But, I serve in a place with a mostly healthy culture for a leader that truly shows, in more than one way, the value he places on his staff team. Does that mean everything always goes the way I want and that there’s no stress in my life or my job? Absolutely false. But, this isn’t a toxic place with a toxic culture. For that, I am eternally grateful and it has given me a different perspective. Which, hey, that’s what this is all about.
To the first group of people I want to speak to, my peers. I’m sorry. I want to encourage you without being so trite or pedantic that you disregard what I’m going to tell you. I served in a hell-hole of a church. Many of us have. If you haven’t, you just haven’t served in ministry long enough. (There’s some sunshine and rainbows for you!) I have heard the well-meaning people say things like “it’s not like this everywhere!” And they are right. But that doesn’t help. In fact, for me it was discouraging. When I was seemingly stuck in the muck, and I heard someone say that, I instantly thought that I was stuck where I was because something was wrong with me. I have since grown to understand the utter nonsense that was. God wasn’t punishing me. He was growing me. He was pruning and shaping me. And we all know the passages about correction and training and refining. They don’t paint a happy, frolicking in the meadows type of imagery. They are broken vessels, fires of purification, and just imagine being a tree and having someone whack away at your appendages with a machete.
God was using everything I was experiencing to get me ready for what came next. Some of the time spent was longer than it should have been because I wasn’t learning. I spent too much time being frustrated that I couldn’t get out. I spent too much time in the comparison game between me and a peer elsewhere. I spent too much time trying to fix what was wrong on my own. And, in seeing where I am now, some of the time was spent waiting for the next place to be ready for me to come. Much to my dismay, the universe doesn’t revolve around me. I wasn’t the only one that needed refining and preparation. There are other characters in the story and I’m only one of the many.
Rewind a few years. I tried several times to leave the situation I was in. But, I couldn’t seem to get out. Hearing that it was better somewhere else was very discouraging to me. If it was so great somewhere else, why wasn’t I allowed to go there? I applied at a church that was a sort of mecca, the kind of place everyone wants to go. I was turned down. It was crushing. Fast forward in my story a bit. Here I am many years later and I can see the road clearly now that I have traveled it. I still have difficulty seeing the road ahead. But, the road behind me is very clear. I understand all that God was doing, including those seasons that were crushing and seemingly hopeless. Shame on me for letting myself feel that way and not trusting that God had something in store for me that was better. I just had to be still and wait for Him to do it.
Whatever you find yourself in, I promise you it is a season that will pass. If you are obedient to following God and letting Him guide your life, it will come to fruition and He will move you through it. I won’t begin to try to tell you what it looks like. Or where you will end up. But, He has a plan. Don’t just take my promise for it. Take God’s. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11. If I can implore you to do one thing, it would be to hold tightly to Him and don’t let His promise out of your heart. Cling to it and get through to the other side.
To the second group of people I want to talk to, the leaders over my peers…take note. In most churches throughout the country, the people in my peer group are struggling. I also struggle from time to time. But, as I said before, I am not writing this about me or my current situation. I am writing because of the outcry of the men and women that are on the verge of breakdown, burnout, and giving up. They need help. They need your encouragement. They need your respect. They don’t need lip-service or compliments. Those only last so long. They need you to listen. Even if they aren’t speaking to you, they need you to hear.
People in my role often feel unwelcome at the idea table or planning table. They often seem to receive the workload list from someone above them that made decisions without knowing what it would take to make those decisions happen. When they try to let you know what it would take, they often get their heads proverbially bit off because you don’t like the answer. But, you didn’t include them in the discussion. I am not trying to be the brakes on progression of ministry and moving ahead. But, too often, church leaders have great ideas with no real understanding of what it takes to pull them off. And that usually lands down the line somewhere on people like my peers. And they aren’t given the luxury of adding more manpower, budget, or equipment to make it happen. So, the work just piles up and adds up and keeps going until my peers can’t breathe.
If we work for a church, we often hear God First, Family Second, Church (work) Third. But that’s not how it usually works for people in support roles like ours. Each ministry has its thing and those ministry leaders don’t stop to consider the fact that they may only have one or two things, but start adding the one or two things from everyone that has them and the support folks now have 10-20 things. They often spend too many hours away from family because the job has to get done, there’s not enough staffing to go around, and it goes unnoticed because the leaders aren’t sacrificing the same collective amount of time. Please take a step back and evaluate that. I am fortunate. Our seasons of this are just that, seasons. And they only last a few weeks at a time. Even then, we aren’t giving up most nights and weekends for months at a time like many others in my peer group are. This is a problem.
If the answer isn’t that you are going to cut back on what ministries can do outside of a normal work week, then the answer has to be providing staff that can support the needs of the ministry in the church. You wouldn’t expect a student ministry to be successful without a student pastor. Or a worship ministry to be successful without a worship pastor. You shouldn’t expect your media, communications, production departments to be successful without proper staffing either. And if your church is large and the expectations are high, you better have a large support staff to make sure that can happen or you will run your people off. Many people in my field are on a rotating door. In fact, our survey data shows that while most people have been involved in ministry for 10-20+ years, most have also been at their current church 5 years or less. Think about that as a ministry leader. If you have good quality experienced people leaving, you may have a problem.
My peers are struggling. Some of them don’t know how to raise the alarm. Some of them are so tired and frustrated, they are raising the alarm at every little thing. That’s a bit like crying wolf. Talk to them. Don’t expect them to come tell you that something may not be right. But don’t engage them unless you’re willing to try to do something about the situation they are in. That would be worse than just ignoring it. That sends the message that you don’t care. And if you are one of those leaders or organizations that has the approach that it doesn’t matter because support ministry is replaceable, shame on you. You can’t do church in the modern world without people in the roles that my peers are in. And you will certainly not do it well with God-honoring excellence if you keep running them off. Not to mention, that’s not how God would approve of you treating His servants.
No matter which audience of this post that I’m speaking to, I ask you to be kind and rewind. If you are the peer, be kind to yourself. Rewind and remember why you are involved in ministry. Remind yourself Who you serve and why. Look back at the road behind you and see what God has been and continues to do to shape you for what comes next. If you are the leader of my peers, rewind and think about staff you’ve had before them. Chances are, there have been predecessors. Ask yourself why they left. What’s the old joke, if you’ve been divorced 4 times, you might be the problem? Take a look back and what happened and ask if you have corrected the issues that may have led to someone leaving. Sometimes it’s just too easy to blame the person that left. A good leader wouldn’t just blow it off like that, especially if there’s a pattern. See if there’s anything you can do as you press play on the next portion of your ministry season.