Every time I enter the airport terminal I’m filled with anticipation and adventure. I love flying, at least most things about flying. You won’t hear me complaining about long lines, the TSA or even canceled flights. But each time they make me “turn off all of my electronic devices” while they give me safety instructions, I get frustrated. How many times do I need to hear how to use a seatbelt and a life preserver? They say flying is safer than driving and no one is asking me to read a safety card before starting my car each morning. So the way I figure it, I don’t need these flight instructions either.
Recently, I got on my tenth flight in a month and within moments the flight attendants gave me the evil eye as, once again, they started to offer the usual safety lesson. What they didn’t understand was that I was watching a perfectly good episode from season one of Seinfeld on my iPad. I reluctantly removed my headphones and sat impatiently as they said something “important.” I guess my countenance was communicating my frustration because let’s just say my service that day was less than friendly.
Let me be clear before I start receiving corrective tweets. I know the information is important; it’s just that I’ve heard it all before. And honestly, I don’t feel like I will ever need it. In the typical book, this would be where someone would share a story of near-disaster and a new appreciation for these safety lessons. But not here. No near-death experiences. Yet.
Which is my point.
We all know ministry can be very challenging, and there is potential for disaster in our lives due to the pace we run. But there’s also potential for tremendous success, amazing adventure, transformed lives. Who wants to slow down when that’s where the race is taking us?
I have felt the constant pull that puts us in this difficult place nearly every day. It wasn’t long ago that we were preparing for a ten-night revival when I was part of the ministry staff at Elevation Church in Charlotte. Our team couldn’t have been more excited, and I was filled with anticipation as my role was to make sure all of our guest speakers and artists were taken care of. This meant long days and nights. We’re all used to those in ministry, but I had the extra variable of failing health. I have an autoimmune disease that was in a full-on attack as revival began. I pushed through. In fact, I didn’t even tell anyone what was going on because I thought it was best not to burden everyone else with my problems. I didn’t want to let Jesus and everyone else down. As I type this, I realize how absolutely ridiculous this sounds.
Jess, my wife, kept telling me to call the doctor, but it wasn’t until everyone started asking me what was wrong that I took it seriously. This may sound extreme, but it’s what we do in ministry at times. We push everything to the back burner in the name of faithfulness.
We don’t want to slow down, so we often choose to ignore the warnings and the people in our lives who are telling us to watch out for a potential catastrophe.
We discount these warnings by calling this a “busy season,” which is often just another way of saying life is going to be a roller coaster for the next few months so everybody, hold on because I think it will end safely. We often excuse our mismanagement of time, energy, and effort as just being busy. But as my friend Mike Foster, founder of People of the Second Chance, likes to say, “You’re ridiculously in charge of your own life!”
I’ve learned that without making shifts in the way we lead and manage our lives, we are not going to be in ministry for the long haul.
We can’t operate as though our calling is temporary.
We have Hebrews to thank for that reminder: “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, NLT).
For most of us, our calling to ministry is designed to last a lifetime. So why do half of all people in vocational ministry give up in less than five years?
I have never had to take advantage of those aircraft safety instructions, but that doesn’t mean the danger isn’t real. In the movie Sully, about the water landing in the Hudson River, I saw something I never knew about flight attendants. In the event of a crash landing, they are trained to say a phrase loudly, over and over again in unison. “Brace, brace, brace! Heads down, stay down. Brace, brace, brace! Heads down, stay down.” This is a last-ditch effort to prepare everyone for what’s in store. If passengers weren’t listening or they begin to panic or they were watching Seinfeld on their iPad, at least they’ll hear this: “Brace, brace, brace! Heads down, stay down. Brace, brace, brace! Heads down, stay down.”
You may have ignored every warning sign or piece of advice by wise leaders till now, but I hope you will make plans today for what lies ahead. If you do, more often than not you’ll be operating from a position of preparedness rather than crisis mode.
You may wonder how you can know you need to make some changes. After all, the warning signs don’t come in the form of sirens and flashing lights. But they are still present. Start with these questions.
How long can I sustain my current pace?
Am I feeling underappreciated?
How much sleep have I been getting?
Has my devotional life been on the decline?
Ask your friends and family:
When I’m with you, do you feel like I’m fully present?
What changes have you seen in me?
What is the hardest part of my role in ministry?
For more on thriving in the tension of ministry, work, and life, check out Frank’s new book, The Myth of Balance. Visit MythofBalance.com.