Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Pithy Phrases That Describe Ministry

Here's something I've been playing with for a while. We've all heard the sorts of phrases listed below. I even use a couple of them. They're the sorts of sayings that have been around forever, such that we may not even think about their origin, meaning, or our use of them. We might even find a few of them irritating because we've heard them so often or because they seem too trite to be useful.

Well, I'm out to reclaim some of these for the sake of those who minister to others. For quite a while, I've been tallying a few of these that seem to apply to ministry in some way, and thought it might be fun to list a couple and briefly explore that application for each.

Here, then, are five throwaway phrases that might not be so throwaway after all. At least, when it comes to ministry.

1. It is what it is. Typically people use this as sort of a verbal shrug of the shoulders. Whatever is happening, just accept it and move forward. There come plenty of ministry situations that turn out much differently than you read about; that have a lot more going on in a lot of corners that you can or can't see. It might not resolve itself as quickly as you'd like, if ever. Your role might be as more of a support person or to offer presence rather than operate closer to the center giving an outright solution. You minister as you are able, and allow that there are many other factors at play--including God's presence--that are out of your control. Not every situation is going to tie up neatly in a bow, and that's okay. We have permission to not have to do that.

2. This too shall pass. Usually we say this as a reminder that whatever we are facing--usually negative--will eventually come to an end. Everything will pass. That spat you're in with your music director? It will pass. The misunderstanding you're working through with the chair of your governing board? It will pass. The uncertainty the congregation has about financial matters? It will pass. Some of it will be due to time, or hard work, or intentionality on your part or someone else's, or when cooler heads eventually prevail, or even after an intervention from an outside party. But this will pass, one way or another.

3. Count your blessings. It can be tempting for both pastors and churches alike to always focus on the negatives: the event that didn't get as many attendees as you hoped, the deficit in the budget, the couple of hiccups during last Sunday's worship service. But if you're always thinking about what has fallen short, what are you missing out on? What lives have been touched, what individuals have found hope, what is seeing growth even if it can't be quantified easily? It's important to take stock of those moments in ministry where the Spirit clearly showed up, even if you couldn't discern it happening until later and it doesn't affect any visible bottom line.

4. Love the one you're with. It can be tempting at certain points in ministry to have a foot out the door. At times, be it during a low period or when we're entertaining career aspirations, we may be focused not so much on where we are but on the possibilities for what might be next. At times these nudges that we feel are a legitimate call to a new thing, and at other times they're a mirage. Either way, as long as you are still in the setting you're in, that is your place of ministry. That is the place where your gifts are needed, and those are the people who need you to be their spiritual guide.

5. Haste makes waste. Anxiety can do a lot of damage. A certain percentage of this damage is a result of its influence on our ability to make rational decisions...or not. If we are in a place of anxiety, whether our own or by internalizing someone else's, it can put us in a mindset that will keep us from fully considering what needs to be done. We may rush into making a choice that is more about easing the anxiety of the situation rather than truly resolving an issue or moving toward such a resolution. If we're too hasty in ministry, it might hurt more than help.

What pithy phrase would you add, and how does it apply to ministry?