Helen is Training and Mentoring Director at London City Mission, which serves the London churches in sharing the good news of Jesus. In her spare time, she loves hanging out with friends and various assortments of animals (from dolphins to cats to molluscs), and is contemplating taking up extreme ironing.
Christian ministry is a life of service – of that there can be no doubt. We follow a crucified Saviour: the one who was willing to come from heaven to lay down his life for those he loves and we are called to emulate that Philippians 2, sacrificial, other-centredness in all we do.
When we look for role-models in Scripture, our eyes are often drawn to men like Paul who, in the power of the Spirit, managed to spearhead a church-planting programme, engage in exciting discipleship and settle doctrinal disputes whilst coping with arrest, imprisonment, hunger and the odd shipwreck or three. When looking for more contemporary people to emulate, our attention can similarly be captivated by high profile leaders. And, why not? Many of them are wonderful and all of us want to see significant Kingdom growth from our labours in his harvest field. Certainly, none of us wants to emulate those biblical characters whose ministries are remembered – at least in part – for discord (Euodia and Syntyche), sickness (Epaphroditus) or falling away (Judas). The trouble is, if we only fix our eyes on the sacrificial call and forget to ensure that sacrifice is sustainable, we end up putting ourselves on risky ground.
If we only fix our eyes on the sacrificial call and forget to ensure that sacrifice is sustainable, we end up putting ourselves on risky ground.
Often it starts with the odd missed day-off: “I’ll be more relaxed if I finish the prep” we reflect. Next, the quiet times begin to drift, after all “people will notice more if the talk isn’t finished than if the private prayers aren’t said”. After a while, the heart-issues begin: pastoral care morphs from pointing people to Jesus to us believing we can fix those around. Or maybe rather than serving our family, we begin to expect them to serve us and we start to resent their comments, constructive criticism or cries for help. It doesn’t take long for wayward behaviour to follow on: outbursts of anger (that we pretend are justified), putting others down (if they don’t comply), utter despair (as we plod through workloads alone) or secretly telling ourselves we’re justified in having another drink, another flutter or another glance at porn.
Of course, not everyone ends up burning out but many in ministry can relate to what Asaph noted when he wrote: “as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped…” (Psalm 73:2). So what action can we take to ensure that we don’t end up in a similar place? Here are 6 ideas:
- Ask a senior colleague what they have learned in ministry. They may seem to be outstanding but they will have made mistakes. Let them be a Titus 2 role model not just in what they get right now but in how they’ve overcome what they’ve got wrong.
- Be accountable to someone you trust. We all need someone who can challenge us when we are angry or proud and encourage us when we are down. Who asks “what sins are you struggling with right now?” with a look that says “come on, it’s good to get the dark deeds into the light”.
- Commit to having proper rest every week. That doesn’t mean ignoring everyone in the church – chill time indulging in sport or other hobbies with friends can be a wonderful way to relax – but there’s a real need to switch off from the to-do list each week.
- Develop team working. Batting ideas around, having moments to debrief and pray where iron sharpens iron and each team member uses their gifts will help ministry be more sustainable.
- Embrace different models of ministry. We all want to be faithful but ministry isn’t one size fits all. Not everyone is a church planter – not everyone thrives in visionary, leadership roles – and that’s OK. Paul didn’t need everyone to come on the missionary journeys with him – he needed elders to stay in Ephesus and Peter needed deacons to oversee food distribution in Jerusalem. Ask the Lord where best to use the gifts he has given you long term.
- Find time for God as a matter of priority. A pattern of daily dependence, in which we listen to the Lord in his word and seek him in prayer, fuels and authenticates everything else. We are but dust, after all.
Find time for God as a matter of priority. A pattern of daily dependence [on him] … fuels and authenticates everything else.