Recognize natural cycles – The cycle of the church’s life has lower and higher points embedded within its natural flow. While Christmas and Easter can be particularly stressful, summer can often be more laid back and relaxing. Recently, a counselor friend asked me if I were ready for the music ministry Super Bowl (Easter)? Just as in football, the church also has seasons in which we are allowed to assess, train, and design plays. Embodied in the church’s worship life are natural cycles of intensity and recovery.
Plan to re-assess – Rather than falling prey to the tendency to reassess in the busiest and most challenging times, calendar some time away to reflect, take stock, and contemplate the future. Postpone any big decisions – new programs, new directions, potential moves, and life-changing directions. Plan to think about these possibilities and calendar a time and place for this important discernment to happen. By making concrete plans, you will relieve yourself of doing the most important work (imagining the future) at the worst time. Consequently, you may easily spare your church and yourself the burden of decisions made without appropriate perspective.
Sit in the balcony – If your church has a balcony, go there and sit for a while and notice the difference in your perspective from this height and distance – it is much different from the position you usually occupy, i.e., front and center. Contemplate how the church’s life might appear if you were observing it from a vantage point different from being a significant player in the drama itself. Attempt to grasp the difference that watching yourself and others interact on the stage of the church’s life offers vs. actually participating in the action. As you observe others and yourself, what patterns do you notice? Are there conversations and actions that are not crucial? Are there interactions in which your voice is not significant or needed? Are there conversations in which you should remove yourself? Are there depleting activities from which you could choose to step away?
Ask honest questions – Often we believe that we are being realistic and honest with others and ourselves when in reality, we are responding out of fear, insecurity, self-protection, or institutional maintenance. In fact, most of what we spend our days fretting over never occurs. Often our attempt to be “realistic” means that we are far more negative than positive. In these times, ask yourself straightforward questions that can be answered forthrightly. Instead of asking yourself if your ministry has significance, ask yourself with whom is your ministry making a difference. Instead of asking yourself if anyone values your ministry, ask yourself how the church would be different if you weren’t present? Instead of looking blindly toward other churches and their perceived success, interact with colleagues and ask them how ministry is going for them. Often we discover that every ministry is wrought with challenges that are usually not any less significant than the ones that we face.
Look further ahead – Sometimes looking further than a few weeks into the future is helpful. While to look to next week might be depleting, looking to next summer might invigorate. Plan a vacation, a time away, or an anticipated encounter with someone that gives you an event in the future about which you are able to anticipate. In the time between here and then, your planning will build expectation and hope not only for the future event but for the intervening time as well. While postponing our joy is never recommended, having a longer-term carrot to which we aspire adds perspective to the meantime and added energy and focus to the present.
Stoke your memory – Remembering what has served you in the past is one of the surest ways to reimagine the future. What is the track record of ministry? What has sustained you in the past? What words have inspired you? What places have commissioned you before? What experiences have defined you? Remembering the past can both sustain us and provide hope for moving into what lies ahead.
In Closing Gaining perspective is an ongoing challenge because the events and situations that surround ministry and our personal lives are continually evolving and shifting. In these days intentionally reflect, take time away, plan to assess, and step far enough from the action in order to see the present more clearly and more accurately imagine the future.