Bringing our suffering to God is the only way to survive it. I mean that in the sense that one might say that their mother’s home made cookies are the only way to eat cookies. Yes, there are other means, but the best option is to suffer in identification with Jesus Christ.
One of the major purposes behind Jesus coming was to identify with humanity… not, of course, for his sake but for ours. As our creator he knows all about humanity and what it entails. Including suffering. However, he came not so that could understand us, but that we might know that he understands us because history witnesses his coming. They saw him BE human. The world saw him suffer, cry, hurt and grieve.
Mark’s account of the Gethsemane story (Mark 14) is a great example of how Jesus suffered. How he was “greatly distressed and troubled.” How he agonized over the fear of death, over the disappointment of humanity, over his own betrayal.
I pray that today, you would take a moment to identify with Christ… or better yet, know that he identifies with you. Do you suffer pain? Do you suffer disappointment? Do you suffer betrayal? Do you suffer the loss of life or love? Jesus identifies. How precious is our savior who not only saves our souls, but speaks to our souls words of comfort through his willingness to let us see him at his very worst… in suffering.
God… may we see your suffering servant and know that he is also God.
My first pastorate was at a small church in Oklahoma. Morris, Oklahoma to be exact. Morris isn’t on the way to anything. If you end up in Morris, it’s because that’s where your grandmother lives or some other relative that for whatever reason likes to live in a place that’s on the way to nowhere. It’s a great little town of about 1400 people (if I remember correctly). In Morris, I worked alone. And boy did I. I worked alone because that’s what I knew. While I was there… it never occurred to me to build a base of volunteer staff that could help accomplish more than what I could do alone.
I visited the sick alone. I preached alone. I did the bulletin alone. I sat in my office…. alone.
Then the opportunity came for me to go work at the Carbondale Church of Christ. I was there for about 7 years. To date, the longest stint I had working anywhere. When I first started, my eyes were opened the joy of working with an administrative assistant! Paul was absolutely fantastic. The problem was, I had no idea how to help her help me. In fact, even if I had, I would have quickly learned that Paula was the “church” secretary and not my administrative assistant. While there, I had two short term associate ministers to work with. Both were positive experiences for the most part. But still, I had no idea how to help them help me or to help them help the church.
Then off to Illinois I went. Once again, the only paid staff at a church of about 160 near Peoria. It was there that I think I began to settle into a depression of loneliness. Roy Campbell was fantastic at what he did in terms of church administration, but he wasn’t on staff for ministry. He wasn’t my helper. And I didn’t use his company to my advantage (or his really). In a self-imposed isolation I began to flounder. I was only there for two years. I needed people. I needed help. I needed to grow as a pastor.
Five years ago, I moved to Hutchinson Kansas where I know pastor Crossroads Christian Church: A Place to Start Life Over. Here I was blessed with an opportunity to work with an administrative assistant (who actually is here to help us!) as well as three other full-time ministerial staff. I was not only enamored with the idea of working with multiple staff… I was desparate to get out of a rut of loneliness and isolation in my working environment.
One thing I have learned over the years… and through all these experiences. That is… every pastor needs a partner. . . or even multiple partners. Were I ever to return to working in a small church environment. Which I suspect I will do someday. It will be my goal to surround myself with volunteers who can help me and whom I can help to help themselves and the ministries of the church. Here at Crossroads, we have developed a volunteer staff that has increased our effectiveness exponentially! Not only are they helping us in ministry, but the program has become a great outlet to help each of them to grow spiritually as well (at least I think they would agree!)
So… if you are working in a small church environment and are the proverbial “Lone Ranger.” Can I encourage you to find a volunteer staff that can come alongside and help you in your ministry. Use that opportunity to mentor. In doing so, you will grow as a pastor and will help the church to grow as well.
If you build a volunteer ministry staff program, I would encourage you to make sure that they are empowered to to do the job you have given them to do. Give them a desk or an office if you can. Give them status on the bulletin, on the web-site and through other communication avenues. Make sure they know and the church knows that their work is valued and they have full “staff” status (for whatever that’s worth!)
Through this you’ll find that you also are less lonely, less isolated, less frustrated and free to move into areas of ministry that would never be possible for a “Lone Ranger.”
That’s all for now. See you later.