Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Phases of Personal Ministry Failure

Why do members, active in local church ministry, suddenly seem to flame out? Sometimes almost out of the blue, somebody who seems fully engaged and fully invested, just throws up their hands and walks away. It seems to me that there are five phases to personal ministry failure. Each phase leads to the next and if the observant leader does not recognize the stage, the lay minister will eventually leave their ministry, and often their local congregation, embittered and discouraged. The five phases are:

Phase 1: Bothered by the Guilt: They knowing they should be doing something for God. Perhaps they hear an inspiring message about being “part of the body of Christ,” or study spiritual gifts during their devotional time and feel motivated that God is calling them to some form of ministry. I believe that every disciple has a divine calling, a ministry that God has uniquely gifted and called them to, but sometimes they do not know how to discover their gifts and calling. They begin searching for a way to assuage their guilt which causes them to…

Phase 2: Get Busy: They begin taking on responsibilities without prayerful discernment, filling up their calendar. The tasks and responsibilities they take on may or may not sync with their divine calling. What do they do? They do everything! They throw their hand up at every opportunity. Perhaps they take over a struggling ministry, or begin a new ministry. They accept officer positions in one or more ministries that they were previously uninvolved in. They are excited about “working for God” and throw themselves into every task. Their commitment and enthusiasm bring excitement and additional requests upon their time. Before long, they…

Phase 3: Become Burdened: They realize one day that they am feeling overwhelmed by their ministry responsibilities and start to feel negatively about them. While they still feel the desire to “work for God,” it moves from being a privilege to an obligation. Their ministry begins to shift from being a “get to” to being a “have to” set of details, lists, and jobs. They start to grumble, but not too loudly, about all the things they have to get done, the responsibilities they have, and the amount of time it is taking. While before they were the first at the meeting and the last to leave, they begin to be tardy and are not as excited as they were previously. Their mindset also starts to shift during the end of this stage from doing “work for God” to doing “work for the church.” That subtle shift in language is a sign that they are approaching…

Phase 4: Burnout: They begin to resent their responsibilities and begin to question why others aren’t as committed as they are. They begin to, intentionally or unintentionally, “drop the ball,” let things slide, not return phone calls, and sometimes even sabotage the ministries under their care. They want to prove how valuable they are and how things will fall apart without them. They start to seek recognition and praise as a way to help themselves feel like their sacrifices are “worth it.” Even if they maintain their ministry tasks, they are absent from worship and other spiritual formation activities where they can be spiritually nurtured. Their spiritual identity is based solely upon their responsibilities and no longer in their relationship with Christ. Then, one day, seemingly out of the blue they go…

Phase 5: Ballistic: in a moment of anger, frustration, exhaustion, and/or disappointment they blow up. They begin blowing everything out of proportion by making accusations only minimally grounded in the truth. Then they blow off all of their ministry responsibilities, often slamming the door behind them as they leave, walking away from the church and sometimes even the few positive relationships they have left. They experience a sense of relief at no longer having all those “church” responsibilities crowding their calendar. They express that they don’t need “church” to have a healthy spiritual life and that they are glad to be free from the “organization.”

At this stage the formally invested and engaged lay minister becomes either a silent critic (sitting, arms crossed waiting for the organization to fail); a sideline critic (always pointing out what’s wrong with the organization); or an absent critic (perhaps leaving the organization but always ready to criticize their former organization). If they remained disengaged from their spiritual journey, I have seen people stuck like this for decades after they have left the church. However, if they do eventually re-engage in their spiritual journey, maybe by having a positive spiritual experience with a friend or through a local congregation, they begin to get back involved in a local church. One day, during a particularly moving message, or in their personal devotion time they begin to feel guilty, knowing that they should be doing something for God…repeat until jaded.

What do we do to break the cycle of personal ministry failure?

Step 1: Help lay ministers discover their strengths, their gifts, and their divine calling. Sue Nilson Kibbey in her book Ultimately Responsible discusses the importance of helping people live, work, and do ministry utilizing their strengths. You do not get burned out doing what you love, only what you loathe. The first step to helping lay ministers avoid personal ministry failure is to help them prayerfully discern their gifts, strengths, and divine calling.

Step 2: Encourage lay ministers to ask for help. Creating a safe environment for lay ministers to ask for assistance is vital to avoiding personal ministry failure. So often we as pastors and paid staff operate under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” model of ministry. If nobody is loudly complaining and the tasks are being done, we don’t really want to know if our people are happy serving where they are. We are just happy that we don’t have to do it. As leaders we have to create a safe place for lay ministers to ask for help, and then to receive the help they need. Whether it is providing assistance or helping them transition to another area, or avoiding getting overloaded with too many jobs, as Kibbey writes, the leader is “ultimately responsible.”

Step 3: Put a time limit on expected lay ministry service and end the era of perpetual ministry. Allow them to opt in or opt out annually or at least bi-annually. Create a leadership covenant that allows lay ministers the chance to take a breather. So many churches I have served seem to have an “elected until death” expectation of their ministry leaders. This is a sure fire way to encourage personal ministry failure. While I understand the frustration of having effective people opt out, I’d rather them opt out today than burnout tomorrow. This is a pastoral responsibility to care for those you expect to care for others.

After nearly twenty years in vocational ministry I have observed this pattern countless times, often not even realizing it was occurring until it was too late. As leaders, paid and unpaid, we must do a better job at keeping disciples invested and engaged in our communities and quit seeing them as commodities for ministry activity. I am not great at this yet, but at least I have begun working on it and trying to recognize the signs before the explosion. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,


Friday, August 27, 2010

Small Groups Digi-zine

There are two amazing articles in the Fall 2010 Small Digi-zine I hope you'll check out. The first is by John Ortberg as he discusses what makes leading a Connection Group (small group) worth the time, effort, and aggravation. The second is a video interview with Mark Batterson from National Community Church about the importance of small groups in creating a powerful spiritual formaiton environment for the local church. You can see the whole issue here: Fall 2010

It's free and its amazing!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life at the you want to be healed?

In case you have missed worship this month, we have spent August working through the book of John and looking at encounters with Jesus. Here is the message from August 8:

Life at the well 1: John 5:1-15

Places where we encounter Jesus...

We are going to spend the next four weeks understanding what sociologists call “third places.” Third places are where people gather to do live together that is not home or work. During Jesus’ day one of the most common of these was the well, the place where the entire community came together, out of necessity, and could share information, news, and build relationships.

“The third place is a generic designation for a great variety

of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal,

and happily anticipated gathering of individuals beyond

the realms of home and work...” The Great Good Place

As a southerner I was completely fascinated by our visit to Erie and the idea of neighborhood pubs and restaurants. In the middle of neighborhoods, surrounded by homes on every side, with virtually no parking, are gathering places.

We encounter Jesus where we are…

Jesus went to the pool where the sick were. He hung out at third places…the market, the seashore, the well, the pool…

Consistently Jesus goes to where the people are, he does not expect them to come to him. It is the difference between the mystic and the messenger. The mystic sits up high on a mountain that you have to climb to gain the ancient wisdom, the messenger goes to the center of the community and shouts the news.

We encounter Jesus when we have given up…hope seems lost.

For thirty years he had waited to be healed. From his response you can tell that he had given up hope. He had quit throwing pennies into the well.

We encounter Jesu he requires something of us…there is a decision to be made. All relationships have a cost.

“Do you want to get well?” This question sounds ridiculous, but isn’t it because some of us have become so used to our sickness that to be well would require more than we want to give. Did you notice the man did not answer the question?

Lessons we need to learn:

Being Jesus people requires that we:

1. Go where the people are.

a. The day of putting up a steeple, ringing a bell, and opening the doors as the primary means of connecting with community are over.

b. 61% of people who were active in a local church in their youth, leave in their twenties never to return.

c. We can go through our day and never encounter Jesus.

d. We can’t wait for people to come here.

2. Share hope with those who have lost hope.

a. Hope grows when you give it away.

3. Live the change in us without expecting it to live in them until they encounter Jesus.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus did not require anything of those he healed before he healed them?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ministry Lessons from the "New" McDonalds

I follow Rev. William Chaney, Jr.'s blog and would suggest it would be worth following. Here is one of his recent posts about how McDonald's is changing its cultural understanding and what the church can learn from them. A link to the original article is at the bottom if you would like to leave him a comment. Here are his insights:

During our vacation this year we drove Niagara in an effort to be economical. It was fun and provided a lot of experiences that are missed as you fly to your vacation destination. As a general rule I usually do not eat at McDonald’s but this is my daughter’s restaurant of choice. My attitude quickly adjusted when I found out that each highway side McDonald’s has experienced a makeover. Bright new colors, open spaces to manage traffic, free WiFi, comfortable seats, restrooms were clean and the menu has changed. They now have several salad choices, smoothies, wraps and chicken choices which quickly got my attention. Traveling as a child I never remember McDonald’s being like this. I decided to ask the manager of one store what prompted all of the stores getting a makeover. He shared with me that the objective was to become more appealing to this generation without compromising their core business of providing a meal for a family at a reasonable price. Their competition was no longer other fast food restaurants but Panera, Starbuck’s, Dunken Donuts, Qdoba’s and other places that have done a great job of reaching the new and emerging culture.

I had these simple take- a- ways from our conversation and my observation.

  1. Churches that are in the process of revitalization need to make sure that their core ministry is making disciples and that this ministry is strong. The core ministry can have other ministries added to assist revitalization but if the core is not solid your efforts keep you spinning in circles. McDonald’s core of hamburgers and fries still drive their business but healthier food choices were necessary to reach more people and maintain market share. The food was freshly prepared to meet each order rather than being prepackaged.
  2. Churches that are in the process of revitalization should consider a makeover of their facilities. The signage, lighting, WiFi, new seats and design were created to give you a McDonald’s experience that moved beyond the food. What do visitors experience when they visit our congregations? The mood that was created in each restaurant was familiar to a coffee shop and several had greeters as you entered the main lobby area. Managers and team leaders had gone through hospitality training. The quality improvement was noticeable
  3. Churches in the process of revitalization need to be aware of the changing culture and your ability to connect with the culture. McDonald’s appears to have worked hard at being relevant in several areas. Near the racetrack the restaurant was themed on race cars. Near Niagara Falls the McD had a water theme including a mini fountain and fish in a pond. What ministry does your church offer that meets and connects with the needs of the people in the community where you reside?

Revitalization is not impossible but it does require the congregation to honestly evaluate their core ministry and become externally focused in how they do ministry.

Makeover for Revitalization � Making Disciples in an Emerging Culture

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Boss Needs You To Be… – LeadingSmart

Tim Stevens who has written books that begin with the title Simply Strategic... compiled a great list of what we "bosses" need our people to be as part of the organization. Most of this list is not something that can show up on a job description but they are ultimately important. As one who has lead staff for over a dozen years it is vital to me that I have absolute faith in those on my staff. I have to be able to believe unequivocally that they are as sold out to the mission and vision of the organization as I am. Most of the issues I have had is when folks have moved from being on mission and serving with passion and begun just punching the clock and collecting a pay check. I like to treat my staff like family which means some times I get my feelings hurt, but in the long run I'd rather love the people I work with than just have employees. Take a look at this list and let me know what you think! I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Your Boss Needs You To Be… – LeadingSmart

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Embracing the Creative Spirit

We are going to see Eat, Pray, Love today. To get ready I wanted to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert's presentation on creativity give a year or so ago at TED. Those of us who struggle to be creative relate well to her struggles and the realization that sometimes creativity embraces you and empowers you to do more than you are capable of.

Be creative! I dare you!


Thursday, August 12, 2010