by Mike Harland
Unfortunately, it’s the kind of conversation that seems to happen from time to time. A church leader will just need someone to talk to and as God allows it, the conversation will unfold like this…
It begins with a description of a truly difficult situation in which the leader feels the urge to flee – find somewhere else to go, or even worse, find something else to do. Sometimes the person has called simply to say, “If you know any churches needing a worship leader…” and you know the rest of that sentence.
Since I don’t claim to have all that much wisdom for situations like that, I mostly just listen. But, usually I’ll throw this thought in somewhere along the way
Resist the urge to flee and begin to look for what God is doing in your life.
I happen to believe that sometimes God puts us right in the middle of hard things – not just to test us. He does it to grow us. I’m afraid the tendency to flee could actually lengthen the test. As one of my preacher heroes told me once, “You never fail God’s tests – He just keeps giving them to you until to learn what He wants you to learn.”
Here are five suggestions of what to do instead of fleeing when ministry gets hard.
1. Focus on the smallest circle.
We all live ministry in concentric circles – the largest circle is our congregation and community, the next one in is the circle of influence of leaders we lead, and the smallest is our own family. In hard seasons, have the personal discipline to focus on the smallest circle. If you are winning there, other challenges are quickly put in the right perspective. Don’t let the pressure of difficulty in the larger circles affect the one you have the most responsibility to lead.
2. Reset your expectations.
The process of beginning a new ministry is exciting and full of expectations. Sometimes a year or two in, reality takes the place of romanticized expectations and leaves us disappointed and disillusioned. Why not create a new set of expectations now informed by your own perspective and experience instead of living with the tension of unmet – and unrealistic –expectations?
3. Run – but in the right direction.
When you feel disconnected from the vision of your pastor or church leaders, press in even harder to your first love through your walk with Christ. Pursue intimacy with him in what you are reading, in your prayer life, and in your personal moments of reflection. Resist spiritual arrogance and isolation – those are just other forms of fleeing. But, in true humility, make communion with him the goal of your life. Instead of running away, run to him. This circumstance may be the very way God is teaching you how to pray – and how to trust him.
4. Simplify and prioritize.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you feel like you need to flee. Instead of spinning your thoughts over and over on every single problem – no matter how big they may seem – identify the one or two things you could be doing right now that would help. You can’t change the circumstance that has brought your anxiety. But, you can identify the one or two things that need to be done and that you can do now.
What is right in front of you? What is the step you could take right now that would help in some small way? Don’t let disillusionment paralyze you. With God’s help, identify next steps and do them.
5. Don’t run away – rest.
Seasons of challenge come to everyone in ministry. Learning to slow down and let the moments come as God allows them while you maintain a posture of trust will allow each season to have God’s divine intended affect on your life.
If you flee without learning the valuable lessons that come in these challenges, you will take them with you into the next place of ministry and the lesson will start all over again.
So, instead of running away, sit down and wait. God’ glory is just ahead.
I am going through #3 right now. As the Worship Director for the last 5 years of a smaller, non-denominational church (about 150 members in attendance on average), I am finding that the gap in my philosophies and the Pastor’s philosophies may be widening. When I took over, it was because the previous band up and left 2 weeks before Easter and I was the only member that stayed. Since then, I am leading the team 48 weeks out of the year, In that time, I have grown the team to a very powerful, and spiritual place. In the last 4 months or so, there has a been a shift in the dynamic; you can feel that Satan is saying ‘this is getting way to powerful and I need to stop it’. The Pastor’s current vision of wanting to become the next Hillsong or Passion is not what I built, nor my desire. Now I have some constraints put on me that I am not pleased with, and in some cases, are directly opposite what I believe my calling is. I am reeling in doubt as to whether my season has come to an end there, do I fight through it sticking to what I feel is God’s path for me, or do I just take some time off to re-evaluate and reassess my position.
From here, it appears that the pastor is ready thrilled about the musical sound and spiritual growth in the praise & worship in song portion of the services. However, he may be putting unnecessary demands on you. My counsel is to speak to him about it and let him know your thoughts, your concern and your recommendation(s). Of course, pray first and feel free to have others present as you share your heart. Afterwards, evaluate your position and vision. Remember, there are paths of righteousness which The Lord will lead you and each has a blessed future. God blesses you, Larry!!
Since this is the first week of the new year, I am reading Genesis again. Your point that God might extend times of testing, due to our fleeing rather than following His leading, is illustrated over and over in the lives of all of His people. Today I read Genesis 12 and Abram himself was the one who was being tested. He was faithfully following God to a land God had chosen for him. It was Canaan. Abram was doing great. Then he (not God) decided his family would fair better during the current famine if they went to Egypt. When he and Sarai got to Egypt, Abram decided to stretch the truth (lie) to stay alive. They were thankful for God’s mercy and His grace as they learned over time, and through more extended times of testing, that God always keeps His promises.
Since it’s January, I’m also reading Matthew; so today, in Matthew 4, Jesus was also tested. He handled it a lot better than Abram did, but I noticed something encouraging. The Holy Spirit went with Him. The Comforter was there to be with Jesus. He had been fasting for forty days and nights, and the devil tempted Him when He was hungry; so when Jesus resisted the devil and sent him away, God sent His angels to serve Jesus. They might not have served Him food. They might have just bowed down and worshiped Him. I don’t know, but I do know that it makes me relieved to know that the Holy Spirit went with Him, just as I know that I never want to be separated from the Holy Spirit. I think of Jesus on the cross and want to think that the Comforter was with Him when the Father had to turn His eyes away from the sight of our hideous sins, but I don’t know. I think the cross was something Jesus had to do alone. Only Jesus.
It’s all pretty incomprehensible but all we really need to understand and believe is that God loves us so much that He gave His only Son Jesus to die in our place. He really loves us.