A Four-Hour Investment

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I met Steve (not his real name) at a college retreat four years ago. He had been raised in a Christian home and was a self-professed Christian. After he graduated, I would ask him to meet with me about every three-to four months. We would catch up on how things were going and just enjoy time together – even with 40 years age difference between us.

Recently, Steve began to reach out to me, and we began to meet more often. At first our meetings were during his lunch breaks, so they were limited to about an hour. But then came the request to meet in the evening when he had no time limits.

As our meeting increased in frequency and length of time, the conversations became more personal. I found in front of me a deep-thinking introvert who was frustrated with “pat answers” he was getting from friends his own age at church. He became so frustrated that he attended church less often (not something unusual for a 20-something).

Steve’s questions about faith, and in particular the very existence of God, were quite real and he found in me someone who would listen without judgement or correction. I realized fairly early on that the questions Steve was asking were an indication of his spiritual condition. Yet I simply answered his questions as he put them to me.

Recently, Steve told me that he had asked a pastor a few of his questions a few years ago. The pastor took the opportunity to inform Steve that he was not a Christian and he needed to repent. It wasn’t that Steve disagreed with the pastor’s statement; it was that he wasn’t getting answers to his questions. And without those questions, Steve felt that he couldn’t move forward.

As we talked about a life of faith, I encouraged Steve to begin to read the Bible for himself. Just to open it and read it like a “regular” book. To get the overview, rather than to study words and ideas. Steve chose to begin in Job (not where I would have pointed him) and he was learning that Job had similar questions to his own. And that Job didn’t get the kind of answers he wanted but he learned about who God was in the process!

In our last two meetings, Steve acknowledged that he was not a “believer” (his term). He even mentioned that he did not want to go out with a believer when he wasn’t one. And he didn’t want to go out with an unbeliever is case he became a believer. Oh, the depth of his struggle!

Last week, Steve mentioned that he was having a hard time forgiving people who had done him wrong in the past (including the pastor who didn’t answer his questions). I pointed out that we can’t draw from an empty cistern. In order to forgive others, we really need to experience forgiveness ourselves.

I saw the lightbulb go off. Steve said, “I need to read more about that word in the Bible.” I already learned that God would take him to the place where he needed to go (like reading Job rather than a Gospel), so I left him to figure that out for himself.

I fully expect to get another text message asking to meet once Steve has learned about forgiveness on his own with his Bible. I find that these self-discovery methods are usually far more effective than me taking a teacher-pupil stance. Adults who learn on their own are much more likely to act on what they learn. And Steve will “run it by me” before he jumps in the deep end.

Our last meeting lasted three hours inside Panera Bread. They kicked us out at 10:00 p.m. when they closed. And we stood in the parking lot for another 50 minutes continuing to talk by the light of a streetlamp.

I should have been exhausted by the time I got home. Instead, I understood what Jesus meant when he told his disciples he wasn’t hungry for food after talking to the Samaritan woman at the well.

How about you? Do you have someone who feels comfortable enough to spend a few hours asking questions and then calls you back for another round?

Learning to Wait

The entrance to my High School in the Twin Cities

Many people understand that witnessing to non-Christians is often very different in the “work world” rather than at university or on a military base. I’ve known several people who are alumni of college or military ministries who decided that witnessing the way they were taught is not possible in life afterwards.

In the 20s ministry, we focus on how to take the principles of witnessing that we learned in those past settings into the new lifestyle. It’s easy to determine that spending time at work exposes you to people for 40 or more hours each week. Yet when new college grads enter their first job, they are faced with the fact that almost all of their co-workers are older than they are. And beyond their family members, they haven’t established a way of communicating with “old” people.

In past environments (college or military bases), our witnessing often involved approaching strangers and striking up a conversation. Many college grads have mentioned that they simply can’t share the gospel in this same manner without being at risk of termination.

There are three groups of people that Christians often interact with: co-workers, neighbors, and people who are in their “third place.” A third place is somewhere that you frequent; a coffee shop is a good example. If you go there enough times, they begin to know your name and your “regular” drink. I can walk into Chick-fil-A and immediately hear, “Welcome to Chick-fil-A, Mr. Bruce.” And they begin to pour my Diet Dr Pepper.

Rick Warren mentioned in his book Purpose-Driven Church that there’s a need for relationships to be built over a long period of time. Then the waiting begins. Warren says that we need to wait for transition of tragedy before people are ready to hear the gospel. This waiting can be the hardest part of building what I call a redeeming relationship.

As people leave the school environment, they often remain connected for at least some amount of time with classmates. We hope that an opportunity will rise when we can share the gospel to a listening ear. But the waiting is difficult.

I finished high school in 1973. With the advent of Facebook, I began to connect with classmates from there. It wasn’t anything spectacular. Little thumbs-up likes or comments might occasionally appear to let me know there was still a connection.

Two weeks ago, one of my high school classmates surfaced in a personal message on Facebook. He admitted that he had been reading my posts for several years. I was vaguely aware of a couple comments that he had made, but we weren’t well connected in high school. He was a Homecoming King and star athlete; I was the nerdy guy in band and musicals.

I often wondered how useful it was to try to maintain a relationship that had a gap of 45 years since we were even in the same building. But John (not his real name), was staying connected and that was enough. Then came his message…

It seems that John had watched the entire process of Kandi’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death, and my reaction to that. His wife was now facing a potential cancer diagnosis and they were scared (who wouldn’t be?).

So, he reached out to me to tell his story and end his message with a request. “Will you please pray for us?”

We communicated throughout doctor visits and waiting for test results. In the end, the doctor found that it was not cancer. Yet a much stronger relationship was developing and John had recognized a need for prayer, even if it was someone else praying.

In the end (but not the end of the story), John thanked me for praying for them. I mentioned that I would like to visit them when I’m back up in the Twin Cities. And he offered to pick me up at the airport, regardless of the day or time.

This is a classic example of how long-term relationships with non-Christians can grow toward an opening to the gospel over time – in this case 45 years! T really is all about God’s timing.

What about you? Are you staying in relationship, even over a distance, with people from your past?  Are they the kind of relationship that when transition or tragedy strikes, they will turn to you for prayer or questions? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Where Light Shines, and Perhaps Where It Doesn’t

A few days ago, I met with one of my spiritual sons, Josue. (As usual, real names are not disclosed for the sake of privacy.) During our time together, I brought up Ravi Zacharias, who recently died, and some shameful, hidden sin patterns had begun to emerge. One of our central questions was how someone could live a secret life on the international stage.

During this time, Josue told me that he, too, had a secret sin and that he was tired of living with it. Josue mentioned that there was no one else he felt he could talk to about this secret. He feared that I would write him off – or “unfriend” him as is happening in our current cancel culture. I watched as he fought back tears. And I believe that I loved him well, offering much grace along with an ample amount of truth (which he already embraced).

This morning, in my quiet time, I came to a well-known concept in the Gospel of Luke, which I will quote here in context:

“No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.” Luke 11:33-36, NASB

We all know the first portion about not hiding a lamp under a bushel. Many of us may have sung “This Little Light of Mine” in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. However, after Jesus gives this concept, he warns us to “watch out.” That’s the part we seem to ignore.

Instead, we tend to take this idea of a lamp and make it about being a witness for Jesus. That’s totally out of context. It might be true, but it’s not the focus of the passage.

Ravi Zacharias was a fantastic, powerful witness to millions of non-Christians through his speaking and written material. Yet there was a place in his life where there was a “dark part” that wasn’t being illuminated by the light that he knew so well. I have no intention of delving any further into his life.

What I do want to delve into is the question is, What about you? What is that secret sin pattern that you so carefully hide from even your closest friends and family members?

There is a difficult problem that arises out of even acknowledging our secrets. Many people—very many—do not have someone they can candidly talk with about their hidden sin. In the past month, I have been told by three different men that there is no other person in their life that they can talk to about a particular issue. The word “trust” came up in each conversation. They struggled with feeling judgment and shame. They worried that their confession would be posted on social media within the hour they confess.

This is a tragedy. This causes us to hide our true selves and pretend to be more than we are. And we simply accept living as fakes because being real could crush us more than living a fake life.

Even if we feel that we have it all together ourselves and our “whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it,” there are hurting people who cross our paths every day. Every day. It happened yesterday; it will happen again tomorrow.

This doesn’t become a license to pry into the personal lives of others. But it should remind us that people are looking for someone that they can trust to talk about their struggles to live a whole life before the God of Heaven and their friends, families, and co-workers.

Here’s a helpful hint on allowing people to trust you. First, trust them. Take the chance to share what’s happening in your life – not just the good things, but also the struggles. Show them what it looks like to trust someone. They may eventually reciprocate.

Even if they don’t, you’ll be living an authentic life. One where the light shines deeper into your own body, as well as shines to “those who may enter.”

~ ~ ~

Photo by Severin Höin on Unsplash

Everyone is Effected by Bitterness

In her book Having a Mary Spirit Joanna Weaver wrote in 2006, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Steve Farrar also wrote this in Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family, in October 2000. It’s always hard to tell who should get credit for an original quotation. The original quote was most likely about resentment and is credited to Augustine of Hippo, who said, “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

I remember when I first heard this bitterness quote, and it wasn’t from my reading. My friend Slip Gray said it while we were on a Caribbean cruise together. What he basically meant was that bitterness is usually caused by my anger at someone else, but takes its a toll on me rather than the person I’m angry at.

Besides Skip’s quip, I know that I have heard several sermons warning about the effect that bitterness can have on a person. As I recall, each of those messages were warnings about what bitterness will do in a person’s life – the person holding the bitterness.

Many people point to the New Testament book of Hebrews when they talk about this warning of the effects of bitterness. There it says, [See to it] “that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15b, New American Standard Bible).

There an important word that I noticed this morning in my devotional time. Let’s look at the NIV translation for another perspective: “that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” In both of these translations we find the word “many.”

Bitterness does not just poison the person holding it. Bitterness has the ability to defile “many.” In neither of these translations does the context solely point at the person with the bitter spirit. This verse is found in a section of the book that lists things the Hebrew readers should do (beginning with the word “therefore” at the beginning of verse twelve).

When I look at the immediate context of verses 14-16, there is a common focus – the community of Christ; the Church. We are to “see to it that” (1) “no one comes short,” (2) “no root of bitterness…causes trouble,” and (3) “there be no immoral or godless person.” Each of these “that” imperatives are for the protection of the Christian community.

Bitterness will, in fact, eat the soul of a person for breakfast. But it will also defile anyone who comes in contact with it. That contact could be innocent; like Covid-19 being spread without intention.

As members of the Body of Christ, we need to watch not only that a root of bitterness not spring up (NASB) in our own lives, but also expect that it might grow up (NIV) in someone else’s life. We simply can’t take the stance that “It’s not my problem.” By allowing bitterness to take root, we allow the defilement of every Christian that it comes into contact with.

Watch for it. Take action. Protect the Body.

Discipling by Assumption

I have read, and continue to read, a lot of books about making disciples. Currently, I’m finishing up The Multiplier: Making Disciple Makers, by Waylon B. Moore. Dr. Moore is a retired pastor who is known around the world for his teachings on disciple-making. He’s even been called “one of the living pioneers in the area of discipleship training.”

I just read this piece in Chapter Nine, entitled Have a Parent Heart: “Helping disciples means observing their conduct with the opposite sex. Honest and frank words on this subject, spoken in love, must be shared with both single and married disciples so they learn how to ‘keep they heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life’ (Proverbs 4:23).”

That sounds like sound advice and I can’t actually count how many men I’ve talked with about purity and their relationship with the opposite sex. However even though this book was written just three years ago, it’s missing something major in discipling others in the area of purity today.

Just one day before I read this quotation, I was having a frank discussion with a married couple about how we may be missing the mark when we talk with people about sexual purity. They told me the story of a friend of theirs who had been asked to intern with a disciple-making ministry. Recently, this friend had not only left the ministry, he left the faith and was becoming quite angry about the current state of Christianity. I think about him like the fellow in the photo above; all alone in his struggle.

I’ll call this fellow “Joe,” since I can’t even remember his actual name. Joe was attending a required ministry training course on sexual wellness, along with the couple who knew the story. They relate that Joe sat in the back of the room, fuming and rolling his eyes as the trainers spoke about maintaining purity.

Why was Joe so angry and disengaged in a subject that many men have eagerly, though candidly, talked about with me? Because the training wasn’t scratching Joe where he itched. Joe didn’t have a problem in his conduct with the opposite sex (to refer back to Dr. Moore’s quote). Joe wasn’t even interested in the opposite sex. Joe’s interests were in people of the same sex. The training wasn’t even considering that anyone in the room might have that kind of attraction.

One of the first rules of discipling someone is to know them. Know your man. Know your ma’am. These have been basic instructions in disciple-making since I became a Christian. Your disciple’s interests or inclinations, or even his activities in this area of life are based on deeply held ideas and feelings. If we don’t take the time to really know who it is that we’re discipling, we’ll most likely wind up with a disconnected, and even angry, Joe.

You may not be comfortable asking a question about sexual orientation or attraction. But think about how the other person feels if you never go there, and worse, you disciple them based on your assumption that he’s just like you. Quite frankly, I’ve never had anyone get angry when I asked them about this. And yes, I’ve asked it a lot.

What are the assumptions that you might be working under? There are probably a number that you would never even consider until you realize (or are told) that you’re headed the wrong direction. Do you ask someone you’ve recently met to get coffee in order to get to know them? Not everyone drinks coffee, including me. (I got asked to meet for coffee again today!) Do you assume there’s an interest in cars, or cooking, or video games? You might think that because you’re from the same generation that you have the same interests. And you’ll be wrong fairly often.

Check your assumptions at the door. Ask more questions; lots more! That’s the best way to disciple someone.

~ ~ ~

Photo credit: https://www.splitshire.com/solitary-man-pub/

Where Are Your Friends?

A few days ago, I came across a small card that I used to give to men that I was discipling. The title at the top of the card was “My Ten Most Wanted.” The card had ten numbered lines where we could write the names of ten Non-Christians that we wanted to see come to Christ. I found a similar card on the Internet that I inserted in the photo above.

I actually laughed out loud when I looked at it and thought, “It would be amazing if people had three names on one of these lists!” I recently asked one fellow that I’ve been mentoring how many Non-Christian friends he has. At first, he said, “One.” Later he changed that to “Three.” But only because he remembered to friends from college who now live in a different city. So locally, he only had one Non-Christian friend.

That’s not unusual. There has been research for years that shows that the average Christian no longer has any Non-Christian friends after three years in the faith. Often that is the result of someone teaching us not to be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14), and to that we should separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17).

As I thought longer about it, I decided to see how my Facebook friends might answer the question. So, I created a survey, posted it on Facebook, and watched to see what happened. I removed some responses that I thought were extreme. For example, two people said they were personal friends with 50 co-workers. How is that even possible? Many of us don’t have more than ten co-workers that we regularly interact with.

Without those extremes, people indicated that they had no more than five Non-Christian co-workers as personal friends. One-third of those people said they did not have a personal friend among their Non-Christian co-workers. On average, Christians had two friends among their co-workers.

I also asked a question about personal friends among Non-Christian neighbors (either on their block or in their apartment building). I again took out the extremes. The same person who was friends with 50 co-workers was friends with 12 neighbors. Most of us can’t name 12 of our neighbors, much less call them personal friends.

Without the extreme neighbor responses, 80 percent of respondents consider five or less of their neighbors to be personal friends. This time only had felt that he had no personal friend among his neighbors. A pretty good improvement in the neighbor category! Unless you look at the average. The average Christian responding had 2.1 friends among their neighbors.

A third question I asked was among personal friends among Non-Christians in a “third place” (coffee shop, gym, playground, other regular social venues). Again, someone claimed to have 50 personal friends among this group (for a total of 112 personal friends who are Non-Christians). Those extremes were once again removed from the total.

In this third place category, the respondents claimed to have an average of 2 personal friends who were Non-Christians. Yet, 50 percent of these Christians did not have anyone among their third place venues that they felt were personal friends.

This survey is still active, and I’m looking for more results. Yet, it already helps me understand what people are facing about sharing the gospel in the most common places where they live, work, and play. On average, the survey shows that the average Christian only has 6.1 person friends among the Non-Christians around them. But many of those below the average do not have more than one Non-Christian friends from any of these three places where we are most likely to interact with unbelievers.

That means for more than half of the survey respondents, asking them to pray for ten Non-Christians who live, work, or play among them is futile. They simply don’t know that many Non-Christians.

~ ~ ~

Would you like to add your answers to this survey? You can find it at:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RP8MMW8

Are Small Groups “Churches”?

Photo from Visualhunt

Disclaimer: This article will be the first in a small series that addresses the concept of the local church. It reflects my opinion based on Scripture, meditation, and discussion.

I met with a friend who admitted that he struggled with the corporate church as he has experienced it. Recently, he and his wife have been meeting with another couple over the Internet, spurred on by the covid-19 virus.  He told me, for him, this feels much more like church than the organized meetings available, whether live or over the Internet.

I happen to know that this friend has been influenced by a group that focuses on small group meetings in homes. Those involved in this “movement” freely call each small group a “church.” A number of the leaders of this movement will point to Matthew 18:20 as a “proof text” for this idea. In the NIV, it reads: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

I will acknowledge that this verse lies within the context of Jesus’ teaching on dealing with the sin of another person. However, the term “church” is never used by Jesus here. Yet, that isn’t the focus of my point in this case.

I have been studying the book of Acts chapter by chapter for several months. Most recently, I have moved from chapter 18 to chapter 19. The two chapters are connected by the introduction of Apollos, an eloquent traveling speaker. At the end of chapter 18, it’s pointed out that he was accurately teaching things about Jesus. Yet, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside to teach him certain things more accurately. He then went to Corinth, which is where Priscilla and Aquila had met the Apostle Paul.

Chapter 19 opens with the return of Paul to Ephesus on his third missionary trip. When he arrives, he finds a group of disciples who he (for some reason) asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They replied that they didn’t know anything about the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Two things to note: 1.), Luke, the writer of Acts, calls these people “disciples.” That’s a term that is only used for Christians. And 2.), Paul is quoted as acknowledging that they had “believed.” We shouldn’t miss that these were Christians who apparently gathered together for some type of worship in a place where Paul could find them. After Paul explains the baptism of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, they “began speaking with tongues and prophesying (v. 6, NASB).

Because this story is part of the larger story of Apollos visiting Ephesus, I believe these disciples came to faith through him. It’s possible they were his “first fruits.” But what is clear is that, like Apollos, they didn’t have all the details needed for a full faith. That may be why some commentators refer to these as “disciples of John the Baptist.” (I think it would be strange that someone who heard John the Baptist teach a baptism of repentance could go about 20 years without hearing about the Holy Spirit as Jesus taught. John’s disciples would have heard that the Spirit would be poured out on men [Luke 3:16]. Besides, Acts 18:25 says that even Apollos only knew about the baptism of John – so he’s mostly like reproduced himself.)

That’s where this gets complicated. While Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus and had spent time with Apollos to help him be “more accurate” in his teaching (Acts 18:26), no one made sure those first fruit believers understood the Holy Spirit’s coming. Neither Apollos nor Aquila and Priscilla.

It’s fair enough to guess that Apollos left for Corinth before having a chance to teach his new believers what he may have learned from Priscilla and Aquila. But where were Aquila and Priscilla during this time? When Paul left them, he traveled by ship to Palestine, then up to Antioch, traveled on foot across Asia Minor until he reached Ephesus. Most biblical commentators think Paul was gone for a full year.

In a full year, Aquila and Priscilla either never came across this small band of believers or, doubtfully, never asked the same crucial question that Paul did in Acts 19:2. My guess, because the story is silent on this detail, is that this small group of disciples was meeting in another location away from any other believers produced by the initial work of Paul (Acts 18:19-21), or by Priscilla and Aquila who lived in Ephesus for a year before Paul’s return.

I assume that there were at least two “churches” in Ephesus. One attended by the disciples who only understood John’s baptism, and the other that may have been established by Paul and that Aquila and Priscilla fellowshipped in. While Ephesus at this time had about 200,000 inhabitants, those with a Judeo-Christian leaning should have easily found each other through the local synagogue.

And there’s my point about a small group being a “church” disconnected from the larger body of believers. A small group that exists outside of a larger body of believers will be missing something. They can also be easily swayed toward a focus preferred by the group leader, or in the case above, not know what the leader doesn’t know.

While we can easily point out things that are wrong with the corporate church, avoiding that large group only leads to other problems. (Wasn’t the rise of non-denominational churches supposed to bring us closer to the First Century church? And look, we’re still in the same predicament!)

While an entire church, including its elders, can sit under the teaching of a pastor and learn universalist thinking (shades of Rob Bell here), it’s even easier for a small group to go off the theological grid.

There are positives to small groups, especially the intimacy that we can find there and is usually absent from a mega-church. We can have potluck meals and meet anywhere we happen to be. Because of these benefits, we’ve seen a substantial rise in small groups (a.k.a., cell, life, community, etc.) across the Western world.

However, we should not be so naïve as to think that our small group is the “end all, be all.” We need to be a part of a larger body of believers, especially to see all the gifts of the Spirit function among us. (No small group should be so gullible as to think they have all the spiritual gifts covered among six-to-eight people!)

We need to the local church. And the local church needs us!

Being Teachable

Stubborn

A young missionary living overseas posted a political opinion on a popular social media site. One person responded in agreement. A few people responded with a different opinion, as did I. After I replied, I then began to get notifications that other people were commenting; and several of them were also “liking” the comment I made.

I sent a private message to this missionary to explain a concern. As missionaries, either abroad or at home, we are usually dependent on the financial support of others who care about our mission. Many of these supporters connect to us through social media. Like it or not, everything that we post there can be an extension of our ministry.

I explained that I am quite careful not to post controversial topics on my social media. I suggested that he might consider doing the same. It’s simply not worth upsetting prayer supporters or losing financial support just to express our latest political opinion.

His response to me was that he’d known the people who are replying for at least a decade. He was sure that they would not respond to him negatively. This might be true. The people who are responding might not be negative toward his opinion. But what about the people who read the post and do not respond? How does he know what they are thinking?

In choosing a man to disciple, an essential element is that he be teachable. If someone doesn’t stop long enough to consider what you’re trying to communicate to them, call it stubbornness if you’d like, you won’t make progress in helping him grow into a disciple of Jesus.

There’s a pretty good chance that if a man doesn’t listen to you, especially when you’re speaking out of love and concern, he may also not be willing to listen to Jesus (who speaks not only through the Bible but also through other believers). This doesn’t mean that he has to do everything you say, but he should at least hear you out.

If someone doesn’t appear to be teachable, take things slow and address this most important of topics. Try to help him or her understand that being teachable flows from an attitude of humility – a trait that the Bible often focuses on (Proverbs 6:3; 11:2; 15:33; 16:19; 18:12; 22:4; and 29:23 from just one book!).

Give him or her the opportunity to develop some teachability. But if after a few tries and a couple of months things have not improved, invest yourself in someone else. The missionary mentioned above responded this way: “I’m not going to be silenced just because someone might be offended.”

This is not just being unteachable. No where in Scripture do we get the opportunity to be offensive. This stubbornness has its roots in pride. Until someone’s character trait is transformed (Romans 12:2), trying to disciple (or mentor or coach) a man or woman like this will be fruitless.

Teachable men can be difficult to find. Men who are faithful, available, and teachable are especially hard to find. But better to look for a F.A.T. man than waste valuable portions of your life on someone who won’t heed your discipling.

In the end, it’s not how many men you’ve discipled; it’s how well you’ve invested the things that you’ve been given. That’s when we will get to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

~ ~ ~

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Recognizing Burnout

Zeal Without Burnout Book cover

A couple days ago I came across the book entitled Zeal without Burnout, by the English pastor Christopher Ash. I remember reading about burnout in ministry years ago but couldn’t put my finger on the details. So, I thought I’d take a try at this short book. It was well worth it to be reminded of the things that can burn us out in ministry, whether personal or professional.

While Ash writes from the perspective of burnout as a full-time pastor, he also writes as someone who has experienced burnout himself. And he includes several stories of others who went through similar, but different, things. There is plenty in this book that a layman in a church setting can learn and use to evaluate how close he might be coming to burnout – and what to do to prevent burnout from taking hold of your life.

Here are a few quotes that I thought were “post worthy.” (I left the British English as it was.)

“Many zealous Christians juggle the responsibilities of pressurized work and busy family lives with a desire to serve the Lord in the church as Elders, Bible-study leaders, or ministry with children and young people. Those of us who are pastors can be guilty of underestimating the stresses they face as they seek to serve the Lord in ways that are often invisible to us.” (page 16)

“There’s always more we can do in ministry, but God is not asking, “Can you do more?” He is asking, “Do you love me?” Some of those extras are not always as vital as we think them to be.” (page 32)

“Or perhaps you are still in that successful career, but serving whole heartedly in your local church. The prestige and status given you by that career matter more than perhaps you realize. The wholehearted local-church service you squeeze into a busy life gives you very little affirmation and praise from others. It is tempting to pitch our energies into the activities that result in praise from others.” (page 86)

“The really important stuff—changed hearts—cannot be measured. Go din his grace sometimes gives us a glimpse, an encouragement, some evidences of grace. But it can’t be measured. You pray for someone and they don’t change. Who knows but they may change years later under someone else’s ministry (I planted, but Apollos watered). Or the fruit may come after you die. I don’t know; you don’t know. But we do know that in the Lord Jesus our labour is not in vain. (page 99)

And finally, spiritual “gifts without grace save no one’s soul.” (page 106)

That quote about not seeing measurable ministry outcomes spoke significantly to me. My tendency when not seeing the outcomes I desire causes me to consider working (ministering) all the more, harder and harder to reach an objective. And that, Ash explains, is what leads so easily to burnout. He provides seven things that can help us avoid burnout; although none of them are simple steps. They require us to speak the truth to ourselves and allow others to do the same – to speak to us whenever we need it.

Words like: “Remember, there is only one Saviour of the world; and it’s not you, and it’s not me.” (page 62)

This book took only about five hours to read. I would recommend everyone read it once, and keep it somewhere that you can read it again, perhaps each year.

Does This Picture Represent Your Workplace? Probably not!

Group Meeting

Look at the picture above. You’ve probably seen many like it. When I was writing in the corporate world, this might be the exact picture that I wanted in a document facing the customer or even those we wanted to recruit to work with us.

How could you not love that photo? An equal number of men and women. They’re interacting with one another. Multi-ethnic, although not fully, when you really look at it. And while that might not be a glaring problem, there is another.

This photo most likely does not represent your workplace.

As I write this article, thousands of young 20-somethings are finishing college and are excited to begin their new jobs. They’re coming from a place that looks pretty much like the photo. And they’re expecting to work at a place that looks pretty much like the photo.

I was talking with a friend that I mentor who finished his bachelor’s and masters last year at Vanderbilt University. He had spent six years learning his profession with people that were as diverse as the photo but were basically all the same as him.

Something that he said relates to what’s wrong with the photo above. “I’m the youngest guy on my Everyone else is at least 20 years older than men. Many of them have kids around my age. I simply can’t relate to them; at all.

I remember feeling the same way as a new nurse. I was paired up with Lois, who constantly reminded me that, “I was a nurse before you were born.” Most co-workers are not as spiteful as Lois was, but it’s quite difficult to relate to someone the same age as your parents. (Actually, Lois was almost old enough to be my grandmother!)

The fact of life is that in most first full-time jobs that we land, we will be the youngest person on the team. Not only are we adjusting to work-life that requires us to be to work on time, looking appropriate, and awake. We can be stumped at how to talk with co-workers that are significantly older than us.

They haven’t seen the same movies we have. (I say “we” when I’m actually not one of you!) They definitely do not listen to the same music as we do. And they don’t tend to go to the hipster bar or bistro we enjoy. In fact, most of them just want to go home after work because they need to help their spouse with the kids and housework.

It’s a dilemma for which college didn’t prepare us. (Okay, there are several things that college didn’t prepare us for.)

With all the discomfort of adjusting to living on your own, probably not even in the same city as your parents, who needs to try to relate to a bunch of old geezers? Why not just mumble, “Okay, boomer” under your breath and retreat to your space at work and home?

Why not? Because these people are a goldmine. They’ve been there and done that more times than they can count. They are a wealth of information, not only about the job but about living life.

So set your preconceived idea (that you didn’t even know that you had) about being on a happy team of people all your age and get on with your personal growth at work and home. Include older co-workers in your life, and surprisingly, many of them will include you.

Life will become more vibrant with them than life without them.

~ ~ ~

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

If this article was stimulating, you might enjoy this 15-minute TEDx video of Leah George, Ph.D., who talks about five generations all working together in this decade.