Sunday, October 24, 2010

Managing Perceptions in Ministry is Impossible

What do you do when what you see isn’t seen by everyone?

Example: From where I sit on the bridge of the ship, things are going incredibly well at Zion Lutheran Church and the Lord is doing great things in our midst.

A quick rundown of the stuff that to me, is obvious:
a). We’re seeing a lot of visitors to our events and services and those visitors are coming back again and again.
b).Wednesday nights have just surpassed Sunday mornings for kids, youth, and adult class attendance. We are really blessed and thankful.
c). There is so much enthusiasm and excitement as you walk the halls at Zion.
d). We’re serving more people than ever before at Wednesday night dinners. Like nearly 33% more than last year.
e). Adult classes are well attended
f). There is a real heart for doing mission developing in our members.
g). 20 kids are now coming from the DTA for Bible lessons and tutoring. And they are so full of joy to be here.
h). More classes and kids mean more volunteers and those needs are being met.

I think these are things we ought to celebrate and praise God for in a big way. It’s the Lord that is at work and we need to acknowledge what he’s doing.

But the recent days have revealed a battle of perceptions of sorts. I’m told there are “some people” who see things differently. Namely, a.) The staff is somehow underemployed, and, b.) Our church is obviously dying, having no money and no volunteers. Wow. Now that’s a pretty big gap in perceptions. But it’s easy to see how a person can see that.

For instance, if you attend church sporadically, never go downstairs to where the classes are, never go to Wednesday night church, never converse with anyone who has seen the good things, and haven’t attended any of the outreach or celebration events we’ve done this year, then yes, I can see how you’d come to the conclusions you’ve come to. So I invite you, personally, “come and see.” Jesus is on the move and we’re doing our best to keep up with him. We have had a rough 18 months-2 years financially. But things are stabilizing, praise God. Over these difficult months something wondrous has happened: we’ve changed from a church where five families gave 20% of the budget to a church of many smaller givers who are all invested in our mission. It’s glorious to see how God has even transformed us through these months of “suffering” to be ready for what he wants to do next.

I have to admit that it’s hard for me, personally, to hear misperceptions about our staff, whom I work with every day and love as colleagues and fellow sojourners for the Gospel. My tendency is take it personally. After all, the staff report to me, if they aren’t doing their jobs, I must be a terrible boss and must have made bad choices in hiring them. But I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with here. I think rather that we are dealing with the simple fact that as we grow, as we reach out to our neighborhood and world, our staff does more and more and their roles change. They may not be in the office when you drop by. They might be out picking up supplies, meeting with volunteers, or even working from the quiet of home. Or maybe they’re resting because they were ministering until late in the night. I know they’re doing great work or we wouldn’t be seeing the kinds of things happening that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

Someone suggested I publish a list of all the things the staff and I do, and maybe when we do them. Get the information to the folks and stop the misperceptions. In this case, though, this most obvious of solutions is fraught with spiritual peril. I know too many pastors and church workers who feel the need to justify their jobs every day by telling people how busy they are. Instead of telling people “how’” they are, they “report out” about what they’re doing. This usually causes the other person to go away impressed. I think it leads to spiritual pride, however, on the part of the one reporting out. I also believe it’s wrong to make people justify their jobs when we are experiencing such blessings from God right now.

Nearly 50% of pastors in our country are in one of the stages of burnout. These are national, pan-denominational statistics. Stress is a major cause of this burnout. The chief stressor in a pastor or church worker’s life, according to studies, is a failure to manage the perceived expectations of others in the church. In other words, it is the opinion of many church workers that people in the church expect 24 hour service, 110% commitment, 110% quality, and they don’t want to pay much for it (after all, you’re called by God, you’ll get your reward). Frequently, I’m convinced that just about everybody thinks they could do our job better than we can. And we welcome them to try.

Church work is hard work. You compromise your family and personal boundaries frequently for the sake of the mission. And mission is risky. It requires sacrifice. At the end of the day, it’s a real blessing to know there are people who didn’t pursue a big job with a great salary in order to serve the Lord by tending and growing his flock.

I give thanks to God for all the great things he’s doing at Zion, for all the great people he’s gathered here, for the many volunteers that make ministry possible, and for the great staff he’s called to equip us for mission. It’s time to praise him for all our blessings and re-commit ourselves to following him. Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

1 comment:

  1. We are all guilty of misperceptions.

    “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

    Love does not believe falseness. Love perceives truth. Misperceptions happen when we think too highly of ourselves and too lowly of others. With God, true perception is possible.