My son AJ gets so excited for school that he has trouble going to bed at night. Often as we finish up his bath routine and get ready for bed, he starts repeating stories or songs or other rhythmic patterns he learned from school. It runs through his head and then he can’t shut it down. He’s just so excited for school. Even in the morning, sleepy as he is, once he is out the door waiting for the bus, he is excited.
I’ve been feeling this way about the churches I serve lately. But let me step back for a minute and let me be honest:
I don’t always feel excited about ministry.
The day in, day out of pastoral ministry can be draining. I’m sure I’m writing to the choir but day after day of pastoral calls, visitations, hearing complaints and frustrations, and dealing with budget shortfalls, disappointment over not having enough volunteers, and working way too many hours can just take its toll. Ministry can, at times, seem more like a dead-end job instead of a calling.
During school vacations our son gets bored after the first few days. He doesn’t fight the bedtime routine much. He gets a little more irritated and aggravated during the day as well as a little more mischievous.
Church can be a little like that. Boundaries get tested and people seem to be more aggravated and irritated at times. Maybe it’s not that church is boring, but that when there aren’t many changes to the pattern, it appears like boredom. We get annoyed.
How do we break that pattern for ourselves as clergy? Look back on where you have found excitement before. Where have you found renewed energy in the past?
For me, the excitement and energy was found when I gathered with a small group of church members and started to ask what excited and energized them about church. They began talking about things such as small group dinners, book groups, lunch gatherings. Things they remembered from the past, or things they always wanted to try but hadn’t done so.
What I did was listen, encourage, and bless.
I listened to their memories, their ideas and old dreams. I let them romanticize and be nostalgic. I asked questions about those good memories.
I encouraged the ideas that had legs. I encouraged the people who had those ideas that they had the gifts to lead, to plan and to implement. I offered help only where I felt it absolutely necessary to guide or tweak, but otherwise, I encouraged them to lead.
I blessed the ideas by acknowledging them, sharing them, and lifting them up.
In another church, I had what I thought was a good idea and shared it with another member. While they had reservations about it, they had another, similar idea, and I did the same. I listened to the concerns. I encouraged the new idea and offered to help. And I blessed the opportunity to share in ministry with another.
Now, I’m the one bouncing with excitement, thinking of the ways the Spirit is moving in the church. I’m the one who is excited to be in community with these great people of faith.
And here’s another thing I learned: While excited about my ministry, the aggravations and irritations and attitudes of discouragement don’t get to me the same way. I’m not concerned about them, not spending my time and energy worrying and fretting.
That’s not to say I won’t have a time when it will happen again. That’s not to say I won’t get tired or burned out and not feel excited. But I am hopeful as a minister that those times will be shorter and less frequent, that I will remember to start again by listening, then encouraging and blessing, and the joy and excitement of the Spirit doing new things in ministry will return rather quickly.
Disclaimer: I realize this may be a stretch. But it’s 10:15 pm and I’ve put my son back to bed for the umpteenth time, and in thinking about his excitement for school, I was reminded of how excited I am, right now, in my pastoral ministry. I’ve never been more excited and passionate about what God is doing in the congregations I serve and in my life than now.