Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Days Off Vs. Off Days

Maynard Belt, Guest BloggerToday our guest blogger, Pastor Maynard Belt, shares a very helpful blog that helps balance my articles on balancing life and ministry. Thanks for sharing, Pastor Belt.

“An off day isn’t quite the same as a day off!” says Warren Wiersbe. We all have had “off days” in ministry, kind of like, “off days” in golf! The driver is just a little off, the pitching wedge just not working right, the sand wedge just not getting under, the putter, well, it just “ain’t puttin’!” At the end of the game we fling our clubs in the trunk of the car and quip, “Sure a good thing I got a two-for-one discount today I sure wouldn’t have wanted to pay full price for that game!”

I would surmise that in ministry, sometimes “off days” are due to not having “days off.” It is amazing what just a day away from the office can do to refresh the soul and help you to think “ministry” in a more effective way. Have you ever heard someone say, “I would rather burnout for God than rust out!” Or maybe this, “The devil doesn’t take a vacation, neither shall I!” Can you believe that I actually remember saying such statements in my early days in ministry? But then again, that was kind of the “ministry mindset” a couple of generations ago! I have not always practiced what I am preaching to you today, but I do see the merit of it. It is not good for us, or our ministries, or our families, to want to be like the devil or desire to burnout. Somewhere along the way we must find the balance.

The ministry is considered a helping profession, of which someone has said, “It is difficult to help people. Add to that low pay, impossible workloads, miles of red tape, inadequate training, low prestige and ungrateful clients!” Well, these may not always be the case, but if we are having an “on day,” we must admit that being involved in a “helping profession” is often demanding, as well as draining! In Deuteronomy 28:67 we read, “In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see.” Dear friends in ministry, if we do not regularly incorporate “days off” into our busy schedules, there will come “off days” simply because we are not fresh enough, strong enough, mentally sharp enough, to meet the demands of ministry. We will not be the spiritual guides we must be to those in need. When we “wear down” in ministry we are not at our best in helping and guiding. Too much time with “our nose to the grindstone (one of my dad’s favorite expressions),” will fatigue us for the battles. We must be refreshed from time to time or our “call to serve” and all its demands will exhaust our energy and consume our spirit.

“If you have run with footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5

Let me remind you of that which you already know you should do! Take your vacations! T. Harwood Pattison once said, “An annual vacation of at least four weeks should be given every minister. No minister can do twelve months work in twelve months, though he can in eleven!” Pattison, a noted professor of pastoral theology made that statement in 1907 because of the increasing pressures of that day for those in ministry! If living today he probably would say that we should take eleven months off and work one! I know that many of you do not get anywhere near a month’s vacation, but do take what you get! Take your days off! Get out of town, take your wife shopping, browse through a bookstore, take your children on a special outing, play a game of golf or go fishing. Take time to attend a Bible conference, association meeting, another pastor’s ordination, a minister’s breakfast fellowship/prayer meeting, or just a relaxing day of fellowship with a fellow pastor without “talking ministry!” Regarding an adequate time away, Spurgeon once said, “It would sweep the cobwebs out of the brains of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive.” A day away from the office and phone, can assist in “sweeping away some of the cobwebs out of the brain.”

Recently a newly appointed president of a large mission agency gave his first Family Letter to all of the missionaries serving around the world. He closed this epistle with these words: “Please take care of yourselves. We, God’s servants, can be so careful about taking care of those to whom we minister and then forget to care for ourselves. Take a day off. Take care of yourselves!”

If we take more “days off,” we just may have fewer “off days.” Wiersbe is right, “An off day is not quite the same as a day off!”

“And He (Christ) said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart unto a desert place, and
rest awhile; for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much
as to eat.” Mark 6:31 32

See more articles by Pastor Belt at: The Barnabas File.

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part Three: Ministry and Other Interests

Woman Juggling“I don’t know how you find time to write.” I usually cringe when I hear this comment. The person who says it may just mean, “Isn’t it great that you’re able to do this?” But in my mind I hear them saying, “You must be neglecting your ministry if you have time to publish books.”

As I said in part one, “People who work at salaried jobs can start at a certain time and quit at a certain time. The rest of their time is their own.” But ministry is never-ending. You can always think of more that could be done, maybe should be done. Does that mean you should never be able to pursue other interests?

Side ministries, hobbies, sports, and other interests can be a healthy part of ministry for a number of reasons.

  • Participating in groups in the community may help you develop relationships that can be helpful in ministry. My husband’s work in the local community patrol fits into this category.
  • Pursuing side interests give you a needed break from constantly obsessing about ministry.
  • People in ministry often give out continually, focusing on the needs and interests of others. In time this may drain them of needed emotional energy. Pursuing side interests often help them feed their own needs and keep them more contented in ministry.
  • God may want you to take part in a side ministry.

In my case, I felt God calling me to write for Christian publication before I felt his call to missions. For more than 35 years I have done both. Both in Taiwan and New Zealand, my missions ministry has always taken precedence over my writing ministry. During the years I was in language school and had two small children at home, I didn’t do much writing. Other years also left little time for this. But during most of that time I’ve been able to carve out time to write as well as work in our church planting ministry. If I had waited for leftover time to write, I would never have done much. If I had put my writing first, my church ministry could have suffered. So each year I had to go before the Lord and figure out how to balance the two.

On the one hand I felt God had gifted and called me to writing. I felt I would be disobedient if I didn’t serve the Lord in this way. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel guilty about the time spent writing because it could look like I’m neglecting my missions ministry. How do I balance that?

As I said in part two, our life situations often determine how much time we can spend in ministry as well as side pursuits. A missionary wife who home schools five kids at once will have to tackle ministry in a different way that a single woman missionary. In my case, my ministry situation allows me opportunity to write for several reasons.

  • Much of my work is done out of my home and I have great flexibility in my schedule.
  • My nest has been empty for 15 years. While I would like to spend more time with family, on the field I don’t need much time for family events and expectations.
  • Most of our national holidays on the field fall on Sundays, and since my husband is the pastor, we always work on these holidays. For eighteen years we haven’t had American co-workers and most of the American holidays don’t seem worth celebrating on our own.
  • While we are technically allowed 2-4 weeks for vacations, most of the time we’ve been on this field we haven’t had anyone to fill in for us on Sundays. As a result we do well to take 3 or 4 days vacation once or twice a year.
  • We live on an island and have seen most of the things close to us. We don’t really have access to a “cheap” vacation, like visiting families or friends, so we really can’t afford to take our full vacation time, even if we could schedule it.
  • During January, many of our ministries break for the summer, so my ministry demands are lightened considerably.
  • I don’t do much gardening and keep other hobbies to a minimum.
  • Though I am a fulltime missionary, I feel I can take time throughout the year that would be used by many people for days off, family time, holidays, and vacations for pursuing my writing ministry. Instead of using this time in chunks, I work time for writing into my schedule throughout the year.

I know I am responsible before God to give myself fully to my missions ministry as well as pursuing my writing ministry as he leads. I’m responsible to our church, our mission board, and even the New Zealand government for working at my church ministry as a full time job. Of course, the hours spent can fluctuate greatly from month to month or week to week. But I have to satisfy my conscience that I am not neglecting my main ministry. At the same time, I need freedom to pursue my writing without feeling guilty. Generally speaking, no one questions me about this, but I want to do right before the Lord.

If you’re in full time ministry and are working to balance that ministry with other pursuits, you will have to work to find a good balance between the two. Here are some questions you might find helpful when you are considering adding a new interest to your life.

  • Is this something God wants me to take time to do?
  • Is this the right time in my life to pursue this interest or ministry?
  • How much time can I afford to use in this pursuit?
  • Does this pursuit hinder my ministry?
  • Does this pursuit make me resent my main ministry, or does it help me appreciate it?

Generally speaking, a side interest outside of ministry can be healthy and prolong your years of ministry—as long as you keep it in balance. Rest is also important. My next blog, by Pastor Maynard Belt, deals with that. May the Lord help you to find balance in your ministry this year.

 

[image courtesy of Lorelyn Medina/Deposit Photos.]

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part Two: Busyness in Ministry

Woman JugglingAre you feeling overwhelmed in ministry? Does it sometimes feel like no matter how much you do, it’s never enough? As I wrote in part one, getting a good balance to ministry isn’t always easy.

How can you know if you are you working hard and long enough? That you are doing the right activities?

Some people never get past the guilt of feeling they haven’t done enough. Others, if they were honest and counted the hours spent in ministry, use family needs and other obligations to rationalize part time hours in full time ministry.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 29, NKJV)

I don’t believe Jesus meant by these verses that we don’t need to exert strong effort to do his work, but there is a kind of work that feels like you are carrying a heavy burden. Serving out of constant guilt and feeling you can never do enough to please God doesn’t make for a joyful ministry or one that honors God.

When our busyness gets out of balance, and we feel stuck in dead end activities, it often affects our attitudes and quality of work. As you face a new year it’s a good idea to take time to evaluate your ministry. Balance in your ministry can give you freedom to please God in a new way.

These questions can help you evaluated the balance in your ministry:

  • Am I actually giving full time hours to my full time ministry? Count them up once in a while and see.
  • Am I flexible enough to make time for people, even when they come to me at an inconvenient time?
  • Am I doing my ministry with vigor and enthusiasm?
  • Am I pleasing God with the amount of hours I spend in ministry?
  • Is my spouse and church comfortable with the time I spend in ministry?
  • Do I resent the hours I spend in ministry?

Maybe you can see what needs to be done in your ministry, but feel too much of the work falls on your shoulders. What can you do when you feel overwhelmed by needs? These questions may lead you to better distribution of labor:

  • What needs to be done that only I can do? If no one else can do it, maybe God wants you do to it.
  • What needs to be done that someone else could do? Maybe you need to find someone else to do some things, even if you have to train them to do jobs and allow them time to grow into them.
  • What doesn’t need to be done at all? Often we keep activities on the church calendar just because we’re hesitant to remove something that’s already going. If you don’t have time to do these things and no one else wants to do them, maybe that’s a sign that that job should be discontinued.

God has a plan for your ministry. We need balance in our ministries as we do God’s work in his way for his glory. May the new year bring blessings in your ministry as you seek to honor him.

Next week: Should I be able to pursue other interests besides ministry? What if I feel God has given me a side ministry beside my main ministry? How can I balance that?

[Of course, the amount of time and labor is not the only part of your ministry which needs to be evaluated. Warren Wiersbe says, “Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.” This definition takes into account reliance on God, situation of ministry, attitude, and motivation. Those are also important concepts, but they are beyond the scope of this article. Wiersbe writes five excellent chapters on those concepts, and I won’t try to duplicate that. For more information read: On Being a Servant of God, by Warren W. Wiersbe.]

 

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part 1: Family and Ministry

 

Woman JugglingIf you’ve been in full time Christian ministry for long, you’ve probably wrestled with this question: “How do I know when I’ve done enough?”

People who work at salaried jobs can start at a certain time and quit at a certain time. The rest of their time is their own. Ministries demand so much more because they are working with people, loving people, and sharing their lives.  You’ve heard this old saying: “Man may work from sun to sun, but a women’s work is never done.” Here’s my new ministry saying: “Jobs may go from nine to five, but ministries never quit while you’re still alive.”

Satan can use guilt feelings to make people in ministry think it’s impossible to do enough. That idea leaves us bitter, exhausted, and without hope. He can also use our fear of neglecting family to neglect our ministry. Either extreme is out of balance.

Balancing life and ministry isn’t always easy, but I believe we can find a balance that pleases God and leaves us contented and happy in ministry.

Each ministry situation is unique. Family and marriage situations, health, abilities and gifts, living situations, and personality types all determine how much time and energy we can give to ministry. Each of us must ask God to show us good balance for our ministries.

In my next three articles I’ll talk about:

  1. Balancing family and ministry,
  2. Balancing other interests and ministry, and
  3. Balancing busyness in ministry.

Balancing Family and Ministry

Some people say God should come first, then family, then ministry. By that they usually mean that their personal relationship with God should come first, then their relationship with and needs of their family, then the needs of their ministry.

It sounds good, but raises some questions. Does that mean you should spend the most hours in your personal devotions and prayer, then less hours spending time with your family and meeting their needs, and the least hours in your ministry which is also your full time job? Probably not, but if you don’t measure this in hours spent, how do you measure it?

Some pastors who put family before ministry say that family activities are more important than church activities. Subscribing to this idea, some pastors would skip a somewhat major event at their church to attend a practice soccer game for their third-grade child. Is that balance?

Others say ministry takes priority over the home. But how do you know when you’ve spent enough hours in ministry to enjoy time at home? I know of one full time minister who travels most of the time and only takes one week of vacation a year. Is that balance?

Each person is responsible before God to find the right balance between family and ministry. The only one who answers to me is me. And, of course, my husband and I work out this balance as a couple. However, I will share with you some thoughts about the issue that I’ve found helpful.

Should home come first and the Lord’s work take second place? Or should the ministry have priority over the home?

I like Warren Wiersbe’s approach. He says, “I disagree with both approaches for two reasons. I don’t think they’re biblical, and they automatically create conflict.  If indeed “two become one,” home and ministry are united; they are one. What God has joined together, we must not put asunder. . . . The best thing my wife and I could do for the churches we served was to build a good home and raise children who were a credit to the Lord and to the church. And the best thing we could do for our home was to build good churches for our children to attend. The two became one. . . . When our children understand that everybody in the family is a part of the ministry, and that together we are all building the church and building our home, we have a common outlook to help us in making decisions. It isn’t an either/or situation; it’s both/and.”

In our Chinese ministry in Taiwan (1980-1996) our daughters were limited in how they could help. But when we came to New Zealand in 1998, our teenaged daughters were a great help to our ministry. When we spent time with the youth group, we spent time with them. They had a great time singing in choir, teaching classes, leading the puppet team, and interacting with our people. They became a vital part of our ministry and the ministry was good for them.

Wiersbe also says, “In spite of complaining about the demands of ministry, the pastor makes his own schedule and has calendar privileges that other people in the church don’t have.”

As a missionary pastor and wife we could often work our schedule to accommodate what our daughters wanted to do within our ministry schedule. The exception came when school activities conflicted with church. In our family, church took priority.

Instead of thinking of priorities in terms of hours spent or which choice wins, I think of it like this. My relationship with God is most important and, above all, I need to take the time and effort to build this relationship and grow in Christlikeness. With God’s help I also need to make choices that ensure that the needs of my family are met and that I am doing all God wants me to do in ministry. I need to be flexible enough to work my schedule around the most important activities. I may not be able to do all I want to do, but I will be able to do all God wants me to do.

In this new year may the Lord help you to find balance in your ministry and family that will give you confidence and contentment in both roles.

Next week: How busy is too busy in ministry? How can I slow down when I get in over my head?

[The quotes were taken from chapter 20 of this excellent book: On Being a Servant of God, by Warren W. Wiersbe. I heartily recommend the book to anyone in ministry.]

[image courtesy of Lorelyn Medina/Deposit Photos.]

Away from Home for Christmas?

Christmas wreath hanging on door.

Christmas wreath hanging on door.

If you’re a foreign missionary, you may find yourself away from home at Christmas. Since my family left for Taiwan 35 years ago, my husband and I have spent only 9 Christmases in our native country, the US. Our youngest daughter left home in 2000, and since then we’ve spent 12 Christmases without being with any family at all except for each other. This is not unusual for most foreign missionaries.

It’s normal to miss your family and friends at Christmas time, but here are some tips that will make the separation easier:

Avoid going down roads that are going to lead to self-pity and resentment.  These things are sure to give you a miserable holiday:

  • Listening to sad songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
  • Thinking about how beautiful snow is, what beautiful decorations they have in your home country, and how your host country doesn’t make you feel like Christmas.
  • Focusing on Christmas memories that depress you and make you feel sorry for yourself.
  • Resenting relatives who don’t call, write, send packages, or communicate in any way.
  • Wasting time thinking about how much you miss your family.

It might help if you remember these things:

  • Missionaries aren’t the only ones far from home at Christmas. Miles or kilometres divide many families for many reasons.
  • When your furlough time comes, you may have more extended time with some of your family than many families have with theirs.
  • Many families who live close to each other are divided by family squabbles or faith differences. If your children or other family members are Christians who are living for the Lord, count that as a precious gift.
  • Many missionaries from the past didn’t see their families for many years and had very limited connections with them. Today phone calls, Skype, Facebook, and email make it much easier to stay connected to family.
  • Some families put immense pressure on family members at holiday time that make the season more hectic than enjoyable. Being far from family, though sad, frees you from excessive family expectations that some people face.

Work with what you have to connect to your family:

  • International postage may be sky high, but you can order things online from your home country and have them shipped directly to your family at home.
  • Send a memory to your family. Write your parents and remind them of a lovely Christmas you had in years past. Cut a snowflake or draw a picture and send it to your grandkids. Take photos or videos and send them to family.
  • Instead of resenting your distant family for not communicating better, take the initiative in connecting. When they do connect, thank them for taking the effort. They have busy lives and many people to keep up with, just as you do.

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you will take time to reflect on Jesus and the salvation he brings. That is certainly the best Christmas gift ever. Besides that, God gives each of us wonderful gifts every day. May you find joy in God’s gracious gifts and in the ministry God has given you.

Merry Christmas!

[image courtesy of iofoto/Deposit Photos]