Every time I took a spiritual gifts test in my younger days, I scored zero in the gift of mercy. Zero. Although I enjoyed the affirmation of my administrative and teaching gifts, it concerned me that I couldn’t muster up a point or two for mercy. People who worked with me in those days would probably give you a hearty “Amen,” on that.
God gifted me with a dreamer’s mind and the organizational gifts to bring vision to fruition. Unfortunately, my creative processes sometimes walked all over those around me. I’m pretty sure that I consistently left behind a wake of trampled, frustrated people on many of my larger projects. What I didn’t understand back then is that God is more concerned about our process than our products.
How you treat the people in your church or organization ultimately determines your ability to achieve shared destinies. God empowers shepherds who lead their flocks strongly, with tenderness. He disciplines careless or harsh shepherds. Here’s some of my exasperating former ways as a cautionary tale for all you Type A sisters out there.
- Treat people like cogs in your ministry machine. I used to be so task oriented that I’d get ants in my pants if prayer concerns came up during strategic planning meetings. My eagerness to get down to the business at hand made people’s concerns seem like interruptions. Man, oh man, that’s cold. It also sounds like the disciples who tried to shoo away some of the people that approached Jesus. The cares and concerns of the people in your ministry are as important as the work you are trying to accomplish together.
- Act like ministry stuff is more important than anything else. Until Ken and I owned our own business I didn’t understand the stresses of the marketplace. As lay people, sometimes we showed up late for church commitments or couldn’t make it at all for a number of reasons like, demands from corporate higher ups, unreliable employees, last minute customers, etc. etc. I used to lack grace for these things from lay people. Oh that I could take back so many slightly snotty looks directed at late comers who had legitimate reasons for their delays.
- Minimize the significant life events of your people. As a pastoral team Ken and I received invitations to countless open houses, anniversary parties, weddings, and other events. Generally, I love a good party but I accepted too many invitations then cancelled on some or over-booked Ken and I, leaving him no down time. My unintentional message? Some people count and others don’t. Prayerfully set special events boundaries and then be consistent. When you respond “yes” to an invitation, show up to the event! Don’t decide at the last minute that you’ve had too many nights out in a row and then ditch somebody’s something. No shows with lame excuses are hurtful. If you’re an associate, make sure your superiors are in agreement with your boundaries. I know pastors of large churches who only attend life events for their pastoral staff. Some youth pastors attend every graduation open house but then take extra time off immediately afterwards.
- Make changes too quickly. I’m the spokesmodel for this classic, rookie mistake. Ken and I both created unnecessary tension by making right changes at wrong times or in wrong ways. Did worship orders need updating? Did committee structures need revamping? Did youth group need some fresh fundraisers? Yes, yes, and yes!! However, sometimes we lacked the patience to allow people to process, reflect, or share input on the changes we believed God desired. As a layperson I observed mature Christians flee churches in droves simply because a leader effected change too abruptly. Doesn’t mean you wait for everyone to agree with you to move with God but the best way to lead people into new places is when you’re walking together arm in arm. Dragging people towards what may very well be a God idea is exhausting for you and hurtful for everyone else.
*** As a side note, if you’re in a place where folks are resisting change at every turn, pray, pray, pray. God will either change their hearts or move you to a different place where people are ready to receive what God is doing through you.
- Waste people’s time with disorganization. Here, I speak of experiences as a layperson and a member of community boards. More times than not, I’ve languished in meetings, rehearsals and other events, desperately trying to not to jump out of my skin, because of sloppy organization. Many years ago I served on a committee that consistently bounced on my last nerve. The meetings usually started anywhere from 30-45 minutes late. The agenda consisted of whatever came to the mind of the event coordinator. Sometimes it turned out I wasn’t even needed at a meeting but didn’t know that until I arrived, after fighting my way through 40 minutes of heavy traffic. If you have no natural administrative gifts, then partner with people who do! Start and end on time and stick with an agenda that is clear to all. People are loyal to leaders who respect their time and resources.
Recognize yourself in any of these ministry faux pas? It’s never too late to change your ways. You might even owe some people an apology or three. Prayerfully consider the idea that you might be unintentionally driving the people under you a little bit crazy and then…..stop it!