Remember When Ministry Was Fun?
No matter what your chosen career path is, there will be days when you feel like you’ve had all you can take. Everyone has frustrating days. Many of us have exasperating seasons. Some have wearisome years.
If you happen to be working in a ministry situation, occupational disillusionment is sometimes hard to admit. You may fear you’ll lose your job if you’re honest about what giants you’re facing. You may feel like the general population will judge you for being normal. You may feel like the teams you lead will crumble under their own pressure if they see you sweat. You may feel guilty thinking that somehow you aren’t supposed to feel the way you feel or think the thoughts you think.
Then, there’s always someone telling you to buck up. Think differently. Change your perspective. But these “helpful” folks seldom give steps on how to achieve this nirvana. As if you can Harry-Potter new perspective in to existence.
When I experience discouraging seasons—whatever the length—there are a few things I do to interrupt the monotony and discouragement in order to reignite a fire in me. These exercises help to varying degrees and sometimes in concert with one another. They don’t always work for everyone but, it’s better to be proactive for the sake of the kingdom rather than burn out and fade away.
- Express your feelings out loud to a friend you trust. Don’t hold back. Saying things out loud can often de-power the poison. Often times, when you hear yourself say things out loud, your words will sound harsher than the reality and you’ll gain perspective.
- Do something new. Create something big—start a campaign, launch a program, design a project, do something creative for your community. There have been many low points in my ministry career that have been the impetus for endeavors that have had a long-lasting impact in our city and have kicked my butt out of the doldrums. You have permission to dream and try new things. Leverage your passion towards your responsibility and challenge yourself with something new.
- If you are a leader, take your staff out of town for a day. Buy them lunch. Ask them to share 3 things that are going well in their areas of ministry. Or . . . whatever. Doesn’t matter what you do. Just take time to play with your staff. It’s harder to hate one another when you play together.
- Change your routine. If you are used to taking Mondays off after a long weekend, try taking Fridays off instead. Make Friday and Saturday your weekend. Think of Sunday as the FIRST day of the week—not the last day that gets your leftovers. Start the week off right with your friends and family in corporate worship.
- Clean up. Is your desk cluttered? Your backpack full of junk? Your backstage area a game of Jenga? Get organized. Sweat a little and make the place beautiful. When the world of ministry seems out of control, this is one thing you can feel good about controlling.
- Hire a life coach. Or ask a trusted non-biased person to give you ideas on how to revive your ministry perspective. Sometimes we need a new set of eyes from the outside to give us helpful hints on how to change things up. A good coach will also tell you what things are amazing and encourage you. Many times they will see things you take for granted.
- Pretend you’re a church plant. Our church is almost 30 years old. We’ve been in the same building for over a decade. While we switch it up often, there are many things that feel the same. If you’re excited by fresh activity, predictability can be a drag. So, sometimes I will pretend I’m part of a church plant. I ask myself a whole new set of questions and prepare in incredibly different ways when I have this perspective. And honestly, most of us would absolutely die to have the resources we currently have if we were a church plant.
- Recruit someone new. Nothing lights a fire under your butt like new people on your teams. Everything is fresh, new, and exciting to them. They will rub off on you.
- Do something so big that it demands media attention. Create something so otherworldly that your newspaper wants to do a story on it, your radio stations want you on for an interview, and people are emailing you for advice.
- Write about your experience. Journal. Blog. Post on Facebook. Write a song. Remind yourself of the good things you have by celebrating them in print. For months, I ended every evening with a post on Facebook about 10 great things that happened to me during the day. Not only did I gain perspective about my experience, people around me were inspired to do the same and I saw a huge difference in what people were posting to my wall. Negativity breeds negativity. It’s harder to breed positivity but it is doable and worth it. My attitude at work is different by simply taking the time to count even the tiniest blessings each day.
- Pick an area of your job that is routine and consider the time spent doing this activity as your volunteer hours. Or find something to do at your church and work along side other volunteers. Before I got paid for ministry, I used to donate 10 hours of my week to my church. I still do. Sometimes I do it in seasons. I especially like to put myself in volunteer roles where I have to take direction from someone else and catch their vision. Reminding myself that there are other valuable things happening outside my ministry area is helpful to me. It’s encouraging and contagious to watch someone else light themselves on fire with enthusiasm.
- Visit another church on a day off—preferably one outside your denomination and experience. I always go in to other church situations asking, “What do I have in common with these people?” But, inevitably, there will be something the other church does that I am thankful I do not have to do OR something they do so well it encourages me to think differently.
- Keep a file of thank you notes that others have sent you. File emails of the same. Read through them when it all goes south.
- Take new people to lunch. This is a huge one for me. Often, I will grab visitors and newcomers and ask them to lunch after church. I listen to them tell stories about their experience. I’m always amazed at the energy and positive outlook—the excitement they have for the good things about our church, their desire to get involved and know more about the community, and their ability to not see the scars I see.
- Take part in baptisms. Attend them. Listen to the stories. Dunk people. I live from baptism to baptism.
- Paint your workspace. Change it up. It’s paint. You can repaint it again and again. Give your space new life. No one wants to work in a tomb.
- Work off site in a fun new space. Interact with people from the community as they walk by your workspace. Breathe some fresh air.
- Thank someone. I keep 5-10 boxes of thank-you cards on my desk. Write someone one card every day. Or, block out an hour and crank some out. Thanking the hard-working people around you helps you to be thankful even when you don’t feel particularly thankful. It’s like singing a worship tune after you just got in a fight with your spouse. As you sing the words out loud, you give you heart a chance to follow. Don’t feel thankful? Grab a card.
- Create a space where you don’t have to be “on.” A place where people don’t call you by your title. A place where you can feel normal. I have some of these spaces outside of town. I like to go visit them and chat with folks who don’t know me. Or, just take in the quiet by myself. It’s always good to have friends who allow you to not always have to perform. I always like being with my friends who don’t care if I fall asleep on their couch, raid their refrigerator, drink their beer, or sit at their homes and do nothing. These friends remind me that my identity is not in what I do.
- Pray for new eyes. Seriously. Ask God to change it up for you, refresh, revamp, reboot. Ask for new strength and courage. God is not afraid of your honesty.
What helps you gain new perspective?