Friday, July 22, 2011

Ministering From and For the Long Term

Some years ago in ministry I made a horrible decision. It didn’t disqualify me or split the church. I didn’t kill anyone, or preach heresy. But it was a bad decision.

I didn’t make this decision based on the memory of past years . I didn’t make it in anticipation of future years. I made it on the basis of six months. And I made it out of anger, hurt, frustration.

And I regretted it.

Oh, I didn’t regret it then. I was hurting too bad. And I wanted to make a point. I washed my hands. I was done. 

In fact, I didn’t regret it until three years later when an event in my own life made me see starkly what I had done. And I realized that it hadn’t been worth it, even if I had been completely right (and I wasn’t).

It took three more years to work up the courage to pick up the phone and call. 

The fact is that had I been thinking about the past twenty-five years, I would have never done what I did.

Had I been thinking about the next twenty-five years, I would never have done what I did.

But I wasn’t. So I did.

The reality is that my decision flowed out of my core values, values that I still hold. And I think those values are correct (which is why I still hold them, even though I would apply them differently today, in a way that might not have changed things even then).

The problem was that my decision took place in the context of fear. You see, for six months I was scared. It was actually longer than six months, but those six months were the killer. I just didn’t want to deal with it. I kept papering it over with avoidance when possible and weak smiles when necessary.

I lived out of fear, rather than out of care. I lived for immediate convenience rather than extended ministry. I lived out of hurt rather than courage. I lived out of isolation rather than partnership. And so I did it.

I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life, but this is one of the ones I regret the most. To this day, I still choke up when I think about it or talk about it, as I did just this week in a conversation.

Back then, in the heat of the moment, a mentor asked me, “What have you learned from this?”

I said, “I learned that problems don’t go away. You have to deal with them, and the sooner the better.”

And that is an important lesson.

Now, some years later I have learned another lesson to add on: “Don’t minister out of the moment. Minister from and for the long term.”

You see, my choices closed a door back then, a door that had stood wide open for more than two decades, and a door that would take years to reopen.

Sure I made my point … to me only. And now I know I didn’t even make the right point.

Now I also I know that long after this moment (whatever it holds), ministry can continue.

So don’t kill it by living out of fear and hurt.

Nurture it by living out of grace, courage, and commitment.


Anonymous said...

Been there, done that.

Middle age lament.

I feel your pain.


Steve Davis said...

Thank you sharing this. I think we've all done that and would rather forget. It's a good reminder. Good to know we're not alone. Good to know that God continues His work in us in spite of our failings.