A dear friend of mine grew up part of a strict Christian, military family. Growing up in that context, as you might imagine, made following Jesus seem all about the rules.
As a young man differentiating from his parents, one of the first things to go was their rules-based faith.
The Jesus way didn’t seem attractive to him, because the Jesus he’d been introduced to was all about saying “no”.
I’m thankful that God’s call is not merely away from that which will destroy us, but toward that which gives us life. We face the following struggles because we turn away some of these good things, however, if we abide in Christ, he can increase them in our lives and ministries.
These are things to which Jesus says “yes”.
STRUGGLE #2: We’re Struggling With Self-Care and Soul-Care
We can’t thrive when we aren’t well…
Everyone keeps asking, “How are you doing these days?” It’s become a mantra of mental health check-in during COVID. I’ll be honest, there have been times I’ve felt guilty for doing well.
I’ve remained employed.
I’ve loved the opportunity for blank-slate innovation.
My spiritual disciplines and family time have never been stronger.
At the same time, however, COVID precipitated one of the most challenging seasons of my marriage; my children are suffering the impacts of isolation and restrictions; we’ve hardly seen our extended family; and I’ve experienced bouts of frustration with how our church and the Church has responded to the crisis.
I’m convinced that even those of us doing “okay” are still suffering in any number of ways—whether public or private.
Maybe we can see ourselves in the statistics of pastors who, according to a recent Barna study in the US, are ready to give up and quit ministry. Then, everything suffers when we aren’t healthy, including our witness.
Paul taught that “we have this treasure in jars of clay”—meaning the good news of Jesus proclaimed by frail and flawed people—“to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” But this is not a pass to neglect ourselves, for Paul also wrote that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Neglecting mental and physical wellness is too often worn as a badge of honour in ministry, often under the guise of being busy with kingdom tasks. But suffering for suffering’s sake is not synonymous with suffering for Christ’s sake.
Don’t get me wrong, we need to give ourselves permission to be unwell and to need help. But, as leaders in the Church we must also model a pursuit of holistic health as Jesus modelled for us. So, a good self-evaluation is whether we live by our own spiritual counsel:
Are we seeking counselling?
Do we have peer support?
What about retreat and renewal; healthy patterns of sleep, diet, exercise, and natural light? Are we turning off the notifications from time to time and taking breaks from social media? Do we set aside work to enjoy our families and friends?
Regarding soul-care… Evangelism flows out of knowing the Father’s heart, abiding in Christ, and being sustained by the Spirit.
Are we growing in the knowledge of the Word, fasting to hone our sensitivity to the voice of God?
Practicing listening prayer and inviting others to pray for us?
How regular and intentional is solitude and sabbath?
Do you confess your sin to God and to others?
Do you invite the Spirit to fill you with His power, renew your mind and transform your heart, convict of sin, and give new gifts for the tasks at hand?
And while we’re at it—if God has gifted you with a spouse, are you prioritizing these things for them, too?
Have you found and are you following sustainable rhythms in life and ministry?
STRUGGLE #3: We’re Struggling With Modeling From Experience
We can’t teach what we don’t know…
Previously I’ve mentioned the rich relationships that we enjoy with our neighbors. When we asked God for opportunities to show and share the love of Jesus on the home front, I didn’t imagine all this would entail: the joys of helping others in their times of need, having cookie-distributing pseudo grandparents for our kids, a neighbor from whom we could actually borrow a cup of sugar, and regular social gatherings that are highlights of our year.
Yet, it has also meant joining our friends in some of the lowest lows of life—broken families, addiction, debilitating illness, and the death of loved ones.
When living on mission for Jesus we will inevitably come to realize that the joy often mingles with sorrow, the heart-baring conversations are bought with trust; some relationships demand long-suffering, and it’s likely to cost us—maybe cost us deeply.
When we aren’t living and sharing our faith, then our calling others to do the same will be disingenuous and unrealistic—especially for teens and young adults who have a keen sense for hypocrisy. We’ll teach evangelism apart from counting the cost; promote strategies that we’ve never tested; cast vision for those who harvest but neglect those who till, plant and water; measure outcomes years before it’s realistic to do so; and send out our youth unprepared or unsupported to grow discouraged, or worse, be led astray.
Reviving Evangelism In The Next Generation sheds some light on the fact that while the majority of Christian Gen Z are having faith conversations with their peers, only 16% of them claim to have received evangelism training. I would imagine that an even smaller number, if asked, would say such “training” included life-on-life mentorship in evangelism.
Jesus taught the disciples by showing them before He sent them. I’ve learned that it’s only from experience that we can disciple others in mission with honesty, integrity, applicability and replicability. So, this begs the question: Are we living on mission while calling others to do the same, and, if not, what’s stopping us—busyness, laziness, faithlessness?
STRUGGLE #4: We’re Struggling With Pivoting By God’s Prompting
We can’t follow God’s plan without surrendering our own…
There have been many overused words during COVID. For many youth workers one such word is “Pivot”.
The pivots that COVID has demanded of ministries have been jarring. We’ve learned entirely new mediums of communication almost overnight; leaders have become more like restriction enforcement officers than spiritual role models; we’ve departed from well-established programs and cancelled favorite events; we’ve switched emphasis from attraction to connection.
But what if pivoting at the promptings of health authorities is such a shock to the system because we aren’t familiar enough with pivoting by the promptings of God?
In Acts 16, Paul and his companions set out on a missionary journey with grandiose ministry plans. Their eyes were fixed on Asia—until the Spirit prevented them from preaching there.
So, they pivot.
New plans for ministry in Bithynia drive them forward—until the Spirit doesn’t allow them to go there.
So, they pivot.
Eventually arriving in Troas, Paul receives the vision of the man from Macedonia, and they sail to Philippi. But, even upon reaching Philippi, Paul begins by attempting ministry the way he’s always done it—preaching in synagogues—but there are none to be found.
So, they pivot.
They head to a place of prayer by the river, where God begins to reveal a harvest.
It’s not evident from the scriptures how comfortable Paul was with all this upheaval, and I imagine him being discouraged from time to time. Yet, whether comfortable or not, Paul certainly seemed to be acquainted with the ministry pivot. God frequently changed Paul’s ministry plans, though it was far from arbitrary—God was redirecting toward the harvest that He intended Paul to reap.
What if the failed strategies, stifled plans, and unrealized dreams during COVID are God’s means of pointing us to the harvest, and, if so, will we pivot at His prompting?