Archives For December 2012
I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every December. George Bailey had many dreams but they were put on hold for the sake of others. He lives in Bedford Falls with his family, trying to keep the Building and Loan afloat.
At one point, he realizes that he is in serious trouble. He wishes he had never been born. He is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never existed.
He is able to see how much his life has impacted some many people in his family, his town, and beyond. He really has lived a wonderful life.
Many, many Christian leaders vastly underestimate how God is using them. So often we think about what we are lacking. We focus on the deficiencies in our churches and in our own lives.
For days to come, the nation will mourn, new information will be brought to light, and we will all grapple with the implications of this.
I continue to think about the heroic efforts of the school personnel. What about the heroic efforts of the school principal, Dawn Hochsprung, as she confronted the gunman. Or, the efforts of the custodian who risked his own life as he ran down a hall warning teachers of the gunman.
In particular, I think about two teachers.
Victoria Soto, age 27, hid her students in a closet while she stood between them and the door and died trying to shield them from the bullets.
Another teacher, Kaitilin Roig, barricaded herself and her 15 students in a tiny bathroom. She moved a bookcase across the door and locked it. She told ABC News that she said to the class, “There are bad guys out there now. We need to wait for the good guys.”
The stories of these people are inspiring but not surprising.
Sometimes ministry can be very stressful. It may be conflict with a staff member or a few of the elders. Or, perhaps you are under stress due to the church’s financial problems. Maybe there has been an incident in the church that has become very, very draining.
Sometimes when we become stressed, we either over-function or under-function. If I over-function, I may begin to feel like the solution to this problem is entirely up to me. There is a sense in which I feel like I am carrying the weight of this problem on my shoulders.
That can be a real problem, especially when I begin taking responsibility for the behavior of others. It is like a parent who feels guilty because her college student son (who is away from home studying at the university) makes poor grades. The college student is responsible for these grades, yet his mother is shouldering the anxiety for those grades herself. The mother seems to want good grades more than her son does.
Ministers and other church leaders who over-function often bear stress and anxiety that others ought to be carrying. Consequently, if someone drops the ball and does not follow through on their responsibility, these over-functioners will quickly fix the problem themselves (sometimes through clenched teeth). In times of great stress, the over-functioners often become incredibly exhausted and anxious.
Or, perhaps a person in the elder group over-functions. When members of the congregation come to that elder with their anxiety, he takes on the anxiety and they walk away.
Some people are very, very angry.
- The angry driver who is furious because another driver dared to pass him on the Interstate.
- The grandfather in his 60s who pounds the check-in desk with his hand, demanding that the clerk yield to his demands.
- The young man and woman who stand beside their car in the afternoon screaming at one another.
James Houston, in a presentation called “Living the Mentored Life,” suggests that three kinds of anger are often seen in people.
1. People who are angry with a controllable anger. This anger can be like a spewing volcano. These people are visibly angry.
2. Pleasers who are angry. These people suppress their own identity in order to placate others.
3. Givers who are angry. These people give to others but are often very angry as well. Often these people are perfectionists as they relate to other people.
Houston says that these are actually faulty substitutes for emotions found in healthy relationships.
I’ve rarely, if ever, heard anyone refer to himself as an angry person. However, I have heard numerous spouses speak of the angry people they married. I have a good friend who speaks of the long legacy of angry people in his family. In fact, his father/grandfather were both known for their rage.
What has been helpful to you in dealing with your own anger? What has been helpful in dealing with the anger of others?
My friend, Margaret Feinberg, has a new book and 7-session DVD Bible study called Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God,which releases Christmas Day. This is a personal invitation for you to join me and many others in reading this book! (I ordered mine on Friday.)
To learn more, watch the Wonderstruck Video:
Margaret recently posted a great warning on her site that those who have read Wonderstruck have experienced the following symptoms:
-An inability to stop smiling
-An uncontainable desire to pray
-A loss of interest in judging others
-A quiet, unshakable confidence in God
-A renewed ability to see the wonders of God all around
I have read a sneak peek of Wonderstruck. I am impressed with the number of times Scripture speaks of people being amazed at Jesus. There was something interesting and compelling about Jesus that created amazement in the hearts of people.
Margaret is a good writer and has a message. I have read one of her books (Scouting the Divine) and enjoyed the book very much.
The following are 10 suggestions for the upcoming new year. While I am writing these with church leaders in mind, some of these may be applicable to most anyone. (These are not listed in order of importance.)
1. Pay attention to the basics. Walking with Jesus takes place during the ordinariness of life. Loving God and loving others are huge. Read Scripture. Pray daily. Be a godly person.
2. Love the congregation. If you don’t, it really won’t matter what else you do.
3. Stop waiting to be appreciated. Probably some people in your church really appreciate you but rarely, if ever, express it. On the other hand, other people in your church may have little appreciation for you. Yet, they too may rarely, if ever, express it. Don’t let your sense of well-being come from others.
4. If you feel isolated and alone, recognize that such feelings over a long period of time can make you vulnerable to temptations that seem to provide an escape. There are tragic stories of people who have sought refuge through pornography, gambling, drugs/alcohol, and adultery.
5. Be real. Realness is not using a public platform to express every doubt, feeling, or anxiety. Rather, it is endeavoring to be an authentic person both publicly and privately.
6. Guard your heart. Remember that life’s train wrecks don’t begin with someone doing something stupid. They usually begin long before that. They begin with what is happening in that person’s heart.
7. Pay attention to what you are feeling. Many people pay no attention to their feelings. (I didn’t for many years.) Are you feeling angry? Sad? Depressed? Discouraged? Betrayed? When these persistent feelings are not acknowledged and dealt with, they can surface and express themselves in ways that are negative and even destructive.
8. Check your attitude. Listen, attitude is everything! You can be gifted, intelligent, and skillful. However, your attitude can sink you! Years ago, I had a conversation with a minister regarding his frustration with his life and ministry. He was frustrated because other congregations who were looking for a minister seemed to have no interest in talking with him. Later on, after reflecting on the conversation, I am convinced that what probably hurt him the most with these possibilities was his negative attitude. Perhaps his regular use of biting sarcasm was getting in the way.
9. Evaluate the gap between what you are privately and what you are publicly. This is huge. Far too many people (including church leaders) worry more about their image than their character. That is, they are more concerned about how they are perceived by others than what they are when no one is looking. Address the gap and refuse to rationalize.
10. Claim God’s forgiving and sustaining grace. 2013 can be a fresh beginning. Thank God for his gracious forgiveness. Believe that his grace is sufficient for you as you begin a new year.
This year’s mentoring group was outstanding. Thanks to Shane, Benjamin, Shannon, Doug, Scott, Jason, and Ernie for blessing me with a great year in 2012. Am I ever impressed with these guys! All of them are ministers and are blessing churches.
This group met one full day per month for the last 12 months. During these times together, we talked about life, Jesus, ministry, and the church. Of course, as a part of any discussion regarding life, we talked about our relationships, including our spouses, children, and friends. We remembered our calling and the meaning of our vocation.
Much of our time was spent focusing on building our interior lives. We also talked about skills and good practices for doing our work and functioning better in our congregations.
A group such as this provides a safe environment, an atmosphere of encouragement and affirmation. Last evening, hours after this group came to a close, I thought about the following:
1. We are blessed when we are surrounded with encouragers. One way this happens is to be a part of a group, like this one, of mutual encouragers.
2. We are blessed when we are a part of a group of people who are committed to growing and learning. Far too many people are content to lower the bar and just get by. I loved being around a group of people for a year who were not afraid to raise the bar.
3. We are blessed when we meet regularly with a group of people to talk honestly about our lives. Far too many people feel isolated and cut off, in part because they have no one with whom they can talk openly and candidly.
What do you believe contributes to the isolation and sense of aloneness that so many people feel?