Just Say No

pexels-photo-271897A few years ago, I was at a leadership conference and heard a comment that floored me. “Jesus didn’t help everyone.” “But, but, but…He was JESUS, of course He helped everyone!” I screamed silently to myself. But it was pointed out that Jesus didn’t heal everyone, feed everyone, or fix every injustice He encountered. He walked past many people who could have used His help. He found balance; He helped who He could. The most important thing is, He did the will of His Father in Heaven.

This is a very specific blog, written to those who can’t say “no” when they see a need. Most people don’t have any problem saying no and use the word way more than they should. They are skilled at avoiding those around them who need help. This is written to the people in full-time ministry who cannot find balance, who cannot say “no” to the countless needs they observe. Stop. Stop now. If you’re following Jesus’ example is important, remember, He learned to say “no” when it was needed. By not finding the balance, we are doing damage to ourselves, and to those around us. We cannot help everyone.

We all know people who are working long hours, without taking a day off, and want everything to be perfect. It’s exhausting to be around them. They are working “for the ministry” or “for the Lord,” but their relationships are suffering, their health is suffering, their marriages suffer, and they can suck the joy out of most situations. The joy that comes from serving with a peaceful heart is lost in the battle. I can write about this from first-hand experience. I used to be that guy.

I work alongside someone right now that’s in that place, he does excellent work, but anyone can see him heading directly at a brick wall by not taking time to breathe. We had one volunteer in our orphanage, who was a CRAZY perfectionist. She would work for weeks, 18 hours a day, only to collapse and be useless for a week or two while she recovered. That is not how life should be.

Early on, about six months after my wife and I moved in to help run the orphanage, we had a visitor. Agnes, the lady who ran the home for decades, was coming by. We had never met Agnes, and I was terrified. Everything we did was held up against her work. Every day I heard, “Well, Agnes never did it that way.” She was coming in to check on us and our work. Yikes. My fears turned out to be unfounded. She was the perfect example of grace and support. She did have one piece of very direct advice, “Get out.” she told us in no uncertain terms. She said it was OK to take time away, to recharge, to put our marriage first. That there would never be a perfect day; there would always be emergencies; we needed to practice self-care. We needed to learn to say, “No.”

There are many orphanages in our area of Mexico run by people who cannot say “No.” They take in any child who needs help, which sounds nice, but if they only have resources to help and care for 30 children, they are not doing a good job if they are caring for 80 children. Everyone suffers; no one is helped. Saying “no” is not in them, and people suffer. 

Jesus found balance. He spent time alone. The apostles often found Him alone praying, alone in the desert, asleep in the boat, early in the morning spending time with His Father. Even at the last supper, He was teaching, but it was also time breaking bread and hanging out with those He was closest to. He spent time with friends.

It took me many years of long hours to learn the balance; I’m still figuring it out. I’ve seen too many people in ministry burn out when they can’t find the time to rest, to recharge, to breath. When our crew started taking a dedicated day off each week, I flinched a little. “But that’s not what ministry is about!” I thought to myself. I now see the wisdom in it.

My favorite night of the week is a home fellowship that we host made up of full-time missionaries and ministry leaders in our area. We don’t DO anything other than eat and hangout. No agenda, no pressure, just vast quantities of carbs shared among friends. The official name of this gathering is M.E.A.T. Night. (Missionaries Eating And Talking). Not spiritual by any standard definition, no bible study, no deep prayer, just people hanging out. I feel on many levels it’s some of the best ministry we do.

If you’re in ministry full time, you want to follow the example Jesus sets for ministry. He knew when to say no; He spent time alone. He spent time with friends. He knew how to find balance; He did the will of His Father. You have permission to take a day off. As in all things, follow the example of Jesus.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

Advertisements

No Regrets

IMG_0355Everyone is playing with the “Faceapp” right now, the app that shows what you will look like when you’re older. Time killer? Yes. Creepy? Absolutely. Are they harvesting your data? Probably. But the one good thing that might be coming out of the Faceapp fad is it’s forcing people to think about getting old and eventually dying off. Most people are in denial; they believe they will be around forever. People believe that they will take that mission trip to Cuba “someday.” They will work with children at risk “eventually.” They’ll help others “once my loans are paid off.” It’s good to remember we might not have that many tomorrows. The time we have is a precious gift that is slipping away faster every year. Don’t reach the end with regrets.

This last week was one of the busiest weeks of our summer here in Mexico. We coordinated three large teams and their efforts to build four homes for needy families in our community. Well over 150 people from multiple states across the US, spending a week of their summer on a short-term mission trip. They all came down with the hope of changing lives. It worked, but I can guarantee it worked in ways almost none of them could have anticipated or might have noticed.

Obviously, the families who received these houses were blessed, and their lives were changed. The homes built aren’t just shelter. The teams, working alongside the family, build a home where they can be proud to live. These are semi-finished three bedroom, one bath homes that would have taken them years to construct without the help of the missions groups. This is why the groups come down, to have a profound and long term positive impact on the families they are seeking to bless. But something else went on in the background beyond the expressed agendas and motivations.

These projects help to provide desperately needed jobs in our community. Almost all the materials are purchased locally. Over the summer, our homes and other projects account for about half of all the local hardware store’s sales. The local skilled laborers hired to help out were able to feed their families. The local glass shop guy always does a little “happy dance” when we walk in to place a window order. These homes impact so many local lives in ways that are impossible to count.

The impact of a well run short-term mission trip is life-changing for everyone involved. For the vast majority of the people who traveled down to help recently, it was a week they will remember the rest of there lives. The teams that came down built relationships with each other, and worked together with fellow church members in ways they’ve never been able to before. I listened to one father, working alongside his wife and three kids, as he shared with tears in his eyes about the bonding time with his teen girls. They spent the week hanging drywall together and learned how to tape and mud the drywall panels. Ask any dad; it takes some effort to find quality relationship time with teen girls.

I was witness to the tearful home dedications as keys, hugs, and blessings were shared all around. The families, teams, and individuals who worked together this week will be sharing stories about the trip for years to come. If they hadn’t taken a chance, spent the time and money to come down, they would always wonder, “what if?” They would carry those regrets for years.

Too many people reach the end of their life and wonder if they’ve ever made a difference. They regret not taking a chance. They wonder if they’ve made some mark or impact that will be remembered. People who serve where the need is greatest never have to worry about this. I’ve never met anybody who regretted caring for orphans, widows or those less fortunate around them. The life we build has nothing to do with the stuff we usually focus on, a life well lived is one focused on having a positive impact on other people’s lives.

On your grave, between your birth date and death date, there will be two dashes: – – representing your life. What will those two simple dashed represent? What did you do between those two dates? You might not change the world, but you can change someone’s life. Don’t end your life with regrets.

 

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

And don’t forget to order your copy of Reciprocal Missions from Amazon.com.

The Toilet Paper Police

toiletpaper

Years ago, our ministry had “the toilet paper police.” A gentleman on our staff was in charge of all the soap and cleaning supply distribution to our very large orphanage. This is actually a tremendous job when you think about it: all the soap, TP, shampoo, pine cleaner, diapers, toothpaste, etc. for 120 children, plus the staff, plus the many visiting teams we host. Human beings just go through a LOT of supplies. This gentleman (we’ll call him Bob) was very detailed. Bob would keep lists, track everything, look for patterns in supply usage, etc. Although it was all with the best of intentions, he was kind of a pain. He eventually got the nickname of “the toilet paper police.” He was trying to do the best job possible, and he might have saved us some money, but what was the real cost? What damage was he doing to relationships by stalking people over one extra roll of TP? Kids get sick, people fall in the mud, things change. Sometimes it’s just better to let some things slide for the greater good.

The toilet paper thing might seem odd, but the same controlling attitude can easily flow into other areas of ministry. Some people make a plan or agenda and can get VERY upset if things need to change. When we have a flu outbreak, and most of our kids are throwing up, it’s hard to force them to participate in the great vacation bible school program you had planned. If your group was scheduled to paint a building, I understand it’s frustrating if it rains that day, but that is not in my control. Sometimes things change. When you have a large team, traveling to a foreign country, things changing is the norm.

This week we had a group working hard to prepare lunch for our large family. We occasionally have government inspections (always a lot of fun by the way). Once the group had the spaghetti in the boiling water and cookies in the oven for dessert, we all had to participate in a mandatory government fire drill. I’m sure the group wasn’t expecting or planning on this, but they flowed perfectly and actually saw the humor in the whole situation. The group standing around with our kids while a head count was done turned into kind of a cool experience.

Occasionally, something happens that completely derails the best-laid plans. It’s so critical to realize, God might have a plan that is very different than our schedule or agenda. If we’re focused on our frustration of missed flights, miscommunication about transportation, or people getting sick, we might miss out on a very different opportunity. How we respond in the midst of changes, challenges, and frustrations shows everyone around us who we honestly see as being in charge. Are these our plans, or God’s plans?

Now and then, plans change entirely. In two weeks, we have a fantastic group coming from the Midwest to build a house for a needy family in our town. The planning has been going on for months. Blueprints have been finalized, and materials have been purchased, pictures of the family have been sent to the group, etc. This young family has four children, one of their sons is special needs. The details were in place, and everyone was expecting a fantastic week of service and relationship building. This week, everything changed in a way that no one would have expected. Due to what we believe is a reaction to some medication she was on, the mother of this family of four passed away two nights ago. Understandably, the husband and the four children are devastated. We are helping with funeral arrangements and doing what we can to support the family. It seems trivial in the face of death, but what do we do with the home build project? As of the writing of this blog, the group is planning on moving forward with the home build, but the changes are bringing phenomenal challenges and opportunities to minister at a vastly more profound level. Flexibility on the part of the group will be essential for everyone even remotely involved with this project.

Obviously, this is an extreme example. But unexpected changes are the norm with life in general, and international missions especially. Part of it is the bizarreness of international travel; part of it is different cultures and systems than most groups are used to. But part of it is also a spiritual dynamic. There will always be challenges and barriers to effective ministry. The key to getting through those challenges and barriers is to see them differently. The changes we encounter, the disruptions to our plans, can lead to incredible opportunities for service and ministry as long as our hearts are in the right place and we keep our eyes open to those divine appointments that God has laid out for us.

Be organized, plan well, but always remember to allow for the unexpected. Allow for God to set things in motion in ways that we didn’t prepare for. Please don’t be the toilet paper police.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

Short-term Missions Leadership

pexels-photo-346885Leadership matters. This seems obvious, but it’s an important part to consider in any successful missions trip. The quality and vision of the person leading will make or break the experience. The leader’s experience with international work, their vision for the trip, and their ability to share that vision are critical.

For over 20 years, our organization has had the privilege of working with countless short-term missions teams. In 2018 alone, we hosted and helped facilitate over 300 visiting missions groups. Some for a weekend, some for up to two weeks. Most of the teams we’ve hosted have been great, some not so much. Beyond funding, beyond the size of the group, beyond anything else, leadership is the single most important part of an effective, impactful missions team.

Short term missions, when it’s healthy, can be life-changing for the individuals going on the trip and can be a huge blessing to the receiving organizations and communities. When it’s unhealthy, it can be an expensive and damaging waste of time. So how does one lead a healthy short term missions team? Below are some key points to consider.

Be honest with yourself, why are you going? If you’re planning a short-term missions trip to mainly impact and educate your team, this isn’t wrong, but be honest about it. Don’t say it’s only about spreading the gospel and serving the needy if it’s really about something else. Leading your team into experiencing God and how to walk with Him isn’t a bad thing.

Many years ago, my home church was planning a two weeks missions trip to Australia. I went to my pastor seeking his advice as I wanted to go but felt like a hypocrite. I honestly had no deep passion for the people of Australia; I just wanted to go and hang out with people serving God. I still remember my pastor’s profound words of wisdom: “There are worse ways to spend two weeks.” I went, I had some life-changing experiences, and I think I may have even accidentally helped some people. There’s nothing wrong going with mixed motivation. My serving full-time in Mexico today can be traced directly back to that trip to Australia. A short-term missions trip can be hugely impactful for the people going, and as a leader, you should seek this and work to facilitate it.

Define who the leader is. This seems pretty basic, but depending on the team, there might be more than a few people who are natural leaders, the team needs to know who is ultimately in charge. “Adult” teams can be the worst, everybody is used to doing things their way, following directions from someone else can be hard for some people. Here at our ministry, we coordinate home building projects for needy families in our area. We’ll have teams come down to build a home for a local family over a week. If the team has three or four contractors, I make sure they select who is making the ultimate decisions; otherwise, they spend hours debating every decision or working in different directions. Your team can come to consensus agreements, but ultimately, someone has to say yes or no to any major decision. The leader sets the tone.

Know your team. The maturity, experience, and vision of every team member is a little different. It’s important to evaluate your team members to lead them effectively. If your team is under skilled maybe they shouldn’t work on a major construction project, if they’re new in their faith, maybe they shouldn’t be leading a Bible study or public prayer. If you have a skilled individual (construction, IT, mechanic, etc.) let your hosting organization know that these people are available if needed. Know when to push your team and when to hold them back. Jesus knew his apostles well, their skills, their weaknesses, and their maturity. He knew what they could handle and allowed them to take risks and grow. He also had them wait when needed. You need to be Jesus to your team.

Work on Cross-Cultural Training. If the members of your team have been relatively sheltered and have never been exposed to true poverty or other cultures, coach them in how to respond, react, and process what they’re experiencing. Every culture has nuances and differences, but an attitude of mutual respect goes a long way anywhere. Respect for local dress codes, traditions, language, and church culture are all important. Unintentionally offending a culture is a sure way to severely limit a team’s effectiveness, both in serving and in ministry.

Everyone has something to learn from others. Americans can carry a fair amount of national pride, and that’s OK as long as you realize other people can be proud of their countries also, even if it isn’t America. The “ugly American” stereotype exists for a reason. We need to realize that the culture we’re visiting isn’t worse than ours, it isn’t better than ours, it’s DIFFERENT than ours.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let your team know the goals, expectations, schedules, etc. Communicate with your team about the importance of flexibility, conflict resolution, and being part of the team. Give your team a written schedule as a guide knowing things might change. Communicate with your host organization about travel plans, your goals, your skills, and ask them what they would like to receive from your group. From the day you have your dates picked, start communicating with your host organization and ask them everything you can think of. Also let them know everything they might need to know about your team (size of the team, ages, skills, any funding available, etc.) You are building a relationship between your team, and the team on the ground you will be serving. In any healthy relationship, clear and detailed communication can go along way in avoiding any problems or conflicts that might arise.

Teach and practice flexibility. When traveling with a team and working in other countries, it’s impossible to plan for, or expect, everything. Lost luggage, illness, power outages, can be expected but sometimes other things come up. I know of a group that was planning on spending a week working on a church building, the day they arrived a leader from the hosting church died. The project was unexpectedly put on hold, but it did give the team new, unexpected doors to serve and minister. The change was out of their hands, so they flowed with it correctly, maturely, and with grace.

Lead them into the experience. Missions trips can be overwhelming. Debrief every night, encourage intentional conversations about what everyone is experiencing. Maybe have everyone turn off the cell phones and focus on the day and the people experiencing the trip with them. It’s heartbreaking to see people on a missions trip with so much opportunity only to watch them stare at their phones the whole time. Lead your team into being intentional and living in the moment. A trip needs to be about more than the perfect Instagram photo.

As I was writing this, I realized that any one of these topics could be a book unto itself. What you have here is a VERY basic list of a few things to consider.

As a leader, you have a huge responsibility, also a huge privilege. A privilege to lead people into life-changing, mountain top serving experiences they will remember the rest of their lives. When led and hosted correctly, short term missions can have a world-changing impact. Go and have your world changed.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

Missions and Politics

yelling“If you support the general US policy on immigrants, you should cancel your missions trip.” This line was recently posted on Facebook and shared by many people. I don’t agree with the statement, but it brings up an interesting point. How much does our politics interfere with our testimony? How much does our contempt for other political parties or nationalities impact our mission’s goals?

What we spend our time on, what we focus on, what we promote in our lives and social media, says everything about our priorities. The enemy will do everything in his power to distract us from what is essential, to distract us from seeking God first and representing Him well. With today’s non-stop cycle of political news, from an ever more slanted perspective from either side, it’s easy to get distracted from what truly matters.

A while back, a very good friend of mine, a strong Christian and missions-minded person, was spending an inordinate amount of time on social media promoting and sharing his support of the 2nd amendment. We eventually had a conversation where I pointed out that he might be focused more on defending the constitution than actually supporting and defending the Gospel. (He got my point.) The constitution is, in the grand scheme of things, temporary. All things of man are. Eventually, the constitution and the US will fade away and become a footnote in history. The only things that last are the things of God. Too many people are chasing after the shiny object of the temporary, and ignoring the eternal.

Anyone who’s read the news or watched the 24-hour flood of news channels is aware that much of the church is increasingly focused on political issues. The vitriol and fury that so many Christians are demonstrating are, to be honest, embarrassing, and increasingly problematic. “They shall know them by their love.” has been replaced by, “They shall know them by their snarky Facebook posts attacking people they don’t agree with.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have an opinion; we have an obligation to stand up for the weak, the defenseless, those in need around us. This is Jesus’ example to us. But how we stand up for others matters a great deal. Jesus was not political; He didn’t pick a side other than hanging out with the rejects of society. He knew there was deep political corruption, He knew it was a broken political system, but He also knew it just didn’t matter. He focused on the individual in front of Him; He focused on what was important.

My team, and many of the groups we host have been helping with the migrant camps in Tijuana. These camps are hosting people from Costa Rica, Haiti, etc. Many of these people left horrifying circumstances for the slim chance of not just a better life, but of survival. A donor to our ministry heard about this and let us know that he would reach out to his church. He was sure they would help with supplies. He was amazed and disappointed when his church gave a very firm, “No.” They would not support “those people.” Think that through, they refused to help migrants because they felt these people should “just go home.” They didn’t like the politics, so it was OK to turn a blind eye. This is counter to everything the Gospel represents. Even if we do see people we don’t agree with as the enemy, we have explicit instruction as to what our response should be. We are called to love our enemy, pray for our enemy, heap blessing on them.

How many of us deserve the blessings and grace that God pours out on us everyday? None of us are worthy, none of us have a right to this grace, but God pours grace in abundance on us anyway.

Jesus taught extensively on this topic. From the good Samaritan to reaching out to lepers, the Gospel leaves no wiggle room as to how we are to serve our fellow human beings. The Gospel does not say only bless those we agree with, only help those who are worthy, only pray for people who are making decisions we agree with. And yet, the church today is increasingly divided into political factions, divided by agendas that have no lasting value. How can we share the Gospel overflowing with grace, acceptance, and love when so much of our lives are bathed in contempt for those around us?

Going back to the line this blog started with: “If you support the general US policy on immigrants, you should cancel your missions trip.” I disagree with that line. Whatever your stance on immigrants is, you should take a missions trip. Spend time studying and understanding the issues from different angles before you go. Go and meet the people that you see on so many news clips. However you feel about their actions or them personally, you are called to love your enemy. By spending time with them, you might find your perceived enemy is actually your fellow child of God, that your enemy is someone that our Heavenly Father cares deeply about.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

I Hate Orphanages

pexels-photo-236153

I wish orphanages didn’t exist. A child in an orphanage means the enemy has won a battle, a battle to break a child and parent bond or destroy a family. Orphaned and abandoned children exist because we live in a broken world. I wish we didn’t need the foster care system and I hate orphanages, but if these types of homes have to exist, they should be GREAT.

People frequently ask me “why does a child wind up in an orphanage?” There are a lot of misconceptions about this; most people assume all kids in orphanages are “orphans” who have no living family. The short answer to why most kids are in orphanages is “sin.” Severe abuse, neglect, abandonment, substance abuse by the parents, etc. are all results of flawed people who have fallen into deep sin. Some people should just never have kids. Unless you’re dealing with AIDS, war or severe natural disaster, true orphans where both parents have died are kind of hard to find. Frequently, a parent might still be around, but for many reasons, they just can’t or won’t care for their child or have chosen to abandon their child or children. In any country, you can read stories every week of babies left at hospitals, fire stations, or in trash cans. Today, in many countries, there are thousands of children that are sold into slavery every year. We live in a deeply broken, profoundly messed up world.

Some people believe orphanages break up families to fill their dorms; this does happen in some cases, but less than you might think. There is an assumption that many children are in homes worldwide due to poverty, this happens also, but most of the time, there are other, deeper underlying issues. In most cases, it’s not easy to say what’s best for a child: A marginally abusive/neglectful situation or an orphanage?

In our home, as in any healthy ministry, we do everything we can to keep families together if it’s truly in the best interest of the child. The family is the ideal model, and every child deserves a healthy family. Every child needs the love, acceptance, and loving guidance of their parents. If a parent needs short term help, counseling, etc. to keep the family together in a healthy situation, that should always be the first choice. If there is some extended family that can help that’s an excellent second choice. Sometimes all that’s needed is daycare to keep a family together so the parent can work and still care for their children.

Unfortunately, sometimes, it really is in the best interest of the child to break up the family. You can imagine some of the horrific stories of the children in our care. We had a five-year-old brought to us after the stepdad held him against a hot stove for wetting the bed. We had a two-year-old dropped off late one night with bruises over much of his body and a broken leg after the mom lashed out in a drunken rage. We took in a girl who had just turned fourteen and was pregnant after being raped by her stepdad. (he is now in prison) These types of stories are much too common. Even the most ardent defenders of the family would be hard pressed to defend keeping some families together.

A well-meaning, well-educated individual once passionately shared with me that orphanages are a broken system and that they should all close down. I agree that it’s a broken system, but saying all orphanages should be closed is like saying the health care system in the US is broken so all hospitals should be closed. Just because we close a broken solution, doesn’t mean the problem goes away. I so wish there were better options for the countless children who fall through the cracks of society.

If the family is not in the picture, and adoption is a real alternative, it should always be encouraged. Unfortunately, adoption is not a reality for the vast majority of children living in any care situation. The latest figures available are that only 2% of children living in care situations worldwide ever get adopted. Most have multiple siblings, are “too old” to adopt, or they have some living family that still has a claim on them. Depending on adoption for a child’s future is very much like depending on the lottery for your retirement: It might work, but not likely.

A couple of years ago, eleven-year-old Pablo (not his real name) was brought to us after being removed from his home due to neglect on the part of his mom. He had been bouncing around the system for a while. He hadn’t been in school, was in bad shape physically, and had spent way too much time on the streets. After a few days here, he expressed amazement that he was getting three meals a day and asked if that was normal. His mother is currently working with the government to receive custody of Pablo. Mom visits from time to time but is still not doing very well; she’s dealing with some long-standing substance abuse issues. Pablo is now doing great in school, just graduated top of his class, and has become a real part of our family. We know we don’t replace loving parents, but here Pablo has a loving home with people who deeply care about him, great opportunities, and a future that was just a dream a few years ago. Very recently, Pablo came to us with a request. He knows his mom is working on getting him back, but he’s also bright enough to know he has no future with her. He has asked that if his mom gets custody, and if it’s OK with her if he could still live here. He wants to stay here so he can continue in school, work for a better life, and just visit his mom. We sincerely hope and pray that his mom gets her life in order, but until that happens, we want to provide a great home to Pablo, and the many other Pablos who are out there.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

Ministry Purgatory

pexels-photo-262391On my first trip to Ghana, I experienced a wide range of emotions and experiences. One of the many unusual experiences was being the “elder.” I’m in my fifties, in the US today this still counts as middle-aged. (Or at least I keep telling myself that.) Statistically I have about 30 years of life left. In Ghana the life expectancy is much shorter; you just don’t see a lot of older people. The youth of Ghana, out of respect, wouldn’t let me do anything physical. Every time I tried to help set up chairs, move a bag, or even carry my plate to be washed, some teen would jump in and grab whatever I was carrying. It was like they were expecting me to keel over from a heart attack, or at least fall and break a hip at any moment.

For centuries, the span of working years for a person’s life was 20, 25, maybe 30 years. People just didn’t last that long. There was a natural rhythm to life with predictable shared seasons that everyone went through. Growing into an adult, working till your late 50s or early 60s, and then either coasting a little or just dying off. There are always exceptions to this cycle, but as we all live longer, the question that isn’t discussed enough is: what does one do with this new found season at the end of our lives? There are a lot of lost people wandering around out there.

This rambling blog is a letter to a very specific crowd, but even if you aren’t part of this crowd, I can guarantee you know someone who is. In the last few years, I seem to be bumping up against a large group of men in their fifties, who’ve been involved in ministry most of their lives, who are lost in ministry purgatory. They are stuck in a weird no man’s land. Much too young to be considered an elder statesman, but too old to pull off skinny jeans, worship leader cool. Think of it as being a middle-aged junior higher, caught between two worlds and awkwardly stumbling along waiting for something to happen. Many middle-aged ministers are not even aware that they are stuck.

Whenever I comment that we all know somebody still in the pulpit who should have stepped down ten years ago, the reaction is always a knowing smirk. One, two, or three pastors always come to mind. It can be incredibly challenging to maintain enthusiasm and passion after fifteen or twenty years. At some point, for most men, the shift is subtle, slow, and dangerous. If we’re not careful, ministry can slide from a passion and the call from God, into just a job where we’re going through the motions. We suffer, the people in our ministry suffer, and no one is happy in the situation.

In the last year, I’ve had three different pastors, all in their fifties, come to spend time at our ministry for short sabbaticals. I’ve talked to many more. The patterns are all the same. A lot of life left but not sure where they are going and what they are going to be doing. They might be comfortable in their ministries, but are we meant to be just “comfortable?” Some know they are going through the motions, their church knows that they are just going through the motions, but nobody is brave enough to change. Ministry purgatory. Coasting along, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

If you’re a little uncomfortable reading this, if this rambling blog is describing you, please know you are not alone. Please find someone you trust that you can talk to, and who will be honest with you. Along with seeking counsel, I don’t have any magic answer, but I do have one word of advice: flip the table.

If what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore, stop doing it. This can be a hard concept for some people to get. We won’t experience change doing the same things, in the same way, in the same place. If we don’t like the way the table is set, we can move a few things around, but it really won’t change anything meaningful. Sometimes we need to flip the table over, let things fly, and start over.

I know many men who have left full-time ministry, who have found real peace, and a more significant ministry, in other professions. One good friend says he’s better now that he is no longer a “professional Christian,” he prefers the amateur status. I know insurance salesmen, electricians, etc. who used to be pastors but are now in another season, ministering more now than when they did it as their profession. If we’re serving for the right reasons, we should know that the most important place to be is in God’s will. The only title that matters is Child of God.

One other suggestion: Pray about where you should be headed but do it from a different place. This is one of the many reasons short-term missions are so important. Missions are needed for the people going. Sometimes we need to get out of the space where we’re comfortable and figuratively (or literally) travel to the mountain top to hear from God. Sometimes we need to visit other ministries, missionaries, or churches to find our passion again, or find a new passion. By traveling to new places and connecting with people in new ways it can give us a new perspective. Things look different from the mountain top; we can see more, we can see the bigger picture.

People say, “Write what you know.” This week’s blog describes me. Personally, although I’m still assisting at the orphanage, I’ve found new passions to feed my soul. I’m still stumbling along, but by finding new areas to serve, and handing off most of my old responsibilities, I’m slowly moving out of purgatory into the light. I’m also encouraging the next generation to shine.

If you see yourself in anything you’ve just read, please seek counsel. If you can’t find anyone better, e-mail me, I don’t have any answers, but I can listen.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.