When I first got involved in parish ministry, I was pretty excited. I had lots of ideas, and I would usually rush headlong into some new project without much planning. More importantly, I’d start creating new schemes without much help. I would ask for volunteers from the parish, but usually folks would tell me they were too busy. And when I did get the occasional volunteer, I spent so much time telling him or her what needed to be done — and then correcting mistakes — that I finally decided it was just easier and faster to do the work myself.
Soon, however, my excitement turned to discouragement. And overwhelm. And dread. I felt like that guy I saw on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was a kid. He was spinning a couple dozen plates on six-foot poles, and he had to run all over the stage to keep the plates spinning. I was running all over the parish trying to keep the plates I was spinning from crashing to the ground.
It took me a long, long time to learn an essential rule for parish ministry and team building: Stop spinning.
How are you feeling about your ministry?
Feelings of discouragement, overwhelm, and dread are not from the Holy Spirit. God wants us to feel engaged, called, encouraged, confident, and delighted. We should feel a sense of ease about our ministry.
Do you remember what Jesus said to his followers?
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Mt 11:28-30, The Message Bible)
I love that line, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” I had a God-moment the other day that illustrated this for me. I’ve witnessed this hundreds of times — but this time was different. I was watching a hawk soaring above me during a fiercely windy day. The hawk was facing straight into the wind, wings outstretched and unmoving. He was floating forward, riding the currents, seemingly exerting no effort.
The headwinds we face in our ministry are not forces of destruction that are going to knock our plates to the ground. They are currents of grace, and we need to learn how to ride those currents with a sense of ease.
How to respond like Jesus
Try this yourself. Pick a headwind in your ministry. Can’t find volunteers to help? Can’t get the inquirers to show up? Can’t get cooperation from the parish staff? Can’t feel confident enough about your teaching skills? Whatever it is, imagine how Jesus would respond. Pray for the Holy Spirit to lead you. And stop trying to keep all the plates spinning. Refuse to be the sole person responsible. Refuse to do what is heavy or ill-fitting. Say no to that one more thing that will take time away from your family. Say no to whatever keeps you up at night. Say yes to taking a nap or a day off. If you do that, you will be doing what Jesus did.
Does that seem selfish? It’s not, really. In fact, when we try to keep all the plates spinning by ourselves, that is what is actually selfish. We are taking over roles that God meant for others to fill. I know you are worried that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. I worry about that too. But what has been true in my disreputable past is that when I tried to do too much, that’s when things didn’t get done. If I restrict myself to the two or three things I can do really well, others will eventually step up to do the tasks I cannot do so well. It takes patience and it takes faith, but that’s what it means to walk and work with Jesus. Try it, and let me know what happens.
Share your ideas
How have you reclaimed a “sense of ease” about your ministry? What are you praying for today to respond like Jesus to the needs of your ministry? Please share in the comments box below.
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