I was lately privileged to spend a week at the snow staying in a nice lodge. The guests ask each other, what do you do? When they heard that I was in Christian ministry, some of them expressed a struggle to understand. Why would an intelligent young man go into something so strange and unpromising and, well, out of date? What I was doing was so far outside their experience, they just couldn’t connect with it at all.
How does a leader maintain morale in such an environment? I don’t mean the ski-lodge, I mean our society. Because those people were normal well-to-do Aussies – and to them my life and work was a complete irrelevance.
How do you wake up every morning and get out of bed and get motivated to do a job that your neighbours neither comprehend nor value nor care about? We spoke in the previous post about the mental health challenges for church-leaders today. Jim commented, graciously sharing his experience of working hard to see a net growth of one person over a year or more in his church. How do leaders avoid discouragement and depression, and persevere with energy and hope and joy over the long haul, in such dry times?
I’d love to know what other leaders do to ‘stay strong’. I’ll offer a few thoughts of my own here. These are my top four:
1. You choose your area. The people in that lodge were too rich and too self-satisfied. If life is feeling a bit tough, there’s always another holiday to Paris to distract them. They had no sense of needing outside help – or if they did, they weren’t admitting it to themselves. Our traditional protestant support base has been the upper middle classes, but they have now turned away from us. They don’t want to know about Jesus.
Our Lord’s advice was not to keep banging your head against the brick wall. If you go to a town and they won’t receive you, shake the dust off your feet. Go somewhere else. If the good folks of Mosman won’t listen, try Merrylands, or Moorebank. Go ‘down-market’. Invite the blind and the lame. They will listen!
It’s too hard to keep slogging on in areas where no one is interested. It’s not wise. It gradually erodes your confidence and your mental health. It’s also not a good use of your time and energy. Life is short, and you are not bullet-proof. But there are places in your city where people are open to the gospel. Move on.
Lots of our leaders in Sydney get trapped in suburbs that are not interested, and the resulting toll on morale is unacceptably high. Eventually they come to expect failure. That’s a hard place to come back from.
2. You get a good team around you. Solo ministry is a recipe for exhaustion and discouragement. A team helps you stay strong. A shared vision is much more robust than an individual one. We all have weak times: at those times the team can carry you. They can believe and pray when you can’t. I wouldn’t have made it this far without our team.
3. There are two things I tell myself regularly to help me keep going. I think most guys in my scene tell themselves, God is in control. His hand is behind all this, even the failures. It’s all part of his plan. That’s ok by me, but it’s not in my top two. I don’t find it that much of an encouragement, to be honest. It can even feel like I’m saying, God intends me to fail.
So what do I tell myself? I tell myself Jesus has already won the victory. My little patch is a local battle in a much bigger war, and even though today I feel like I’m getting my butt kicked, although I might feel like the French Resistance in a hostile land, thankfully I’ve got a map of the whole campaign. And in that campaign, Jesus is winning. He defeated death itself and got raised up to inherit all power and authority over the creation, forever. That’s what we mean when we say, Jesus is Lord! His gospel is spreading through the whole world. Though we don’t see that fully yet, his victory is assured. VE day is coming. We win.
I find that helps. It helps a lot. It gives me hope and purpose in my little efforts in my patch. I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed. My church may not be the most effective missionary force in the city. We might be working hard and seeing only a little fruit. But I’ve got this perspective, this larger frame around my little picture: the team we’re on is the winning team. The future is ours, in Christ.
4. The other thing I tell myself is, my work may not impress the people at the ski-lodge. It may not impress my neighbours. But if I am faithful to my calling, then God my Father is impressed. I can please him by my weak little efforts. Although I invest in person and love them and share Jesus with them, and then they move away and I lose contact, and they didn’t get converted yet, and I don’t know if they ever will – still the time was not wasted. My Master was pleased. We may spend a lot of our time and energies laying down our lives in costly service, making mission efforts, and it only has a small pay-off. But our labours are not in vain. God is honoured in the eyes of our neighbours, through what we have done. Our Father is proud of us.
Our labours are not in vain. The day of Christ will bring our reward: ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little, receive ten cities!’ On that day the honours will go to everyone who fought for Christ, whether their local battle was a win or a washout. We will all share in the glory of Christ the Victor. Personally, when I remember that day I find the thought highly motivating. The thought that something I have done has pleased God, pretty much feels like its own reward.
Well, those are my top four. There are more things than this that we can do and tell ourselves to maintain morale. But for me, those are the irreducible minimum:
1. choose an open area to work
2. get a good team around you
3. keep remembering that Jesus has already won the victory, and
4. labour to please and honour God rather than for immediate ‘success’.
If those are in place I can function as a leader and persevere in a post-collapse environment. Without them, I find I can’t.
How about you?