It’s hard to underestimate the impact of traveling around the world to spend time with people. From my perspective, I feel rather insignificant and ask myself, “Who am I?” From their perspective it’s “Oh my gosh. You have spent money to be here, you have taken your time to be with us, and you care about us.” Ministering to 30 people sounds so insignificant, but on the other level it’s not. Some of them will go on for the next 50 or 60 years to share the gospel, minister to people and make a tremendous impact in the lives of tens of thousands of people! It is such a privilege to serve them.
The ministry of a pastor in many ways is 24/7. You’re always on: Preaching inspiring sermons, leading with a compelling vision, managing effective strategic planning, building a healthy staff team, raising money, performing funerals, making hospital visits, counseling, confronting critical issues, absorbing criticism and engaging in ongoing learning. The demand is relentless.
And in our culture we idolize hard work. Many people in ministry are burning out or flaming out [moral failure]. It’s an epidemic. Over time people [in ministry] keep doing what is right, but they don’t have passion anymore. They are working out of fear. They feel stuck and wonder, What else am I going to do? I never want to just go through the motions. I want to have passion!
An assistant pastor described the ministry culture he used to work in by telling me, “My former senior pastor isolated the staff from each other and kept each of us dependent on him.”
Have you ever worked in an environment like that? How about one where the team leader was prickly and unapproachable? Or one where people used what they knew of you to control you. Or one where a staff divided into warring factions?
There are lots of ways to describe unhealthy team cultures—toxic, crushing, dysfunctional, draining, demoralizing—cultures that drive people away from you and pit them against each other. But how do you build the opposite?
In January my wife Miho and I had the opportunity to travel to India for the second time to teach at Life Theological Seminary in Bhubaneswar, the capital of the state of Odisha. Known for its tribal traditions and Hindu temples, Odisha can be a dangerous place for missionaries. It is where missionary Dr. Graham Staines and his sons were murdered by Hindu Bajrang Dal fundamentalists in 1999.
Twenty years later, Odisha remains both a fertile ground for evangelism and a hostile environment toward Christians. According to state law: “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion” (The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967).
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear the incredible story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Leading up to this event, Jesus and His disciples were in the midst of intensive training and ministry. What did Jesus promise the disciples after a very busy season of healing and teaching? Get away and rest. Did they get it? No and yes.
In Mark 6:31, the author gives a key detail to illustrate the disciples’ need for rest: they had no leisure even to eat (ESV). This already-weary group stepped away with Jesus for rest only to be greeted by another large crowd. And what was their concern with this crowd? Send them away for food. We can’t host them.
We know how easy it is to make something into an idol. Whether money, power, success, status, happiness or a loved one. Our hearts are “idol factories” as John Calvin observed, always seeking to worship something that we have deemed worthy of devotion. At an early age we experience pain or joy and in response we make vows of devotion. “I will never experience that terrible thing again.” Or “I will have a spouse that makes me happy like that when I grown up!” Or “I will have financial security so that I can provide more opportunities for my kids.” Or, and especially for those of us in ministry, “I will never sell out or loose my edge and my passion for this ministry!”