Thursday, January 08, 2009


"With" may be the most important preposition for a Christian leader. Will you do ministry "with"? Who will you do it "with"? Who will do it "with" you?

Many leaders feel alone. I have to admit, I had a serious bout with aloneness at the end of last year. For the most part, I have not dealt with aloneness in ministry, so I probably don't know how to deal with it very well. When it hit, it hit hard. As I have run to the Lord, I have received comfort, and I have also gained some insights:

1. If I choose to do ministry by myself, the Lord will let me. He, of course, promised to be with us to the end of the age. He knows better than we do that we cannot do ministry on our own. He said, "Apart from me you can do nothing." But on the other hand, God is a gentleman, and he does not go where he is not wanted or invited. So if you do not regularly invoke the Lord's presence in your life and take time to be with Him, He will leave you...alone.

There are some things I used to do to be with Him. I am coming back to these things. I used to take Monday's as a "personal work day." On that day I would not schedule meetings or try to "produce" stuff. I would simply take that day to do what I needed to do to be spiritually healthy. I would pray. I would meditate. I would read from the word. I would be "with" Him. During this past year I found it difficult to keep Mondays set aside for Him. This coming year I will find it difficult again, but this year I intend to overcome those difficulties. Being with Him is priority. I simply cannot do ministry without Him. In previous years I used to take one day a month as a day of prayer and fasting. I am going to do that again this year. I have already set aside the days in which I will get away from phones and email and be in solitude with God. I used to take some weekends off from teaching, not to teach somewhere else, but to not teach at all. Every quarter this year I'm going to do it again. Jesus modeled this behavior for us. As the crowds were coming, He was exiting stage left. He knew something that I've known before and am relearning all over again: It's pretty great when we are connected to the vine, and it's pretty lame when we're not.

2. If I choose to do ministry by myself, people will let me. I think I have done a great job of "releasing" people for ministry. But in an ironic twist, when I send them out as lone rangers, when they have a problem, they only have my number to call. All the strings come back to me. Who else could they come back to? I'm the only one they know. It gets lonely when you are dealing constantly with the problems coming back to you, and dealing with them all alone. I was resentful for a awhile, and then I realized that people were just doing the best they could with the scenario I created for them.

I believe that people actually want to do ministry "with" you. In fact, there are not a lot of rewards for serving, but one of the biggest is community - of being part of something important with others. For the most part, I've had a team around me as I've ministered, and that has been very rewarding. I'm coming back to the importance of doing ministry out of community, with others. Our mission statement actually gets this sequence correct: "an authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out."

To get this order better established in my own life I am taking action. I've decided to reinstitute a weekly staff meeting. I understand that time is precious, but there are some things that we cannot not do. Being together is one of them. I am also going to institute a monthly Ministry Pow Wow for anyone in the Burlington Worship Center to come together and talk about leadership and ministry. This is going to be a time of challenge and training. I believe we can find great strength from each other...with each other. I also am going to be having lunch once a month with a group of colleagues, an iron sharpens iron time with fellow pastors. God has clearly surrounded me with brothers who can help to hold my arms up in the battle. The question comes back to whether I will let them do that for me.

Jesus asked us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It's not either/or, it's both/and. It is as we are loving ourselves that we are loving others. A friend in ministry recently asked me, "Why don't you feel the need to take care of yourself?" I think that's a good question. The answer is probably too complicated for me to figure out right now, so I'm just going to go back to caring for myself, like I should have been all along.

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