By Kevin Riggs
Transition. It means to pass from one condition, place or thing to another condition, place or thing. Another word for transition is change, and change is never easy. Transition brings with it fear, excitement, insecurity and uncertainty.
I am in transition. I am passing from one place to another. I am changing, and I am afraid, excited and unsure. I am looking forward to the challenges ahead, but I am ready for the dust to settle. I am ready to not be in transition anymore. I am not as fond of change as I used to be.
After more than 14 years at the same church, God called me to a new ministry in a new state. In addition to saying goodbye, selling a house, packing boxes and crying, I have done a lot of introspection. What have I accomplished? What have I done right? What have I done wrong? What would I do differently? What mistakes do I hope to avoid next time?
The result of my self-evaluation was a list I call “The Ten Commandments for Ministry Survival.” I plan to post these commandments in a visible spot where I can review them regularly. My prayer is that these principles will guide me the rest of my life and ministry. The commandments come out of my experience—both the joys and struggles, highs and lows—in pastoral ministry and are not written in any particular order.
Use them as you would like. Change them, adapt them, add to them, subtract from them, or toss them and come up with your own. Whatever you do, let me know. I am interested in your story. As a fellow ministry survivor, you can teach me a lot.
1. Thou shalt not let others steal thy joy.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and is determined by my relationship with Jesus Christ. Allowing others to steal my joy amounts to saying joy comes from people instead of God.
2. Thou shalt not gripe and complain when people act like people.
Jesus saw people as sheep scattered without a shepherd. What shepherd would scorn his sheep for acting like sheep? When people whine and grumble they are acting like people—doing what comes naturally. The purpose of ministry is to enable people to do what comes supernaturally.
If people acted like Jesus wanted them to act, I would be out of a job. (Note: I am a “people” and hope others will forgive me when I act like one.)
3. Thou shalt keep a positive attitude in all things.
My attitude determines my altitude. I cannot control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond. Remaining positive does not mean I ignore reality. It does mean I know God is in control, the church is His church, nothing can separate me from His love, and He will make sure everything works to the good if I love Him. In Jesus Christ my future is brighter than my past.
4. Thou shalt work with the willing while praying for the obstinate.
Most people follow without complaining. Most people are willing to be led. Obstinate people are in the minority but if permitted can take the majority of my time. The more time I spend with obstinate people, the more willing people will be to be obstinate. If a captain waits for everyone to get on board, the ship will never leave dock.
5. Thou shalt not take personal criticisms personally.
Honest criticism is not personal. Destructive criticism has a personal tone. Taking personal criticisms personally does nothing to help me nor the person giving the criticism. Not taking criticisms personally will enable me to see more objectively and will keep the seeds of bitterness from growing in my life.
6. Thou shalt place personal integrity above professional success.
My integrity is all I have and if I lose it, I have lost everything. At times it is tempting to do things or not do things based on how I think it will make me look to others. It is tempting to compare my ministry with other ministries. When I do, I feel either jealousy or pride based on perceived “success.”
God has uniquely gifted me to do what only I can do for Him. Integrity requires I do my absolute best and leave the results to Him.
7. Thou shalt stay focused on Christ.
This one thing will keep me from violating #6. It is Christ I am serving and it is to Him I will give an account. Nothing else matters but His opinion of me. Staying focused on Him will keep me from falling into the traps of comparisons and competition.
8. Thou shalt not allow discouragement to distract thee from duty.
Discouragement is the job hazard of ministry. There will be days when I do not feel like getting out of bed. There will be times when I do not feel like continuing. It is important that during those times I work even harder, not allowing my momentary weakness to dictate my pastoral duties.
9. Thou shalt not bring ministry problems home.
My wife and family are my most important ministry. The greatest church God has called me to pastor has four members, a dog and a cat. The home is to be a safe place, a place to relax and a place to rejuvenate for the next day. Home is not the place to discuss the difficulties and struggles of ministry. God called me into ministry, not my wife and kids.
10. Thou shalt remember thy self-worth is in thy walk with Christ not in thy work for Christ.
Jesus cared for me as a person before He cared for me as a pastor. If I were no longer a pastor, He would still love me. I am a success, not because of my achievements but because of His accomplishment. If my walk with Him is what it should be, I am a success even when I feel like a failure.
There you have it, “The Ten Commandments for Ministry Survival.” Am I on target or off base? Which ones apply to you? Looking back, if I had had these commandments years ago I would have avoided a lot of heartache in ministry. I believe keeping these commandments will help me not just survive but also thrive in ministry. They will do the same for you.
Article adapted from Contactmagazine, February 2004.