In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard an important truism more than once, so maybe that’s a nudge to sit up and pay attention…
We have to name the truth about our obstacles before we can overcome them.
Naming the truth about our lives is just as important for us as ministry leaders as it is for us as parents, spouses, sons, daughters, and friends. So, what are the important truths we need to name as we ramp up into fall, one of the busiest times of the year for people who walk alongside children, youth, and their parents.
The First Truth: The fall ramp-up is full of exciting new things, and the promise of a clean slate as we enter a new program year. And lots of details. You probably have a lot more on your plate than seems possible right now. There’s one truth.
The Second Truth: Meanwhile, as you and others in your ministry leadership work to put everything into place, you’re likely picking up the extra baggage of their anxiety. We do that more than we realize. And both inside and outside your church building there’s plenty of anxiety to go around. Because we are called into deep engagement with people, our sensitivity to their emotional climate sets us up to absorb their anxiety.
The Third Truth: Meanwhile, you likely have plenty of your own anxiety. There’s something very disorienting about leading and doing ministry in this cultural “gray zone” right now. Church research shows a significant drop in the number of people volunteering in ministries, so you’re likely wondering who you can count on. And with a continuing decline in church attendance, it’s easy to slip into worry about the “critical mass” of people who actually want to be part of a faith community.
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The Fourth Truth: A friend of mine once pointed out that people often morph into the worst version of themselves when they’re under stress or the stakes are high—big family occasions such as weddings and funerals, for example. And the same is true with our “church family”—facing big stuff can bring out the “real” in people, and their real splashes onto us.
The Fifth Truth: And one more thing… Lurking in the background of all of this ministry activity, lived out in a disorienting cultural gray zone, we have the drip-drip-drip reminder that forming faith in the next generation really happens only one way: Parents (and people who are like parents) living, sharing, and talking about their faith in everyday ways. We have agency in this effort, but not direct agency. We’re equippers, and that means we have far less control over the outcomes. We have to trust, and our issues with trust draw out our anxieties.
We’re naming the truth about our obstacles as a reality check—so much of what worries us is out of our control. We’re invited, in the midst of our truths, to put ourselves in the presence of the one who promises: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Recently, I found this simple prayer embedded in a “back to school” meditation. I hope it can be just the kind of gift you need to let go of all your anxious obstacles, and draw you back to the the reason you’ve been called into this great work:
In my anxieties,
May I find comfort in your presence
In my worries,
May I find peace in your promises
In my challenges
May I find victory in your power.
– From To Light their Way, by Kyla Craig
Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.