Read 1 Timothy 2;1-15
Although God is all-powerful and all-knowing he has chosen to let us help him change the world through our prayers. Paul urges us to pray for each other, and for our leaders. Our earnest prayers will have powerful results (James 5:16).
When our lives are going along peacefully and quietly, it is difficult to remember to pray. It’s easier to remember to pray when we experience problems.
Both Peter and Paul said that God wants all to be saved (see 2 Peter 3:9), this does not mean that all will be saved, because the Bible makes it clear that many reject Christ (Matthew 25:31-46, John 12:44-50; Hebrews 10:26-29). Jesus sacrifice brought new life to all people. Have you let him bring you to the Father?
Besides displeasing God anger and strife make prayer difficult. That is why Jesus said that we should interrupt our prayers, if necessary, to make peace with others (Matt. 5:23, 24). God wants us to obey him immediately and thoroughly. Our goal should be to have a right relationship with God and also with others.
We should not put anyone into a position of leadership who was not yet mature in the faith (see 5:22).
Because these women were new converts, they did not yet have the necessary experience, knowledge, or Christian maturity to teach those who already had extensive Scriptural education.
Paul laid down guidelines for proper worship. He emphasized the importance of prayer and orderly worship. Prayer is an important part of public worship.
We live in a society that is reasonably organized. Put a letter in the box, and it usually ends up where you want it to go. Order an item from a catalog, and it usually comes to you in the right size, color, and model. Ask someone to provide you a service, and it is reasonable to expect that it will work that way. In other words, we are used to results in response to our arrangements. That is why prayer can be discouraging for some of us. How can we predict the result? We are tempted to abandon prayer as a viable exercise and try getting the results ourselves.
But the fact is that my prayer life cannot be directly tied to the results I expect or demand. I have had many opportunities by now to see that the things I want God to do in response to my prayers can be unhealthy for me. I have begun to see that worship and intercession are far more the business of aligning myself with God’s purposes than asking Him to align with mine.
Henri Nouwen says it best when he writes:
“Prayer is a radical conversion of all our mental processes because in prayer we move away from ourselves, our worries, preoccupation, and self-gratification – and direct all that we recognize as ours to God in the simple trust that through His love all will be made new.”
(From Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald)
Worship God today and join with other Christians this Sunday in public prayer, singing, and Bible teaching. Let corporate worship become a first priority to you.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for… all those in authority…. – I Timothy 2:1-2
When you forget all you have learned about your responsibilities as a citizen or, worse, when you forget to pray for the leaders, you get what you deserve.
Dear Lord, renew my commitment to be an active, praying citizen.
What attitudes for worship mentioned here are yours to cultivate?
Read Phil. 3:13-14
We have all done things for which we are ashamed, and we live in the tension of what we have been and what we want to be. Because our hope is in Christ, however, we can let go of past quilt and look forward to what God will help us become. Look forward to a fuller and more meaningful life because of your hope in Christ.
1.Gain understanding of Christian hope.
2.Experience the blessings of Christian hope.
3.See how God uses the hope residing in a Christian hope with the class.
4.Grasp the many practical implications of the “Now/not yet” hope of Christians.
5.Empathize with other class members’ disappointments and despair.
6.Experience Christian community with the class.
Lord Jesus, by rising from the dead, you became the wellspring of our hope. Help us to grow beyond mere optimism to the hope that is rooted and grounded in you. Teach us to live as a people of hope, shining as lights in a despairing world, as we wait for your glorious second coming. Amen.
Hope is God’s gift to us. It is also a distinctively Christian resource for you to use in your training and relating. Hope is one of the many qualities of a relationship put right with God through Christ Jesus. It is, therefore, the birthright of every Christian.
Hope can be a powerful force in people’s lives. Especially in this age, an age characterized as “Hopeless” and “full of despair,” the hope you have to share with the world is a tragically neglected aspect of Christianity.
Let’s use this time to remind ourselves of our distinctive hope, and seek ways we can effectively engender hope in the lives of those we train and touch.
One of the most important Christian resources yet to be covered in more detail is hope. Part of the unique nature of Christian hope lies in its origin. The responsibility for Christian hope is not yours, but God’s. Paul speaks of unbelievers as “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Our hope is intimately bound up with God. To have hope solely in human capacities is to despair. Neither you nor I can fix the mess we’re in as imperfect human beings in an imperfect world. So, one distinctive aspect of Christian hope is that it comes from and rests securely in God.
Another feature of Christian hope is that it defies the natural. Christian hope is both now and in the future. It is both of these at once, and so one reasoning breaks down when we consider it.
This has dynamic implications for you in your Christian training. You will bring to your training the conviction that there is One greater than either you or the problem. This greater one is working through you to produce the same convictions and hope in the trainee. The Lord of the universe is active through your training. The trainee is also assured of the now and yet of his or her hope. Failures will come. Setbacks and disappointments will be present. But in the “nowness” of the hope God works, you and the trainee will be able to look at these an proclaim, “Not Yet!” You will grow accustomed to seeing things through the hope-inspired glasses of the end of all things as they converge and consummate in Jesus Christ.
As a Christian trainer, you can become a facilitator of God’s hope. Here are nine practical ways you can become an instrument through which Christian hope can flow into others.
Sticking with Them
A potent way in which hope manifests itself is when you as a trainer let people know by your words and actions that you are willing to help them struggle through their problems. Your consistent, training presence with them through thick and thin instills hope. The knowledge and expectation that another person will be with them during difficult times provides people with a feeling of security.
Hope is fostered by letting people know they can get in touch with you any time they need you, especially in an emergency. It is reassuring to another to know that there is someone available around the clock. You might run into situations when people abuse this privilege, but rather than try to circumscribe your training relationship with qualifiers in advance, it would be better to deal with problems gently and firmly when and if they do arise.
Often those for whom you train will have a great deal of anxiety. The very act of meeting with you a time or two can serve to reduce the anxiety of the trainee. A problem shared is a problem halved. Anxiety reduction can be very hope-producing itself.
Sharing the Stories of Others
Sometimes hopelessness comes about because people believe their problems are totally unique. They think their problems are insurmountable because only they have experienced them. Sometimes it can be a potent force for hope to share instances you know about in which others have met these same kinds of crises. For example, you might say:
“You don’t see how you’re going to be able to go on by yourself since your wife died. i’ve known other husbands whose wives have died, and they too said how difficult it was at first to be alone.”
Or, you might wish to tell them about similar struggles that you yourself have had. For example:
“You said you were experiencing some doubts about your faith in Good recently. Although right now I feel confident about my relationship with God, a few years ago I too experienced a period of doubt. I would be very happy to listen to your concerns about your faith and maybe later on tell you a few things about how I dealt with my concerns.”
If you choose to share what you or others have experienced, be very careful how you say it. Don’t minimize or dismiss the uniqueness of the other’s problem. The one you are training might interpret what you say as “My friend doesn’t understand my problem” or “My trainer just doesn’t know how I feel” or “I’m not everybody else – I’m me!” Avoid, for example, saying things like:
“I know just how you’re feeling. I lost my job once too. Don’t worry. Just keep looking and something will turn up. It always does. It did for me.”
“Don’t you worry about having a baby. Women have been delivering children since the beginning of time. Once you get that baby in your arms, everything will be just fine.”
When sharing examples of your own life’s struggles, be cautiously selective. There is a difference between being open and being unzipped! For example, suppose you are talking to a teenager who has just been caught vandalizing a local school. If you happen to have been guilty of the same offense when you were much younger, it probably would not be a good idea to share this information with the young person. This might serve only to confuse him or her, and create doubts about the wrongness of the behavior.
Areas of similarity that you may appropriately share might include your own feelings of sadness and despondency when someone close to you died; that you too, as a new parent, where extremely frustrated and depressed: that you too felt sad, lonely, and “used up” when your last child went off to college and so on. There is no ironclad rule about sharing aspects of your personal life with another, as a trainer. Being vulnerable can be helpful, but don’t share information that could confuse the other or reduce your credibility. Some things are better left unsaid.
You can encourage considerable hope by sharing that others with similar life situations have successfully worked them through. here too you need to be careful in what you say:
“Others have done it this way and you can too.”
“I have known others who had similar difficulties. Although it was not easy for them as they struggled through their problems, in doing so they were able to resolve them. I hope that as you deal with these difficulties of yours, the same will be true for you.”
Without minimizing the uniqueness of their problems, tactfully impress on those you train that there is good potential for them to work through their difficulties (if this is indeed the case). Avoid telling success stories about heroic Christians who soared through severe storms of life with flying colors. The person might not feel very heroic and become depressed by making the unfavorable comparison in his or her mind with someone who exhibited tremendous personal resources when dealing with a problem.
Accepting the Other
By communicating through words and actions your acceptance of people despite their problems and faults, you can also instill hope. Unconditional acceptance leads to trust, and trust is closely followed by hope. If a person says, “I hate my mother. I wish she were dead.” there are non-accepting and accepting ways to respond.
Don’t say (gasping with shock): “That’s terrible! You should not say that.” Do say: “It sounds like you are angry at your mother. (Pause) I’m willing to listen.”
By communicating acceptance to others despite their problems and their sins – just as Jesus does with you – you can produce great hope in others.
Emphasizing the Positive
Sometimes individuals feel so broken that they can no longer discover any good in themselves. natural talents and skills are all but obscured by an exaggerated sense of their problems and negative feelings about themselves. You can instill hope in the person for whom you are training by emphasizing those positive characteristics. This is precisely what Jesus did when Nathaniel was brought to him. He said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). Jesus could have said, “Behold a sinner who needs repentance!” Rather, in this instance he chose to accentuate the positive.
Realizing Failures and Limitations
Discovering the positive includes, by implication, the realization that no one is all positive, that everyone has failures and limitations. Jesus often praised Peter, but did not hesitate to rebuke him publicly when necessary. Knowing who Peter was to become, Jesus spoke the truth in love to him about his forthcoming denial on the eve of the crucifixion. Like bad-tasting medicine, confronting in love the faults and limitations of another can engender hope. The faults and limitations of a trainee are actually promises that Jesus still has healing to perform. You can take heart that your own weaknesses and failures are opportunities for God’s strength to show itself, and you can lovingly communicate the same vision to another.
God is with You
What a comfort that God is not only in you, but with you – with both the trainer and the trainee. The Christian condition is not just Jesus inside you, wonderful as that news is. It is the joy of realizing that God is an objective, supportive presence on the outside as well. he is before you to lead you. He is behind you too guard you. He is beside you that he may support and comfort you. He is above you to bless you. In short, he is with and for you!
Finally, you can instill hope by simply being Christian. By speaking in Christian terms and relating to others in a Christian manner, you convey your competence as a Christian trainer, thereby instilling hope. The language of hope is one aspect of Christian training. The fact of hope is what Christian training aims for.
These practical ways to bring hope to a person in need have a common tread: they ask you to imitate Christ. You stay with the person as Christ stays with you. You are available to the other as Christ is available to you. You reduce the other’s anxiety as your union with Christ reduces yours. You lead others back into human community, ending their isolation as Christ accepts you, freeing you from judgment. You accentuate the positive as Christ does for you. You strengthen the other to confront failure and limitation as Christ strengthens you. You are Christ to the trainee by your Christian training.
All this hope-producing power is yours because God is in you, with you, above you, beside you, behind you, and for you.
Inferiority annd Self-Esteem
In a widely read book which appeared several years ago, physician Maxwell Maltz estimated that 95 percent of all people in our society feel inferior. He argued that millions of persons are seriously handicapped because they have a strong sense of inadequacy, and he went on to suggest that a more positive self-image is the “key to a better life.” Many years before Maltz, psychiatrist Alfred Adler had reached a similar conclusion. To be a human being, he once wrote, “means the possession of a feeling of inferiority that is constantly spurring us on ….” Feeling of innferiority, therefore, are very common and likely to be encountered in the work of any Christian lifestyle trainer.
In discussing the issue of inferiority we must begin with a consideration of three psychological terms: self-concept, self-image, and self-esteem. Self-concept and self-image refer to the pictures we have of ourselves. Ask yourself, or a trainee, “If you were a novelist describing yourself as the chief character in a book, what would you say?” Undoubtedly, such a description would include a listing of character traits, strengths and weaknesses, and physical features. Self-concept and self-image include the thoughts, attitudes, and feelings we have about ourselves. Self-esteem means something slightly different. This term refers to the evaluation that an individual makes of his or her worth, competence and significance. Whereas self-image and self-concept involve a self-description, self-esteem involves a self-evaluation. Clearly these three overlap. They are carried around in our heads, and often change as the result of our experiences. Sometimes they are maintained stubbornly in spite of contrary evidence, and almost always they influenced how we think, act , or feel.
The Bible and Self-esteem
Within the Christian community there has been a tendency to emphasize human inadequacy and worthlessness. Consider, for example, a hymn like “Amazing Grace” which speaks of human wretchedness, or the familiar phrase in another hymn: “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” In Christian lifestyle training it is crucial to understand and share the biblical teaching about human worth since, as we shall see, the Bible gives us the only real perspective by which we can overcome inferiority and build true self-esteem.
1. The Biblical Teaching about Human Worth. Throughout its pages the Bible constantly affirms that human beings are valuable in God’s sight. We were created in God’s image with intellectual abilities, the capacity to communicate, the freedom to make choices, a knowledge of right and wrong, and the responsibility to administer and rule over the rest of creation. Even after the Fall, we are described as “a little lower than God,” and crowned with “glory and honor.” Because he loves us, God sent his own Son to pay for our sins and to make possible our redemption and renewed communion with God the Father. He has sent angels to guaard us, the Holy Spirit to guide us, and the Scriptures to teach us that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and individuals who, if we trust in God, will spend eternity with him in a place prepared for us in heaven. Bruce Narramore has suggested what this means for human self-acceptance:
Compared with … secular perspectives, the Christian view of self-esteem is in a category by itself. It alone elevates man above the animals. It alone provides a solid foundation on which to build self-esteem. The biblical view of man acknowledges our sins and failures, but it doesn’t demean our deepest significance as creations of the living God…. Because we are created in the image of God, we possess great worth, significance, and value. We are loved by God and deserving of the love of ourselves and others.
2. The Biblical Teaching about Human Sin. The Bible teaches that as a result of Adam’s sin, all people are sinners who have become alienated from God and condemned because of their sinful natures and actions. Sin is rebellion against God. It represents a doubting of God’s truthfulness and a challenge to his perfect will. Sin leads to interpersonal conflict, attempts at self-justification, a tendency to blame others for our weaknesses, psychosomatic problems, verbal and physical aggression, tension, and a lack of respect for God. All of this surely influences the way we feel about ourselves, often producing guilt and undoubtedly lowering our self-esteem.
But even in our fallen state, God still loves and values us. He hates the sin but loves the sinner. He knows that we are ungodly and helpless but this does not mean that we are unredeemable and worthless. Indeed, because of his love and mercy, he sent his Son to die so that we could be made righteous and be brought back into his family as fully forgiven sons and daughters.
Sin, therefore, breaks our relationship with God, but it does not destroy the fact that in God’s sight we still are human beings, at the apex of divine creation, and of immense worth and value.
3. The Biblical Teaching about Pride. Some Christians who emphasize human depravity argue that self-esteem is a form of pride. Since pride is greatly abhorred by God, these believers assume that self-condemnation and inferiority are attitudes that keep us humble.
Pride is characterized by an exaggerated desire to win the notice or praise of others. It is an arrogant, haughty estimation of oneself in relation to others. It involves the taking of a superior position which largely disregards the concerns, opinions and desires of other people. In essence, it is an attempt to claim for oneself the glory that rightly belongs to God.
In contrast, humility is characterized by “accurate self-appraisal, responsiveness to the opinions of others, and a willingness to give praise to others before claiming it for one’s self.” The humble person accepts his or her imperfections, sins, and failures, but also acknowledges the gifts, abilities and achievements which have come from God. Humility is not a self-negation or the rejection of all our God-given strengths and abilities. Humility involves a grateful dependence on God and a realistic appraisal of both our strengths and weaknesses.
The Apostle Paul, for example, was deeply aware of his sinful past and continuing imperfections, but he also acknowledged his considerable achievements. He recognized that he had been redeemed and greatly used by God. His was a realistic self-image. It was characterized not by pride, but by a humble evaluation of what God had done and was doing through him. Self-esteem, a realistic self-appraisal, and humility go together.
4. The Biblical Teaching about Self-love. The Bible assumes that we will love ourselves. But this conclusion is difficult for some Christians to accept because they equate self-love with an attitude of superiority, stubborn self-will or self-centered pride. Self-love, however, is not an erotic or ecstatic self-adoration. Self-love means to see ourselves as worthwhile creatures, valued and loved by God, gifted members of the body of Christ (if we are Christians), and bearers of the divine image. We can love ourselves because God loves us, and we do not deny the abilities and opportunities which God has given. This biblical view of self-love must become the basis of self-esteem.
The Causes of Inferiority and Low Self-Esteem.
We have given an extended consideration to the biblical teachings on self-esteem first because these are so basic to training in this area, and second, because departure from these teachings is at the root of many inferiority problems. To be specific, people feel inferior and develop low self-esteem because of faulty theology, sin, past experiences, poor parent-child relationships, unrealistic expectations, faulty thinking and community influences.
1. Faulty Theology. This has been considered in the preceding paragraphs. People are inclined to feel inferior when they assume that humans are worthless, that sin makes us of no significance to God, that humility is the same as self-condemnation, or that self-love is sinful. Each of these views is held by sincere people, many of whom apparently assume, incorrectly, that self-esteem is wrong or that feelings of inferiority are desirable for committed Christians.
A variation of this view is held by those sincere Christians who accept a “self-crucifixion” approach to theology. This assumes that humans are worthless; that our desires, thoughts and individual uniqueness should be “crucified,” and that we should let Christ’s thoughts and actions pass through and control us like water runs through a pipe. Such a view seems to be spiritual but it really squelches the individual gifts, abilities, personalities and creativities that come to each of us from God. It is a view which fails to realize that Christians have been crucified (in the past) with Christ, but that now we are to live as new creatures in vital fellowship with him. This does not mean that we are to reject our individuality, abilities and personalities. Instead we are to submit these to a divine control and trust that God will work through the unique individual differences he has given to each person.
2. Sin. When God created human beings, he gave us a standard of right and wrong – not because he was interested in spoiling our fun, but because he wanted us to be happy and to experience the well-being that comes when we love in accordance with his universal principles. When we violate these principles we are guilty, and as a result we feel remorse, guilt, and disappointment in ourselves. This contributes to our inferiority and undermines our self-esteem.
3. Past Experience. In a society which values success, it is difficult to experience failure, rejection and criticism. When failure and belittling are frequent it is easy to conclude, “I’m no good. Look what people think of me. Look how I mess things up.”
At times failure comes because others expect us to fail. We conclude, “Nobody expects me to succeed or be liked so why even try?” When we don’t try, failure is assured and self-esteem is further eroded.
Parent-child Relationships. Within recent years numerous books have appeared dealing with the subject of self-esteem. All agree that inferiority and low self-esteem most often arise in the home. A child’s self-esteem is formed largely in his or her early years.
Parents are inconsistent in their feelings about children. Even the most patient parent explodes in criticism at times or withholds acceptance and warmth. Children rarely, if ever, are damaged by such minor parental fluctuations, but real feelings of inferiority do come when parents:
•criticize, shame, reject, and scold repeatedly (it has been said that we dislike ourselves in direct proportion to the amount of rejection and criticism we experience in childhood);
•set unrealistic standards and goals;
•express their expectations that the child will probably fail;
•rarely give praise, encouragement, compliments, and emotional support;
•punish repeatedly and harshly;
•imply that children are a nuisance, stupid, or incompetent;
•avoid cuddling, hugging or affectionate touching; and
•overprotect and dominate children so that they fail later when forced to be on their own.
5. Unrealistic Expectations. As we grow up, most of us develop expectations for the future and ideals that we would like to attain. When these expectations and ideals are unrealistically high, we have set ourselves up for failure and the feeling of inferiority which often follows.
According to Narramore, there are three common “enemies of self-acceptance.” These are assumptions which we commonly accept but which undermine self-esteem. The three enemies are the false but widely held beliefs that:
•I must meet other people’s standards and expectations if I am to be accepted and loved;
•whenever I fail to reach my goals and expectations (or those of other people) I need to be pressured, shamed, frightened or punished; and
•I must seek to master my world, to be in charge, to be smart, to be the center of my environment, and to make my own decisions.
Each of these beliefs is unrealistic and hence contributes to failure and low self-esteem.
6. Faulty Thinking. It is common for each of us to believe and sometimes even make up statements about ourselves which have little or no basis in reality. ‘nobody likes me” or “”I’m no good” are ideas which may contain more fantasy than realism. If it is not to control us, such thinking must be challenged. Where is the evidence to support such conclusions?
7. Community Influences. Society has certain values which are emphasized by the mass media and demonstrated in homes, schools, governments, businesses, and social settings. It is widely assumed that a person’s worth depends on his or her intelligence, physical attractiveness, education, money, powers and achievements. People are encouraged to manipulate circumstances and each other to attain and retain these symbols of success. It is assumed that their possession will increase one’s sense of inferiority. Nothing could be further from the truth – as many so-called successful people will verify. Self-esteem that is built on status symbols is unstable and non-satisfying. nevertheless these cultural myths persist, motivate many people, and lead to a lowered self-esteem when the status symbols are not attained – or attained and then lost.
The Effects of Inferiority and Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem affects a wide variety of actions, attitudes and emotions. Summarizing numerous research studies, Ellison has reported that people with low self-esteem:
•feel isolated and unlovable;
•feel too weak to overcome their deficiencies, are lacking in drive and unable to defend themselves;
•are angry, but afraid of angering others or drawing attention to themselves;
•have difficulty getting along with others;
•are likely to be submissive, dependent, and inclined to have their feelings easily hurt;
•have lower curiosity and creativity; and
•are less inclined to disclose themselves to others.
Other writers have suggested that low self-esteem contributes to:
•a lack of inner peace and security;
•jealousy and criticism of others;
•self-criticism, self-hatred and self-rejection;
•a drive to gain power, superiority and control over others;
•a tendency to be complaining, argumentative, intolerant, hyper-sensitive and unforgiving;
•an inability to accept compliments or expressions of love; and
•an inclination to be a poor listener and a poor loser.
All of this reflects the tremendously extensive influence of low self-esteem. Perhaps all of us feel inferior to some extent. When the inferiority feelings are great, virtually all human actions, feelings, attitudes, thoughts and values are affected.
Training People with Inferiority and Low Self-esteem
Feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem build up over many years. It is unrealistic, therefore, to expect that change will come quickly, but over a period of time the following can be done:
1. Give Genuine Support, Acceptance and Approval. There is research to support the conclusion that people who feel inferior will “back off” and respond negatively to expressions of approval and affirmation which are unrealistic, abrupt, or not genuine. If we “overdo” the praise and approval, trainees won’t believe us and at times will decide to avoid the trainer. It is more helpful to give continuing support, gentle encouragement, and mild but sincere approval for achievements that clearly can be evaluated as good. From all of this it follows that a back-slapping attitude which says, “Buck up, you’re really a significant person,” does almost nothing to help an individual shed feelings of inferiority.
2. Seek to Develop Self-understanding. Insight into one’s own behavior isn’t easy, neither is it always helpful. Sometimes such introspection causes people to become more self-condemning, to overlook significant facts and to lose objectivity. A trainer, however, can help a trainee search out the sources for his or her poor self-concept (perhaps by considering past experiences which were affirming or condemning). But the trainer also can keep an objective perspective on the situations being discussed, and can remind the trainee – frequently if necessary – that we are not prisoners of the past. As we understand the past roots of behavior and thinking, we can change.
3. Share the Biblical Perspective on Self-esteem. Training will not be very successful if the trainee is convinced that inferiority is the same as humility and that self-esteem is equivalent to sinful pride. Christians must be helped to see the biblical teachings about human worth and self-esteem. They must be shown that proper self-love is all right and approved by God. They must be urged to give up self-condemnation and shown that such condemnation is both destructive and wrong in the sight of God. It may take a long time before such ideas are accepted, but their acceptance is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to develop a more positive self-concept.
4. Encourage Self-disclosure and a Realistic Self-evaluation. It is true, no doubt , that sharing helps build self-esteem. When a person shares his or her self-concept others can give “feedback” in the form of their perceptions. As these other people show acceptance, the trainee can begin self-acceptance.
The trainer must be alert to the fact that such sharing can lead trainees into a subtle manipulation of others. If I say, for example, “I’m no good – I’m a failure,” other people are made to feel that they should deny this evaluation with a comment like, “Oh, that’s not true!” Trainees should be shown how their own self-condemning comments are often used to pull expressions of praise from other people. Praise and affirmation that come through such manipulation aren’t really very affirming. As a result the inferiority feelings persist.
It is better for the trainer to help the trainee list his or her good traits, strengths and assets, as well as weaknesses, inabilities and less desirable characteristics. As the list is developed, and preferably written on paper, ask “What is the objective evidence (in the form of others’ opinions, past experiences, and so on) that each item on thee list – both positive and negative – should be there?” Remember to emphasize the strong points, special talents or gifts and show how those can be put to better use. People often focus so much on their weaknesses that they inhibit or deny their God-given talents and abilities.
Remember, too, people are reluctant to acknowledge their strengths because this can be threatening. When a person is convinced of his or her inferiority, there is no pressure to succeed, and no motivation to risk failure. Some people even bask in their assumed inferiorities. Once they admit that there are strong points, the pressure is on to develop and use these positive traits. That means effort and it also means that individuals must take the risk that they might fail. They must take more responsibility for their actions. For persons with a poor self-concept, the risk may seem too great. It is safer to wallow in one’s inferiorities. This brings us to the next two suggestions for training.
5. Stimulate the Reexamination of Expectations, Goals and Priorities. There can be two kinds of goals – long-range and short-term. Long-range goals are often major (like buying a house, getting a college degree, earning a promotion) while short-term goals are more immediate and more easily attained (like passing a test, finishing a do-it-yourself project, or introducing yourself to a new neighbor). Long-range goals often seem overpowering and unattainable, so the person who feels inferior declines to tackle them.
It is well to remember, however, that long-range goals can be broken down into short-term projects. As each short-term goal is reached, we experience a sense of accomplishment and move slightly toward our long-range aspirations.
Trainees should be encouraged to write down their long-range goals and priorities. Then they should be helped to break these down into much smaller, attainable goals. As the smaller goals are reached the individual can experience some kind of success. This leads to a better self-image. In all of this, the trainer can stimulate realistic goal-planning (which will ensure some successes), can give encouragement as the trainee attempts new activities, can help the trainee evaluate what went wrong when there was failure, can encourage the person to “try again,” and when necessary, can point out that periodic failure is not proof of one’s inferiority.
At times there is also value in examining one’s motives. Why does the trainee want to attain certain specific goals? What are his or her motives? Be sure to remind people that it is always important to do what one believes to be right (even if this leads to criticism from others). It is unlikely that one can experience real self-esteem unless this is done.
In all of this, remember that no human being is completely alone. God gives strength and guidance to those who seek his help. He directs individuals in the development of their goals or priorities, and he helps us as we develop new skills.
6. Teach New Skills. Sometimes trainees need to learn new skills or improve old ones, all of which can help them attain goals, complete tasks, or reach vocational objectives. As a trainer your task may involve encouraging someone to attend school or enroll in a training program.
There are other skills, however, which can be taught in the training sessions and practiced elsewhere. These involve teaching trainees to:
•thoughts and to make negative, argumentative comments which alienate others, arouse hostility within the critic and undermine the critic’s own self-esteem.
•Give frequent encouragement, compliments and respect to others. Respecting others whom God has created helps us to respect ourselves.
•listen and communicate. This builds smooth interpersonal relationships and these, in turn can be supportive.
•Meditate regularly on God’s Word. he loves us and communicates with us through the Bible. This Book can help individuals keep a realistic perspective when there is a tendency, instead to slip into thoughts of one’s own inferiorities and incompetence.
7. Help Trainees Avoid Destructive Influences. The first of these is sin. Sin ultimately creates guilt, self-condemnation, depression, and a loss of self-esteem. It is impossible to feel good about ourselves while we deliberately disobey God’s principles for our lives. Trainees must be helped to honestly face their sin, to confess it to God and perhaps to one or two others, and to remember that God forgives and forgets.
The inability to forgive, especially the inability to forgive oneself, can also undermine self-esteem. There is need to remember that vengeance and the administration of justice are God’s responsibilities, not ours. We need to ask him to help us forgive, to give up our grudges, to love and to really accept the fact that wrongs and injustice can be committed to God who will both forgive those who are sorry and will bring justice to unrepentant wrongdoers.
In his book on building an adequate self-concept, Maurice Wagner notes that we all have destructive tendencies which alienate us from people, prevent spiritual growth, and lower self-esteem. These include the tendencies to:
•treat people as objects to be manipulated;
•resent circumstances which are painful or unpleasant;
•become angry and resentful when we lose control of a situation;
•resent humiliating happenings;
•give up when we are proven wrong;
•be paralyzed and unwilling to act when we are afraid; and
•dread problems instead of accepting them as challenges.
When these are seen in a trainee, they should be pointed out, discussed, and changed if possible, since each can hinder self-esteem.
8. Give Group Support. Being accepted by a group of people can do much to stimulate self-esteem and help an individual feel worthwhile. Group training, therefore, can be helpfull, providing group members are supportive, wanting to help, and not inclined to use the group as a vehicle for criticizing and tearing down each other.
Preventing Inferiority and Low Self-esteem
The Christian community can have a powerful influence in changing self-concepts and preventing individual feelings of inferiority. Ideally, the church is a body of valuable people who exist to care for and build up one another, free from the power struggles, manipulation and status seeking that characterizes so much of our society. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, but the church, nevertheless, ca n strive to build self-esteem and individuals by giving teaching, support, and parental guidance.
1. Prevention through Teaching. As indicated earlier, many people have developed a low self-esteem because of religious teaching which says that it is spiritual to feel inferior. Others see God either as a harsh judge who is waiting to condemn our actions, or as a Being who wants to squelch our personalities and take the fun out of life. These views need to be challenged and replaced with the biblical teachings on human worth, forgiveness, pride and the importance of self-love.
Maurice Wagner summarizes this biblical concept in something which he calls the basic identity equation”:
God + Man = a Whole Person
An individual’s self-concept need not depend on human goals and achievements alone. Each person’s sense of belonging, worth and competence comes because we are loved and held up by the sovereign, almighty God who accepts us, gives us unique abilities and gifts, makes us into new creatures, forgives our sins and gives real reason for self-esteem. We are whole persons only when we stand on our own, but with God.
Within the church Christians should learn that we can love ourselves because God loves us and has made us his children; that we can acknowledge and accept our abilities, gifts, and achievements because these come from God and with his permission; that we can experience the forgiveness of sins because God forgives unconditionally; and that we can praise God for what he is doing in and through us. There is no institution that even comes near to the biblical church in educating people toward a more positive self-concept. In addition to biblical teaching from the pulpit and classrooms, this education might include group discussion of the course materials.
2. Prevention through Christian Community. It is comforting and self-esteem-building to know that one is an accepted, valued member of a group. The church can provide this acceptance and show support especially in time of need. Church members should be encouraged to care for one another without smothering or overwhelming newcomers or reluctant participants.
The church can also help people acquire new practical skills, and within the church we can reject much of the materialism and success-achievement values which are common in society. We can learn to love one another as brothers and sisters, each of whom has important gifts and contributions to make to the body of Christ. Of course this is idealistic in some ways. people’s dress, bearing and speech reveal their social status, and the variety of cars in the parking lot show that the congregation is divided economically. Nevertheless, since God is unimpressed with these status symbols, we should attempt to keep them from influencing our interpersonal relationships and values within the body of Christ.
3. Prevention through Parental Guidance. Since many self-esteem problems begin in the home, it is there that the problems are most effectively prevented. Surely it is within the confines of Christian education to teach parents how to build a loving Christian home and how to communicate acceptance to their children. With younger children there is need for physical contact, spontaneous expressions of pleasure, and patient periods of interaction such as play. With older children there must be encouragement, consistent discipline, praise, and time spent in communication. Since there is evidence that parents with high self-esteem tend to have children with high self-esteem, it also is important to help mothers and fathers overcome their inferiorities and build more positive self-concepts.
Conclusions about Inferiority and Self-esteem
For the nonbeliever who sees human beings as little more than well-developed animals, there iis no ultimate basis on which to build or a reason for human dignity and worth. The Christian, however, believes that human worth comes from the love, words and actions of God. How sad that many Christians have so misunderstood and misapplied biblical teaching that inferiorities have been built up in themselves and others. How encouraging to realize that the church and church-related trainers can play a vital role in the understanding, training and prevention of self-esteem problems.
Quality of Life
Leader’s Responsibility to the Ministry.
It is difficult to find the job description of the modern leader in the Bible. The wish list of what people want in a leader or is expanding in North America to include an impressive list of standard options. leaders today need a warm, affirming style, managerial competence, Christian lifestyle training expertise, excellent public-relations skills, the ability to raise funds, personal charisma, and a caring presence.. Not all churches are looking for all these extras, but enough are, to the extent that the profile of the modern leader is changing.
In some churches the leader becomes a surrogate savior, a messiah figure who satisfies a clinging congregation. His or her presence sanctifies committee meetings and fellowship gatherings. Without this leader’s tacit approval and smiling face, the congregation feels lost. In such cases, the leader is not called upon to be a spiritual director, mentoring followers of Christ, but rather a passive agent of process, smoothing out problems and trying to keep people happy. Other churches want a visionary, a CEO who will manage a professional operation geared to numerical growth and facility expansion.
What Distinguishes the Minister – Leader?
Clearly, the spectrum of expectations for leaders can be overwhelming, ranging from messiah figure to manager, from Bible teacher to therapist, from evangelist to program director. Given the confusing and inflated job description, it is not surprising that the scope and nature of the leader’s responsibilities are difficult to define, let alone practice. So let’s review the biblical image of the leader, contrasting the distinguishing characteristics of minister versus those of professional executive.
Ministry originates with a divine call, not a human contract. Vocational ministry has its roots in the call of God. The solution to the modern leader’s identity crisis will not be found in managing people’s expectations, keeping a better Daytimer, or buying a cellular phone. The issue is far deeper than scheduling or hiring support staff. The shape pf pastoral ministry depends on the Word and the Spirit of Christ. It begins with a response,, a vowed commitment before God, not a contractual agreement with employers, to lead people in worship; teach and obey the Word of God; guide people in what it means to follow the LORD Jesus; and pray for people and love them in Christ. Professionals are interested in the latest findings and techniques, but authentic Christian leaders devote themselves to ancient truths and spiritual disciplines. Herein lies the difference between a calling and a career. The call originates with God and is guided by God’s will, God’s gifts, and God’s glory. Careers are shaped by market forces; supply and demand, competition, financial rewards, and quantitative success.
In lieu of job descriptions and professional profiles, the Bible offers mentors who embody the meaning of pastoral ministry. The apostle John, the leader, identified himself with this description: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). John expressed how leaders should feel toward those they serve in Christ. Pastoral ministry thrives in the context of this shared identity, a sense of mutual responsibility, and a common goal. Empathy draws leaders and people together. Professional expertise and ego distorts this mutual ministry by fostering both dependency and superiority. The words of Jesus are important for today: “You are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers…. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:8, 11-12). This kind of humility is essential to true spiritual authority.
Ministry uses spiritual gifts, not just human talents. Pastoral leadership is distinguished by a person’s spiritual gifts, character, training, and support. The body of believers is integrally involved in the recognition and development of each of these areas. The apostle Paul wrote, “It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:11-12). The pastor does not have all the spiritual gifts necessary for leading the church. Members of the body have different gifts, all of them necessary.
When the church relies too heavily on one person or lets that person assume too much responsibility, it hinders its own growth toward spiritual maturity. Focusing only on human talents, we burn out leaders by piling too many responsibilities on them because they are often deemed “so capable.” This problem intensifies when the leaders are too quick to assume ministry responsibilities that could be better handled by others in the congregation (or by hiring new ministry staff persons).
The church sets apart the person gifted by the Spirit of Christ, not to do the ministry for the church but to prepare the church to minister. There is a compatibility and consistency between being gifted for pastoral ministry and demonstrating the character of pastoral ministry. If a congregation wants a pastor who is fanning “into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6), they should look for one who is diligently studying the Word of God, who is prepared to preach the Word “in season and out of season … with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). They should look for a person who has been mentored by mature spiritual directors. As Paul said to Timothy, “You … know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings” (2 Tim. 3:10-11).
Ministry integrates the personal and private selves, rather than compartmentalize them. Professional competence distinguishes between the public self and the private self. It compartmentalizes personal time and work time and draws a line between family life and church work. Pastoral ministry, by contrast, integrates personal life and pastoral ministry, family life and the household of faith. This does not mean the leader never has time alone, since vocational holiness requires it. Nor does this mean the leader sacrifices family life for the sake of the ministry.
The character qualities for spiritual leadership described by Paul emphasize this integration. Paul looked for a qualified leader by looking at a person’s marriage and children. Even though he saw his singleness as an advantage for the sake of his ministry, Paul examined a leader’s family in order to understand the person’s suitability for ministry. He did not look for an organizational genius, but for a well-ordered life. He looked for wisdom, not the ability to perform before an audience. Did the person have a good reputation? Was he respected? Did the person know how to show hospitality? These are the kinds of questions Paul asked, because the key to being responsible in ministry is displayed in one’s personal life, not excluded from it. Relational and communicative effectiveness are important. Without these gifts people should not pursue pastoral ministry. But these gifts apart from spiritual maturity, personal holiness, and wisdom do not make a leader.
Ministry demands faithful effort, not obsessive workaholism. The apostle Paul seems to give little comfort to overworked leaders. His example borders on intimidation. Most of us would probably hesitate before going to work for the hard-driving apostle. Who could expect much comfort from one who was in the habit of working two jobs, night and day, and routinely suffering all kinds of privations? When Paul spoke of toil and hardship, he wasn’t exaggerating by anyone’s standard. Nevertheless. Paul has a lot to offer the workaholic leader whose responsibility to the church has become obsessive. When priorities are set and spiritual disciplines followed, a leader is saved from “spinning her wheels” in frustration.
Much of what leaders do is not what they were called to do. They are exhausted because they are doing everyone else’s job but their own. Paul placed a great deal of emphasis on teaching and preaching the Word of God. He expected a leader to work hard at effectively moving people on to God’s plan for them; through His faithful counsel. This is what the leader owes his organization. All the people contact in the world does not take the place of offering consistent spiritual direction to people who desperately need God’s perspective on the “Quality of their Lives.” The leader has the opportunity to offer this not only in the pulpit, but also in the hospital room, in homes, in offices, and around the meal table.
At the center of pastoral ministry is the salvation-making, life transforming Word, which is absolutely crucial to the church’s experience of forgiveness, deliverance, redemption, and holiness. The world can offer entertainment and excitement, affirmation and motivation, but it is the Word of God taught and practiced that shapes a household of faith.
Paul never tired of promoting the hard work of preaching, prayer, and spiritual direction. His rich metaphors of the good soldier, the competitive athlete, and the hard-working farmer do two things (2 Tim. 2:1-6). First, they stress the effort and diligence involved in pursuing pastoral ministry: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). But, second, they also stress a single-minded devotion to the truth. The athlete competes according to the rules. So much of today’s frustration in ministry stems from inflated expectations of what one person can do in the life of the church. Paul encourages us to resist the distractions and focus on offering clear, solid spiritual direction.
To do that, we have to love people and learn to be a student of human nature. We have to understand our culture, how it thinks, where it hurts, and what quality it wants out of life. We do this not to echo or copy our culture, but to penetrate our culture with the gospel (“the good news (of a better quality of life)).
We have an awesome responsibility to “make disciples … teaching them to obey everything” Jesus commanded (Mt. 28:19-20). “We proclaim him,” declared Paul, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28-29). We do this one-on-one and in the pulpit, over coffee and around the Lord’s Table, in times of crisis and when we pray. This is what we were meant to do. We were ordained to be pastors, stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1-2). “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Ministry promotes harmony among people, rather than valuing political maneuvering.Paul also helps the overworked leader by establishing the priorities of ministry and warning the leader of things to avoid. Titus was warned to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9). This did not mean Titus was to overlook sin and tolerate evil. In fact Paul told Titus to silence the rebellious people who he described as “mere talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10). Paul was certainly not a believer in dragging out controversies. “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).
Too much time is spent in pastoral ministry catering to spiritually immature and selfish people, those who frustrate God’s work by draining the time and energy of the church leadership. Leaders can be poor at offering tough love, because they want to be perceived as caring and patient. However, love and patience are not incompatible with decisive action with the goal of interpersonal harmony.
Concern for people’s spiritual welfare and the peace and unity of the Body will lead inevitably to confrontation with evil. As every parent knows, there is a difference between sensitivity and softness, genuine love and mere tolerance. And as every leader should know, it is the difference between the fear of God and the fear of man. Paul warned Timothy, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:16-17).
Mentoring involves drawing people – not to self, but to Another. The leader’s responsibility before God is to draw people to Christ, not to himself or herself. The leader’s job is to help people come to God’s will and not get in the way of that coming. Leaders are shepherds tending a flock, modeling their ministry after the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20). They are not ranchers driving a herd. They are like farmers, but instead of working in tandem with the soil, seed, and sun, leaders work in tandem with God. We wait for God’s timing and watch for God’s ways and work to God’s ends. We harvest a spiritual crop of God’s making, not of our doing. We are not shopping-mall developers changing the landscape according to our will, paving the earth with asphalt. Leaders understand that “unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). They understand that their responsibility to the ministry is shaped by spiritual mentors, pastoral metaphors, and theological meaning found in the Word of God. Without a prayerful dependence upon God, we would not survive, much less succeed. The faithful leader’s service ends, as does the morning service, not with applause but with a hearty amen.
Responsibility to the Larger Church
Leaders can be called in two distinct ways: (1) God gives gifts and talents to minister; (2) a congregation can extend a call to a particular place. The fact that leaders move to new locations during the course of their ministry careers implies a significant truth: God has intended our gifts and abilities to be invested in a sphere wider than that of a single congregation.
People in secular jobs are entitled to other pursuits outside their career. Their employers rent their skills; they don’t buy their souls. The same is true for someone employed by the church. God’s call involves more than a congregational call to worship or calling on the sick of a community. Pastoral ministry includes wider dimensions of service: Some leaders are asked to serve on denominational boards or committees. Community ministerial groups offer opportunities for a leader’s involvement in joint evangelistic outreaches or humanitarian projects. Parachurch ministries also seek church leaders to serve as consultants or teachers.
A Wider Scope.
As leaders we must embrace our congregational tasks conscientiously. But we must not close our eyes to further opportunities of ministry outside the scope of our local churches. If we have met our congregational responsibilities and God has equipped us with certain abilities, then we should feel free to invest ourselves in other activities. Here are four benefits (for ministers AND their congregations) from accepting assignments beyond the scope of the local church:
1.Additional opportunities to use our gifts can replenish us emotionally and energize us to deal better with tasks for which we have less ability. There can be many outlets for ministry: speaking at camps or conferences, coaching soccer or Little League, and so on. When we can change the pace of ministry occasionally and look beyond our parish responsibilities, we are energized.
2.When we participate with other ministries in our community, we challenge our congregation’s tendency toward provincialism. If we focus only on the horizon of the individual church scene, we can easily succumb to tunnel vision. Our activities and priorities can alienate us from other churches. We can be tempted to parrot the separatist’s slogan: “My goals are good goals. Your goals are questionable.” Joining with other leaders in a common task reminds us and our people that we share the same goal with them.
3.We can raise our church’s level of awareness by participating in missionary endeavors. A pastoral visit to a mission field or a leader’s short-term stint with a missionary can expand a congregation’s kingdom perspective. Leaders become more sensitive to the needs of the far-flung larger Church and it fuels a passion for world evangelism.
4.Ministry beyond the local church can enrich and shape its future focus. Mission efforts, publications, and other cooperative denominational ventures need the insights, education, and expertise of leaders. Churches may not always be in a position to offer substantial financial support to the national church, but they can offer their pastoral staff for specific assignments.
Community and Civic Responsibilities
More than 250 years ago, John Wesley claimed the world as his parish. In his own generation, John Calvin almost ran the city of Geneva singlehandedly from his study. But our congregations expect (rightfully so) that we will devote our primary attention to the work of their church. Nevertheless, a church’s mission includes making inroads into its community.
Will You Get Involved?
When attempting to determine whether or when to accept a civic responsibility or political position, leaders must consider numerous issues. Here are three questions to ask ourselves as we evaluate our place in community involvement:
What is my real motive? If our motives and goals are ultimately focused on building God’s kingdom, we can feel free to accept the invitation.
Will I offend members of my church?
Am I called to provide the Christian perspective? There are no easy answers to the question about civic and political involvement. Each opportunity raises unique issues, depending on the context of a ministry. However, before making particular choices every leader must arrive at a philosophy of community involvement. He or she must determine, in general, the levels at which it is appropriate to work “within the system” to promote kingdom values. In conversation with their congregations, leaders must set appropriate boundaries in order to walk wisely between the extremes of secular capitulation and civic isolationism.
Continuing education provokes controversy in some quarters. Some congregations wonder why leaders need it, and some leaders fail to use it productively. Still, the church member who may disapprove of a leader’s two weeks “away at some school” would not accept a physician who uses the cancer cures she learned in medical school in the sixties. In this changing world, practitioners of any sort must have continuing education. That includes Christian leaders.
Do We Need to Study?
Many a leader has found renewed interest in ministry by sharpening pastoral skills through continuing study. There are at least three reasons to do so.
First, many of us need remedial education. We have not learned everything by the time the ink dries on our diplomas. Pre-ministry education alone cannot adequately equip us for a lifetime of ministry. New trends in society demand new responses from the church. Shifting marriage patterns, changing sociological phenomena, and revised pastoral-care techniques demand leaders who give such things ongoing thought.
Personal renewal, spiritual and mental, is a third reason for continuing study. Leaders can run dry. Challenges become problems, and problems can look insurmountable. Along with the need for continuing spiritual input, we need a fresh flow of ideas. Ministry becomes a dreary prospect when ideas are scarce. Leaders may feel all alone in a quandary, only to discover nearly every leader has faced it. Others may have already conquered the “unsolvable” problem.
Churches probably won’t automatically appreciate the time leaders spend studying. It makes their leader inaccessible. It doesn’t appear people-centered. Congregation, however, can learn that pastors need exactly such time to continue the process of education.
Who Bears the Cost?
If continuing education is both necessary and expensive, who, logically, should foot the bill? Often the expenses come right out of the leader’s pocket, since the leader orders the journals and buys the books. That leader does benefit from the reading and stimulation; it is his or her education and career. By default, leaders often stretch their personal budgets to pay the expenses.
Yet this is not the most equitable arrangement. Continuing education is actually a professional expense not a personal expense. A church receives the fruits of its leader’s continuing education. The church supplies the pulpit he or she preaches from and such necessary items as the office telephone. Since study is also a necessity, shouldn’t the church also provide for continuing education.
Most church budgets are strained, yet even a $50 line item for journal subscriptions or books signals both the leader and the congregation that continuing education is important. A reasonable request for an initial $100 per leader can eventually grow to a more realistic $300 or more in a few years. Such financial backing, along with a message from the church that the time away is given willingly, adds tools to the leader’s tool box and competence to his or her practice. The church benefits from a more capable and confident leader, and leaders are freed to use their time, but not their family resources, to continue their education for everyone’s benefit.
Sabbaticals are ideal for leaders pursuing an advanced degree, such as a Dr. Min., but can be a powerful tool for any leader. yet the pastoral absence required by a sabbatical asks much of a congregation. Therefore, sabbaticals need to be planned well in advance and handled in a businesslike fashion, with specific, agreed-upon objectives.
Why a Sabbatical?
Sabbaticals are seldom golden eras for the congregation. They are endured in hopes of the benefits to be gained from a renewed, refreshed leader. Therefore, we should be intentional about accomplishing the sabbatical’s threefold purpose.
The time away should be restful. After a few years, the ministry can make us feel as if someone had drained out of your head everything once put their. Particularly for one who holds forth from a pulpit more than forty times a year, what a joy to take in again instead of giving out! What a relief to enjoy a respite from the relentless return of Sunday-morning preaching!
What’s more, the quality of thinking that is possible on a three-month study leave is quite different from that required for week-to-week preaching and teaching. We are able to think “long thoughts” and engage in “offensive study” instead of defensively preparing for tomorrow’s sermon or class.
Sabbaticals offer the opportunity to experience a new environment in an urban or academic setting, or possibly a foreign country. If one’s family is coming along, it is best to select a stimulating setting for them to explore and enjoy. Parents need to check out schools for children, and family members should be cautioned to recognize the difference between a sabbatical for study and a vacation for fun.
Preparing a carefully planned course of proposed study, with an attached bibliography, is a good way to build credibility with the church governing body. Together, leader and board can explore important issues, such as: How will this time away benefit the ministry and strengthen our church? How will what is researched further our mission and goals? In what ways will the leader be better equipped?
Part of the research can include attending Sunday worship at a number of leading churches. how instructive to spend three months sitting where our hearers sit every Sunday!
Making It Happen
One of the best ways to secure a sabbatical is to negotiate it with the call to the church. At such a moment, granting three months of study to be taken seven years in the future will not seem as daunting to church leaders as it will six years later.
We need to prepare for a sabbatical that will minimize, as much as possible, the disruption to church life and ministry. In solo pastorates, a temporary preacher can be called, while in multistaff churches, the assignment of the leader’s duties to staff members should be clear and unambiguous. The cost of the sabbatical is usually the leader’s responsibility, with the church continuing full salary during the time away.
It is important upon return to graciously and profusely thank those who kept the church going during our absence. Sabbaticals should always be followed by a debriefing session with the church board. Suppose a major goal was to gain skills in strategic planning. The leader might come back and lead the church in a two-year planning effort. When debriefing with the board, a savvy leader might want to hand out an annotated bibliography of the books read and reviewed while away, or a report on progress made on a dissertation, or some other tangible evidence of the work performed while away.
The entire Bible reveals a consistent pattern in the way God relates to his people: Those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30). Eli the priest dishonored the Lord by the way he led his family, and God rejected him in favor of Samuel. Scripture indicates: “Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men” (1 Sam. 2:26).
In turn, God honored Samuel as long as Samuel honored him. Scripture reveals an interesting thing about the way God worked through Samuel. Whenever Samuel spoke to people, God guaranteed that the words Samuel spoke came to pass. What an awesome confirmation from God! Whatever Samuel declared what God promised, it always happened. That gave Samuel unmistakable authority every time he spoke. Ultimately, when the Israelites refused to heed Samuel’s instructions, God vindicated Samuel and fulfilled all Samuel predicted. Like Joshua, Samuel refused to demand respect from the people, and, like Joshua, he was greatly venerated.
Oh Father, soften my heart to those who are less fortunate than I am. Help me to appreciate the blessings I have been given, and to share from my abundance. Fill me with the new wine, which is Your Spirit. Amen.
1. Can you think of a time when you were hopeless or almost hopeless? Describe the feeling?
2. The course lists nine ways we can bee instruments of hope:
•Sticking with them
•Emphasizing the positive
•Sharing the stories of others
•Accepting the other’s limitations
•Jesus with you
•Being distinctively Christian
What are some situations where Jesus acted as an instrument of hope in any of these nine ways?
3. What does it mean that Christian hope is both now and not yet?
4. How can you continue to hope when that for which you hope seems never to come or seems to be far away?
5. In what types of situations would it be appropriate to share spoken words of hope? Inappropriate?
6. How does your ultimate hope in Jesus Christ help you in your training relationships?
7. A hopeful Search-15-20 minutes
We are going to find and share some parts of the Bible that deal with the distinctively Christian concept of hope. I’ll give you one aspect of hope to consider, then I want you to find one or more passages that illustrate the point assigned to them. You have five minutes for each concept. Quality is more important than quantity, but if you’ve found a passage that you like, try to find some more.
All right, the point of your passages should be assurance that God will stick with us no matter what. Go ahead, take five minutes, and come up with as much scriptural assurance as possible.
Find passages that assure us that God is always available to us any time we call on him.
Find passages showing men or women of God working their way through troubles far greater than those we are likely to face.
Find passages that convince us that God accepts us, just as we are.”
Find passages in which Jesus emphasized the positive aspects of people.
Find passages showing us that human failures, weaknesses, and frailties are important to God and are used by him for his own purpose.
Find one or more passage’s assuring us of Jesus’ presence with us.
Please find passages speaking directly of Christian hope.
8. Personal Experience of Hope-10-15 minutes
I’d like you to share an experience you had in which hope played an important part. For instance, was there a time in your life in which distinctively C Christian hope made it possible to continue despite difficult circumstances? Think about this for a few moments, then share.
9. Disappointed Hope
a. What effect did this have on your faith?
b. How does this affect your ability to hope now?
c. What lessons about hope did you learn as a result of this incident of disappointed hope?
In this exercise please share a time when you have very strongly hoped for something and ended up not receiving it. Include your answers to these three questions. You have 10 minutes or so for this.
10. Sharing Hope
In the next 15 minutes think of a situation that you or someone else was in that appeared quite hopeless. Discuss the ways hope might be shared with you or the other person in that circumstance.
May the hope that flows from Jesus life, death, and resurrection fill you fully, giving you faith for your despair, joy for your sorrow, peace during your times of stress, love for all, and compassion and good news for all those you encounter.