Cliff Young came to prominence in 1983 after he won the 544-mile Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon. Untrained in long-distance running, but skilled at herding 2,000 sheep on foot over 2,000 acres, he entered the Ultramarathon in sweatpants and rubber boots. Much like the “Tortoise and the Hare,” he quickly fell behind the trained runners but kept running through the night while the others slept; Young only slept two hours a night. His lack of sleep was an unorthodox approach and so was his stride. Unlike other runners, his stride consisted of shuffling his feet. He won the race and the $10,000.00 prize which he was unaware of until he crossed the finish line (he split the money among the other runners.) Cliff Young’s story reminds us that small strides often lead to great rewards.
Likewise, ministry leadership is a marathon and not a sprint. While some situations and circumstances require drastic and immediate changes to stay afloat, many situations require the sure and steady hand a lovingly firm leader guided by the leadership of God the Holy Spirit. We cannot underestimate the value and impact of “small victories” in the turnaround process of a ministry.
While this reality is not new to me, I have seen its impact in new and fresh ways in the last seven months. I want to share these things with you as you lead in your own context.
Morale isn’t everything, but it is sure is vital.
If you see the dysfunction, then know this: so do your people. They’ve also probably been in the dysfunction longer than you have. The longer they is stuck in dysfunction, the more helpless they begin to feel and their morale begins to falter. Nothing is more dangerous to a fighting force than low morale.
How’s the morale in your ministry? Are people excited? Do their actions support their words? They may say one thing and do another. If they claim excitement but live and act defeated, there’s a problem.
What can you do as the leader to help boost morale and help give your people a second wind? Just recently we purchased Tork paper towel dispensers and air fresheners for our restrooms. I realized the low morale of my people and knew something had to be done. We don’t have tons of money but this would be a simple and inexpensive morale boost. So, I purchased them and put them in the restrooms. To my surprise, they were noticed almost immediately, and my people were encouraged. One even remarked something to me along these lines: “Man, we’re moving up in the world! We’re not as bad off as it sometimes feels.”
Right you, are brother. Right you are.
When we can provide a morale boost for our people, we would do well to do so. A fighting force whose morale is high will fight on to victory.
Holistic stewardship encourages everyone.
When Church Leaders speak of stewardship, we often speak in the realm of finances. While this is certainly an aspect of stewardship, it is not all there is. “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD” declares the Psalmist (Ps. 24.1). Therefore, our stewardship pertains to more than just our checking account. It influences our care of the buildings, our bodies, and other things God has entrusted to us.
Think about it…When you pass a church that has let its exterior become dilapidated, what do you think: “Those people are alive and thriving and reaching the lost!”, or do you think: “That’s a shame. Such a beautiful building with so much Kingdom potential slowly wasting away if they aren’t already closed.”? Chances are, you think the latter and not the former.
Granted, the physical appearance of the building does not determine the spiritual health of the congregation that meets there, but it certainly can reflect the spiritual health of the people. In my experience, a church who’s exterior is wasting away, generally belongs to a congregation that is doing likewise. Some congregations are the exception to this rule, but that has been few in my experience.
Consider how you steward the things entrusted to you by Holy God. How does your church steward its resources? Small things consistently done over time make a big difference in both the care and culture of the congregation.
Just recently, to help our heating and cooling costs, we installed 1-inch, room darkening vinyl blinds in the office suite. For myself and my Admin team, it was a game-changing, encouraging victory. The office suite stays cooler longer on the hot Mississippi days. The next project, as funds allow, is the replacement of the air conditioning unit—which is struggling due to its age.
The improvements to our office suite are just one of many examples thus far at Four Mile. We’ve given some education space a facelift with new paint and sheetrock work, we’ve begun to utilize the Multi-Purpose building for weekly ministry, and more. We steward our finances and facilities to the glory of God because they belong to him. Therefore, we use them in his Kingdom work, and he encourages us in the process.
Desperation breeds unity and growth.
I read through the Psalms a year ago and was surprised to see the Psalmists declare in many ways: “I am oppressed and needy” (Ps. 40.17a). That strikes at the core of our sinful flesh that proclaims as confidently as it is wrong: “You can do it by yourself.” I’ve called my congregation to pray daily for the three most pressing needs of our church. They have a business card-sized reminder to carry with them and pray as they can for our church.
I’ve stressed the reality that we are a people wholly dependent upon the Lord. We cannot pay off our $700,000 debt by ourselves. We cannot reach our immediate community for the Gospel in our own power (cf. Acts). We cannot grow spiritually or in unity with God’s people unless the power of God the Holy Spirit is indwelling us (cf. Gal. 2.20). So, we pray. And as we pray for these things both individually and corporately, unity and growth will come.
I’ve noticed how my own prayers for the needs of our church have morphed and changed as I pray daily for those things. When I pray for wisdom in stewarding the finances of our church, God the Holy Spirit has directed me to pray for wisdom for my people as they steward their household resources. As I pray for an outward, community focus for our church, he has directed me to pray for my personal evangelism. And as I have prayed for unity and spiritual growth, God has revealed people I have yet to forgive fully.
When God’s people walk with a limp both individually and corporately, unity and growth will come, albeit, though the small but consistent daily prayers for the church.
So, take your time in running the marathon. Make headway with a few shuffles at a time. Find the small things—the low hanging fruit—that done over a consistent time, will yield big results for His Glory and our good. Watch your people become energized from of all things, a paper towel dispenser. Eventually, by God’s grace, that energy will translate into great Kingdom work.
On the Journey,
I grew up in southeast Louisiana and now live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where hurricanes are a “natural” part of life. If you don’t know, when hurricanes form, they are categorized (i.e. given a level of intensity between 1 and 5). The higher the number, the more intense the storm. In recent years, however, meteorologists have recategorized hurricanes once all the data has been collected and combed through withing a year. Some storms have been upgraded while others downgraded. Why do they do this? Well, with a complete data set in hand, hindsight is 20/20. So, maybe that Cat 5 was really a Cat 3 at landfall.
Storms almost always seem to be worse while we’re in them. I’m reminded of what a former pastor once said: “The biggest storm you’ll ever go through is the one you’re going through right now.” In the moment, things always seem bigger and more intense. Though, with hindsight, things might be more clearly seen. What was a big deal for us at age 15 may not even be a blip on a map now. But, nonetheless, troubles will come. Jesus said as much in John 16.33: “In this world, you will have suffering.”
Whether in our marriage, parenting, finances, ministry, career, or countless other areas, troubles are sure to come. In fact, troubles are like waves: we can’t stop them from coming, but we can choose how to ride them. So, when troubles, come, what should we do?
What caused the trouble?
King David brought trouble on himself when he sinned (2 Sam. 11). Jesus brought trouble by simply proclaiming the truth of God (Choose any Gospel or the book of Acts). Job found himself in trouble allowed by God for the glory of God.
Because of the lingering effects of sin in the life of believers, we still sin and cause trouble for both us and others. When that’s the case, we need to confess, repent, make amends and restitution before we can move on. “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord?” asks the Psalmists, “except he who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24.3-4). Keep short accounts, allow the Lord God to purify you and cleanse you (Is. 6.6; 1 John 1.9; Ps. 51.7).
Have others caused your trouble? Then commit yourself to the Lord and trust him to bring you through it. Others will sin against us and we are told what we must do: forgive (Eph. 4.32). This does not mean we condone or overlook the consequences of their sin. Rather, it means we release the supposed “right” to hold a grudge and execute vengeance for ourselves.
Still, there are times when we nor others have committed sin; we simply find ourselves in trouble because God has saw fit in his omniscience and power to allow in our lives. I think of Job, who, without having sinned, encountered great difficulty and sorrow in his life for the glory of the Lord. When he finally expressed frustration, God graciously reminded him of his place.
When we know the source of trouble, we are better able to deal with any root causes first. Remember, we want clean hands and a pure heart (Ps. 24.3-4). As God the Holy Spirit leads, confess and repent of any known sin, lay your burdens before the Lord, and trust him.
Thank God for the opportunity.
There’s quiet of bit of pain in my story—more than I care to admit to myself, others, and even the Lord (though he already knows; cf. Ps. 139). I’ve slowly been learning this: Holy God wastes nothing. In the proper time, he will use every bit of my story to his glory.
Recognizing that God does not waste anything, thank your Heavenly Father for the opportunity you have to experience his working—yes, even in navigating the consequences of your sin. King David was not willing to waste the lessons learned from his sin. That’s why in Psalm 51.12-13 he committed to teach sinners God’s ways if he would allow it: “Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit. (13) Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you.”
When others cause your trouble, consider Joseph: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen. 50.20). Joseph recognized, albeit through years of hardship, that God remained sovereign even in the midst of human sinfulness. We can trust that God is able to turn all things for our good and his glory in the proper time (Romans 8.28).
When God is allows the trouble consider it pure joy—just as with all trouble—because it will have a perfect and God honoring effect…if you allow it (James 1.2-4). Consider the tomato plant: If you don’t “stress” (i.e. pluck the suckers off that grow between the main stalk and the branches) it won’t bear much fruit. You do not stress the plant to kill it, but to help grow it.
Friend, God does not waste anything. The very things that seem insurmountable, horrible, and the most painful are the very things God is willing to use to demonstrate his greatness and power (cf. 2 Corinthians 1.3-7). Paul was a murderer turned missionary. Moses a murderer turned deliverer. Rahab was a harlot turned Grandmother of Jesus. And…well, you get the point. God takes trouble and pain and turns it for good. John Piper said it like this: “We look at life from the back side of the tapestry. And most of the time, what we see is loose threads, tangled knots, and the likes. But occasionally, God’s light shines through the tapestry, and we get a glimpse of the larger design with God weaving together the darks and lights of existence.”
Draw closer to God.
Spurgeon said that “untested faith may be real faith, but it is sure to be little faith.” Trouble can drive a wedge between us and Holy God if we’re not careful. I think of my own life and how often I have been tempted to become angry at God for the trouble I experienced. However, when we choose to draw near to God in our troubles, we learn great truths we have yet to discover in our walk with him.
I think of a ministry situation in my own life that I am still processing. Depending on the day determines how I think of the situation—some days I’m angry, others I’m sad; but, on some days, I’m thankful for what God has allowed. With each passing day I continue to speak with Holy God about these things and thankfulness prevails even more.
Through the difficulty, God has taught me to trust his care and his ability to meet all my needs (not my greeds) at just the right time (Phil. 4.19). Still in a more current situation, God is teaching me greater discipline in my journey with him as I navigate each week. And I’m thankful that he is at work in each area of my life. But that thankfulness can only prevail when I actively choose to draw near to God. The same goes for you, too. When we choose to reject God’s plan for responding to trouble, we can be assured that trouble will win every time. Frankly, when we choose to reject God’s plan, we’re functional atheists.
Dear friend, draw near to Holy God. Only he can orient our hearts and minds to his immutable truth and character. Only he, through the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit, can enable and empower us to “rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in everything for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5.16-18).
Take a breath and bask in his presence.
Just as Holy God won’t waste our troubles, neither will Satan. He will use the troubles of life to redirect our attention from Holy God to anything and everything else. When Peter took his eyes of Jesus, he became afraid and began to sink (Matthew 14.22-33). We will either focus on Jesus or our trouble; one will sustain us and the other will destroy us.
Believer, after you’ve identified the cause of the issue, thanked God for his working, and have drawn near to him, take a breath and take care of yourself. The primary way we take care of ourselves begins with trusting God and being with him. Jeremiah wrote: “Lord, there is no one like you. You are great; your name is great in power” (Jer. 10.6). Do you believe this…that there is no one like our God? If you do, then take a breather! He’s sovereign over all things—from the first “let there be” to the final “amen.”
Stop worrying about tomorrow because it will not profit you anything. I do not know what you’re dealing with, but Holy God does. So, I leave you with these words from Scripture as you endeavor to bask in his presence.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (29) Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Jesus in Matthew 10.28-30
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” -Jesus in Matthew 6.33
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trails, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (4) And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” -James 1.2-4
On the Journey,
Child of God.