Two Sides (at least) To Everything

two_sidesWe’ve crept around the year’s corner to 2013 and begin the year all over again. If I make it halfway through the year I will clock in thirty-five years in ministry. The view from 2013 doesn’t exactly match my expectations thirty-five years ago. I’ve learned to appreciate quiet miracles instead of just dramatic ones. I’ve sensed God is working even when I can’t see evidence of it. I’ve noticed that you learn more through failure and things that don’t work than successes and things that do work.

I’m still learning and growing and struggling through many issues, but the ups and downs of ministry on three continents (two islands) have taught me one lesson about life that rings true wherever I go. This lesson won’t give you all the answers, but if you understand this concept it is guaranteed to help your ministry and your personal relationships wherever you are.

Any situation can be seen from more than one perspective.

Sam and Suzy have been best friends with Max and Maxine for many years. Then Sam buys a new water blaster. Max borrows it. Sam waits impatiently for over a month for Max to return it. Finally he asks for it back. Max hasn’t finished using it, but since Sam is being grumpy about it, he returns it. Sam frets over the grungy condition of his nearly new water blaster, then discovers the adjustment knob no longer works. Sam criticizes Max for not taking good care of his equipment. Max accuses Sam of being a nit-picking control freak.

Then the wives get into the mix. Suzy excludes Max and Maxine from her next barbeque. Maxine complains to Sam and Suzy’s friends about their yapping poodle. The relationship goes downhill from there.

When the friendship dies, each person goes away with clear memories about what happened. All four are truthful people with good memory for detail. But all four go away with a different idea about what actually happened. Why?

Facts are facts, right? Max borrowed the water blaster and it wasn’t in as good a condition when he returned it. Those are facts. But Sam remembers all the other things Max has borrowed and some that he has forgotten to return. Sam likes to keep all his tools in mint condition. Max, on the other hand, spent many hours helping Sam paint his garage last summer. Max cares more about relationships than things. He feels Sam is materialistic and values his tools above their friendship. Besides, if Sam bought better quality tools, maybe they wouldn’t break so easily. Sam resents having to ask for his water blaster when Max should have returned it. Max resents Sam’s angry tone when, if Sam wanted it back, he simply had to ask for it. You can just imagine what the women feel about the whole situation.

Each person believes he understands the situation, that he remembers accurately what happened. But the bare facts are only a part of what happened. Proverbs reminds us that there is usually more than one side to a story:

“The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. . . He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” (Prov. 18:17, 13)

What did each person say? What did he mean by what he said? What did the other person think he meant by what he said? Before long each person will have processed his or her memories, replaying certain parts over and over again, forgetting other parts. Each person will put his own interpretation on the facts. Each memory will evolve. Likely the friendship will die because, even though all four think they remember and understand what happened, none of them remembers the exact same thing as anyone else.

Maybe someone has hurt you in a nasty incident. You replay the scene over and over in the video player of your mind. You try to make sense of what happened. You interpret what they said and how they said it and you come to conclusions—which may be wrong. We often bring the baggage of the past into current relationships, interpreting present events by other, unrelated events. Differences in personality, background, gender, and culture color our interpretation.

One of the most helpful things you can do in any relationship is to try to see events from the perspective of the other side. Could the other person have meant something different than you thought? Could your intentions have been misconstrued? Maybe the person expressed his complaint in anger and exaggerated his point, but is there a kernel of truth in what he said? Can you learn from what she said? Ask God to help you understand the other person’s viewpoint. What could you have done differently that might have been received in a better way?

I first learned this lesson in a very personal way. I worked on a mission field with five other missionaries. We bought some property together. When we first decided to buy the property we all wrote out the reasons for buying it and what we thought it should be used for. Five years later we did the same. It was amazing to see the variety of slants we had on these issues. But the most remarkable part of the whole process to me was this: In five years I had changed dramatically in what I thought about the whole process, but was totally unaware of the change!

After that I began to see that whenever a number of people view something, they view it slightly differently. Have you ever heard the minutes read from a meeting you attended and realized the secretary had come away with a different view of what happened than you did? I have. In counseling you may hear the wife’s side of a story and think the husband is a jerk. Then you catch a glimpse of the husband’s side and see that he has a valid perspective the wife needs to listen to. In fact I find that one of my main roles in counseling is to help the person see the situation from another perspective.

This is not a new concept. You find it in the saying, “Never criticize a man before you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” You can see this concept fleshed out in my fiction book Two Sides to Everything. I’ve taken the fictional excerpt above about Sam, Suzy, Max and Maxine from a Bible study book I hope to publish later in 2013.

We know it’s true.

Yet when I see something happen, I come away thinking the other person’s viewpoint is skewed while mine is spot on. Why can’t other people see things as accurately as I do? If they only had my wisdom people wouldn’t be so hard to work with.

In 2013 let us resolve to consider the viewpoint of others when we size up a situation.

Then we’ll be one step closer to responding in the way Christ would.

Encouraging Women toward Significant Ministry

Christy married in her early twenties and began a family right away. Now she has eight children whom she home-schools. She pours her time and energy into nurturing her children and rearing them to serve the Lord. As her nest empties, she plans to put the same time and energy into nurturing her grandchildren. She considers this nurturing process to be her main ministry for the Lord.

Homemaking and nurturing are commendable ministries. Titus 2 tells us to teach young mothers to do this vital ministry. But it is not the only ministry Christian women can and should have.

When I was young, people expected women to stay at home and be “housewives.” Then women’s lib encouraged them to do “more important” things than raising children. They were told to assert their rights and start their own careers. In time, even Christian women were expected to work outside the home, even with young children at home. Now home-schooling has put many mothers back in the home, devoting more time than ever to rearing children.

Getting married, deciding how many children to have, and determining how to educate them are personal decisions which each woman or couple need to make in accordance with God’s will. For some women, nurturing their families may be the main ministry the Lord has for them for most of their adult lives. But most women can have significant ministries outside of their homes.

Some women never marry or marry later in life. Some women have empty nests in their early forties. Even women with children in the home can have significant ministries. My concern is that, in some Christian circles, we are not challenging women into significant ministries.

On a recent furlough I attended a mission’s conference at one of our Bible colleges. Speaking in a workshop to the student body, one church planter said something to this effect. “Don’t worry about discipling women and children. If you disciple men, you’ll get the women and children.”

I understand that this home missionary was emphasizing the importance of reaching men, potential leaders, in the church planting process. But he was speaking to a student body where slightly more than half were young women. Women aren’t allowed to disciple men. So what should they do? Go home? Why should women spend the time and money to go to Bible college if only men are allowed to have significant spiritual ministries?

The Bible clearly teaches that women are not supposed to be in authority over men. They need to work within the framework of authority which God designed. But within that framework, women need to seek out ways to have significant ministries. And we need to encourage them.

Sometimes we send mixed messages to our young women. If a young man steps forward, shows leadership ability, volunteers to teach, asks deep theological questions, plans for Bible college–we are ecstatic. If a young woman does the same thing, she may be greeted with guarded enthusiasm. Yes, there are ways we can use her, but it sure would be nice if she was a man. A certain amount of training to make her a better Sunday school teacher could be a good thing, especially if she finds a husband at Bible college. But she can leave the deep theological thinking and spiritual ministries for the men.

Sometimes we’re most comfortable with women when they stay at home with the kids. Ambitions make us nervous. We’re so concerned about what women can’t do Biblically, that we forget to challenge them towards things they can do. And when we do want to encourage them towards significant ministry, we don’t know where to begin.

Churches need women. In most churches, much of the less visible work is done by women. They teach children and women’s Bible studies; plan activities; cook, clean and decorate; direct programs; prepare music; order Sunday School materials and do countless other activities which flesh out the church program. Each of these activities performs a service, adds sparkle, or provides a spiritual ministry to the church. Beyond that they may start specialized ministries in their church, such as ministries to the deaf or elderly or mentally handicapped.

We need to encourage women to serve in our churches, but we also need to challenge women toward full-time ministry. Missions offers many opportunities for the single or married women to serve. Women can serve the Lord in medical ministries, ESL ministries, literature ministries, assistance in church planting, translation, and literacy classes. Christian publications need writers, artists, musicians, and editors. Christian schools need teachers. Opportunities abound for Christian women to have significant ministries.

Look around your church. Do you have young women or older women who could be challenged to serve the Lord in significant ministries? What are you doing to encourage those women to develop their skills and broaden their horizons? Are you widening their vision or dampening their spirits? Your encouragement might make the difference between working from a sense of duty and serving with enthusiasm.

Women today need to be challenged to ministry. Perhaps the Lord will use you to meet this need. It could be a significant new area of ministry for you!

Keeping Joy in Your Ministry–Getting Others to Help

In your ministry do you feel pressured into doing things you don’t want to do? Do you ever feel inadequate for the job? You need help, but the guilt trips you are offering at church aren’t producing eager workers. How can you get a little help around here? Here are some things to think about.

Can I get more people involved?

This sounds like an easy answer until you realize that, at the beginning, using more people will just make it more complicated. It’s easier to just do it yourself, your way, instead of having to explain yourself to others and having to give in to ideas you know are not as good as your own.

Training others takes time. Working with others takes patience and requires giving up on some of your best ideas. The initial training time, however, will pay off later when you have multiplied your workers. We all need to learn to give and take, and though it can be easier to do it ourselves, the Lord may want us to learn to work with others.

Am I sure God wants this done?

We’ve had some good years doing Discovery Club in our church in New Zealand. But some years we just didn’t have the workers to carry out the program, so we didn’t do it. At the time of this writing, we’ve had to revamp the whole program to include kids and teens. While the situation is not ideal, God is blessing it.

If you have the same few workers doing everything at your church, and they are struggling to keep up, maybe you need to take something out of your schedule. Don’t wait until your workers are so discouraged that they start sizing up churches which expect less.

Guilt is not a good motivator.

If people serve mainly out of guilt, they will resent it. Serving with resentment is dangerous. If you really need someone to do a task she struggles with, how can you help her? If a Sunday School teacher struggles to find time to prepare, maybe you can find someone to make visuals or cut out flannelgraph figures. If a teacher feels inadequate, maybe you can meet with her each week and talk over the lesson.

Give them a break if you can.

Some teachers struggle to teach every Sunday, year after year, but would teach happily if they simply got regular breaks. You could rotate teachers if you have enough. In our New Zealand work we finally took breaks from Sunday School for about two months in the summer. During each two-week term break we didn’t have Sunday School either. This went against everything Art and I knew and believed in. You have to have Sunday School every week! But in time we learned we didn’t have to. Our teachers needed the break to serve happily.

Listen to their problems.

Is there a way you could change the things that really bother your workers? Church work today is made up of a multitude of details. There is the obvious way of doing things, the way you’ve always done them, the way that makes sense to you. But sometimes a worker could be quite happy in a job if you could just change a few little details. Can you change them? It’s worth considering.

Evaluate and don’t be afraid to change.

New Zealanders are often not comfortable evaluating things. I am told that Aussies are the same. It can be tricky to find out what people really think about church programs. But in some way we need to be able to figure out what is working and what isn’t and make changes.

In our church our kids’ and youth program seems to need continual fine tuning. We tried the AWANA approach to memorizing verses—learning them on their own. That never worked. In Discovery Club we taught the verse each week. That worked a lot better. This year we have different challenges and are rethinking the process again. Just because something worked well in your church one year doesn’t mean it’s the best approach every year.

Train your workers and give them confidence and encouragement.

We often expect people to know how to do things without teaching them. Discovery Club became a good training ground for us. Helpers learned to teach and lead by becoming part of our program. We worked through problems together and modelled different ways of teaching and leading.

Don’t forget to thank your teachers and workers. Sometimes the ones who work most faithfully get little thanks. Each year my husband and I use Christmas cards to express thanks for the specific jobs our church people do.

Make it fun.

Enthusiasm is infectious. We work so hard to make our programs and activities work, that we can forget to make them fun. We especially need to put fun into our ministry so that our workers enjoy the work, not resent it. This may mean not pushing so hard. We need to take time to see our workers as friends. And we need to save some extra energy to make it fun.

Keeping Joy in Ministry in Spite of Exhaustion

It’s a huge honor to serve the Lord, but we can serve until we are exhausted and our joy is gone. What’s wrong?

Jesus said, “Come unto 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 11:28-30, NKJV)

If my burden is too heavy, maybe it’s because God never asked me to carry it. I say I’m serving God, but sometimes I do things to please people. I don’t want to tell them no. God may not want me to do everything people want me to do. I need to take responsibility for my decisions. If I agree to do something, that’s my decision. I have no right to resent it.

So how do you know what God is asking you to do and what you are doing for other reasons? Here are some questions that might help you think through the next task you are asked to do.

Am I gifted in this area?

Do my spiritual gifts or natural abilities make this job a good fit? Serving God with your gifts and abilities in ministries you can get excited about will put joy in your ministry.

Could the Lord be asking me to grow in this area?

Maybe I don’t feel confident in this new task, but serving the Lord in new ways is one way to identify spiritual gifts. No one does a task perfectly from the beginning. Maybe I need to try this new task to stretch myself.

Is this job something that needs to be done?

It’s easy to start church programs, but difficult to phase them out. Talk about ending a program can sound like the program was never worthwhile in the first place. But if there are not enough workers to carry out a program, it could mean God wants us to end it.

We always need to look at ways to lower maintenance, especially when we are short-handed. Sometimes it’s easier to convert a garden to lawn or bark chips that to beg for workers to weed it.

Maybe we need to eliminate the job, rather than plead for workers.

Is this something I can and should do just because it needs doing?

I may not truly enjoy cleaning the church, watching the nursery, cooking for potluck dinners, or pulling weeds, but some of these things just need to be done. Maybe I need to do it, out of love for the Lord, because it’s a need I can fill.

Is this job something that only I can do?

If I’m the only pianist at church and there are others who are good at hospitality, maybe I need to put my time and priority into playing the piano.

In Taiwan, for a period of time, I watched the nursery every Sunday morning. I had about five little Chinese boys, who were used to getting their own way and who were used to different cultural play rules than mine. Every Sunday I would say, “I sure hope I get a reward in heaven for this!” Watching the nursery was very stressful, but I did it because every other mother at church wasn’t even saved and needed to hear the sermon.

What can someone else do?

As a missionary I should be working myself out of a job. If I can teach someone else to do a job, that’s often better, even if they have far less experience than I do. Sometimes no one else will volunteer as long as I am willing to fulfill a certain role. Maybe I need to be encouraging someone else to learn my job instead of doing it year after year.

If the joy in your ministry is sputtering, go to God with these questions and ask him to show you what he wants you to do. With his strength and encouragement you can do all he asks you to do–with joy.

I will post one more blog about keeping joy in your ministry. What tips have you learned to keep you from burning out in ministry?

Keeping Joy in Your Ministry in Spite of People’s Problems

Randy Alcorn says, “A true Christ-centered church is not a showcase for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” If you’re in ministry, that makes you a spiritual healthcare provider. Gone are the days when problems were simple and the average family actually looked like Leave It to Beaver or Happy Days. People come to us with marriage problems, parenting problems, emotional problems, problems with health, education, and jobs. When people get saved, these problems don’t disappear. Messy lives cause problems with no easy solutions.

Our first concern is for our people, but we also need to watch what is happening in our own lives. If we aren’t careful, the problems of our people can rob us of joy in the ministry. How can we keep that from happening?

We need to listen to what people with needs are saying and, beyond that, to what they are feeling. We need to care about their problems. Sometimes that may mean giving advice, especially when they are ready to listen. Sometimes that may mean helping them. Sometimes we can’t fix their problems, but only be a sounding board and a friend. We can always pray with them or for them. But it doesn’t end there.

After we have listened, cared, helped, and prayed, we need to let it go. We care so much for our people that it’s easy for their problems to consume us. When that happens we have nothing left for others in need. I have learned that I need to keep myself strong to be able to help other people. I need to do things that keep me spiritually and emotionally strong year after year.

I need to cast all my care upon the Lord. (1 Peter 5:7) If my burden is on His back, it’s not on mine anymore. I can be free to enjoy a fun outing with my family when my friend’s family is in ruins. I can buy nice things for myself, within my own budget, while my friend cannot. I can, and should, think about fun, nice, pleasant things even when people around me are hurting. (Philippians 4:6-9) I can focus on God and his good gifts and not let my thought life be dominated by problems to the extent that it robs me of joy in the ministry.

I will post two more blogs about keeping joy in your ministry. What have you learned that keeps you from losing your joy over other people’s problems?