Facing frustrations

How to overcome the vacuum in your ministry

Samuel Thomas, Jr., is senior pastor of the Capital City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento, California.

Upon entering the ministry, many of us feel a deep vacuum—a vacuum between what we know to be our commitment to Christ and the employment of that commitment in the local parish. Somewhere in the middle of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are the frustrations, demands, and realities of meeting the expectations of the church and the members. We find ourselves somewhat like Jeremiah: "When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me" (Jer. 8:18).

The problem hits us at one time or the other. How do we overcome that feeling of not reaching the fulfillment we want to reach? How do we overcome frustrations in our ministry? I suggest a few simple steps.

Keep your vision constant

Jesus in His ministry faced frustration and rejection by keeping before Him the vision of what He should be doing. Consider how vision sustained Him in the face of Nazareth dilemma and how it helped Him affirm His own mantle: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him" (Luke 4:18, 19 TLB).

A call perceived in that context and pursued in that spirit leads pastors to enter the reality of human suffering. The periodic realization of this call upholds the pastor's level of motivation in the face of the pressures and stresses that are inevitable when one confronts the host of the powers of darkness. These pressures are sometimes externally imposed by the demands of our professional life and the expectations of the institutional church. Sometimes they come from within "representing the tasks and crises of the success stages of psychosocial development." 1

Cecil R. Paul captures the tension between the personal and the professional in the pastor's life: "The pastor is expected to have his life together and to be untouched by the human element in his personal life. On the other hand the media has erected a picture of the clergy as weak, lacking in normal human sensitivity, and out of touch with the realities of man's sin and sickness.... [The pas tor] is caught in the middle of unrealistic expectations and distorted stereotypes."2

Keep Christ as your model in ministry

Don't let pressures swallow up your calling. Have before you a ministerial model. And what better model than Jesus? As Leighton Ford argues, "Long before modern managers, Jesus was busy preparing people for the future. He was not aiming to pick out a crown prince, but to create a successor generation. . . . [He] carefully . . . picked, named, and developed his inner core and let them share the center of his life. When the time came for him to leave, he did not need to put in place a crash program of leadership development— the curriculum had been taught for three years in a living classroom."3

How did Jesus accomplish this superb task of training His disciples for leadership? Ford points out three distinctive ways: "First he allowed them to fail, and then He reinstated them. . . . His strategy was not to cast them off, but to confront them, reinstate them, and entrust them with an even bigger task. . . . [Secondly] in praying for them . . . Jesus shaped his successors. (Luke 22:31, 32) ... [Finally] what we often fail to note, however, is that Jesus seemingly planned to allow for dissent among his successor/leaders." 4

This model of leadership calls for fair play and inclusion. How many of us as pastors exemplify this model? If we don't, how can we empower the people we work with? To get "our way" we of ten dramatize, plot, scheme, manipulate, coerce, and stack the deck (i.e., the board, etc.). Robert Waterman, a management consultant, observes: "Renewing companies treat everyone as a source of creative input. Their managers define the boundaries and their people find out the best way to do the job within these boundaries... All the renewing companies are busy taking out layers of management . . . , learner organizations set the stage for renewal."5

Aren't we in the biggest renewing business in the world, renewing people? We can renew and be renewed only by empowering people—like Jesus did.

Find empowerment

Achieving success in ministry is not determined by control but by clearly defined expectations and empowerment. Where that atmosphere exists the vacuum between the call and the fulfillment in ministry disappears. Peter Drucker suggests that a clear way of reducing or even eradicating the vacuum is to "manage the boss." Now that's a new twist! He suggests what we should do and what we should not. "Do: Make sure the boss understands what can be expected of you, what the objectives and goals are on which your own energies and those of your people will be concentrated, what your priorities are, and equally important what they are not. Don't: expose the boss to surprises. Don't: underrate the boss."6

This makes good working sense! However, it is not easy to resolve the emptiness, frustrations, and misgivings we have in ministry. Paul Tillich's question often rings in my ears: "Who heals the helper?"7 Yet within our frustrations we may find the resolution. As Cecil Paul says: "Such confrontation with his [the pastor's] own needs holds potential for personal growth and the renewal of his ministry. It puts him in touch with the realities of man's pilgrimage and pain. It brings him to a point of dependence on the Source of all healing, placing him in a position to be ministered to."8

Often the tensions from the parish and the institution leave us with the feeling that they are enemies. Too often we hear comments from fellow pastors, such as: "You really can't trust the members, they will desert you when you need them most"; "The organization is out of touch with what we are doing." Perceptually these statements can be very true, but conceptually they are very false! Personal viewpoints and perceptions get skewed by our prior experiences or the influence of others or just our tendency to jump to assumptions. Overcoming these limitations within ourselves takes empowerment—not so much from out side but from within.

How can we find that inner empowerment? Stephen Covey lists four essential steps for the development of personal empowerment: (1) be proactive; (2) begin with the end in mind; (3) put first things first; (4) think win/win.9

Focusing on the fourth principle, Covey suggests three character traits essential to this paradigm: "1. Integrity; 2. Maturity; 3. Abundance Mentality."10

Practice integrity

Integrity is often thought to be less essential because of the apparent lack of it in leadership. The evidence for its lack is all around us: greed, political posturing, autocratic leadership, closed or narrow mindedness. Integrity is certainly not the catchword of the day. But it ought to be! People everywhere are looking for leaders, pastors, managers with a high sense of value. They are looking for "individuals who develop self-awareness and independent will by making and keeping meaningful promises  and commitments." 11

The world and the church will soon forget individuals whose self-centered ambition exhibits itself in limiting others, stifling talent, inhibiting objective communication, and growth. Soon forgotten too will be those who make statements such as, "He is too inexperienced," and "He is too  young," and "I have been an administrator for 25 years or more and I can't see myself doing any thing else."

Individuals who think win/win will be remembered because they understand that true power comes from the empowerment within and the empowering of others! That means true leadership is not in the maintenance of control or position but in adapting to change and proactively motivating for growth.

1 Cecil R. Paul, Passages of a Pastor (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 12.

2 Ibid., pp. 12, 13.

3 Leighton Ford, Transforming Leadership:
Jesus' Way of Creating Vision, Shaping Values,
and Empowering Change (Downers Grove, 111.:
InterVarsity Press, 1993), pp. 280, 281.

4 Ibid.

5 Robert H. Waterman, Jr., "The Renewal Factor,"
Business Week, Sept. 14, 1987, p. 104.

6 Peter F. Drucker, Managing for the Future:
The Nineteen Nineties and Beyond (New York:
Dutton-Truman Talley Books, 1992), p. 168.

7 Paul Tillich, New Being (New York: Macmillan
Pub. Co., 1955), p. 41.

8 Paul, p. 18.

9 Stephen R. Covey, Seven Habits of Highly
Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster,
Inc., 1989), p. 11.

10 lbid., pp. 217-219.

11 Ibid., p. 217.

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Samuel Thomas, Jr., is senior pastor of the Capital City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento, California.

December 1995

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