How Will We Make It?
- Written by: Rev Samuel Crane
How do we think we will make it? To be clear, I am not talking about salvation. I am talking about our expectations for life in ministry. After we graduate from college, get ordained or commissioned, brighteyed and full of hope at how God will work to build his church, what do we really think will happen?
We have a few options of course. We can look around and see ministers who have fallen into devastating sin, abusing money, power, and sex. Clearly not a highlight for the yearbook. If not that, we could burn out and retire within a few years, or maybe, just maybe, we hang in there and hope that Jesus comes back soon. Like next week?!
I recently saw a photo of thirty or so people whom I studied at theological college with. Some of them graduated with me or around the same time, all within the last 10 years. Of that group, one had to leave ministry because they were disqualified for moral failure, one left because the burden was too great and they burnt out, and four others were continuing on but badly bruised by the impact of other clerics. I count myself as one of the bruised. And of the thirty, I have lost touch with at least half so their stores are unknown to me.
What are we to do? How are we to survive ministry? Honestly, I don't even just want to survive, just hanging in there one more day. I want to thrive, and not because I want glory, but because I want my family to not see me as someone broken by what is the hope of the nations, and I don't want to see myself as another carcass behind someone else's bus.
So as I limp and seek Christ's healing, here are some things that I am learning. I don't have all the answers but I hope this is helpful to you.
ONE. Cling to Christ's call to follow him into salvation and TWO. Cling to Christ’s call to follow him into his mission. It is purely a gift of grace that I still call Jesus my king and saviour. We grieve as pastors when people share their stories of how the church has hurt them and how they have walked away. It is only God’s grace that my story is different. And not only has God kept me in the vine but he still calls me to lead his church, a wounded pastor. So with great thanks, I cling to this dual call. We don’t want to be one of those stories of pastors who walk away from Jesus, so with me, strive to nurture our faith, seek healing, grow in prayer and biblical devotion, and keep trusting in God to lead us in our ministry. If God can save Paul from a stoning and a shipwreck, what can a bully do?!
THREE. Gather people around you who are there to bless you. We know we can't do it alone but I think practically we can often live as if that is the case. Ministry is isolating in how it changes how we live and serve others in God's family, so we need to be proactive to gather people around us who are there for us, mentors, counsellors, peers, mental health professionals, etc. Right now I think the more the merrier!! So call your GP or EAP, get a mental health care plan and get support. Call a pastor who is a little bit older than you, a bit further along in their journey, and ask them to mentor you, to care for your soul.
One of God's great gifts to me is a peer group filled with other Gospel ministers. Some of us are in church ministry, some in campus ministry, and some in theological education. Our singular purpose is to be there with each other as we take the hits of ministry and to encourage each other to keep clinging to Christ and his call on our lives to lead his church and to proclaim the gospel.
If you don't have a peer group and a mentor, I can't impress on you how invaluable they are. It is priceless to know there are others who are with you, others who are praying for you, and that there are others you can go to and offload your situation without judgment or offence. I have ministered in a multi-staffed team and now on my own, and in each church, I have needed people outside of my ministry context to whom I can cry out, safe people who love me and are with me. And at times, this love has been hard truthful words that I didn’t want to hear. We need people who we can share our deepest struggles with so that the pulpit is not our moment of self-care but a moment of sharing how Jesus has triumphed (definitely needs to be past tense) over our scars.
Practically what this looks like in my peer group is that we go away on retreat each year to debrief our year of ministry, to pray deeply for each other, and to reflect on our ministry by discussing a helpful resource. We also share prayer points throughout the year for our ministry but mostly for each other in ministry, our own faithfulness, holiness, struggles, and of course joys, ministry isn’t all bad! At times we also call each other for counsel as we are confronted with challenges and help each other reflect in practice.
There is a joy that comes from fostering deep fellowship with others, a joy that is a comfort during the isolation and struggles of being a jar clay. So let’s carry this treasure together, for the glory of our Lord Jesus and for our joy and peace and thriving.
Samuel Crane is Priest-in-charge of St James Glen Iris, Victoria.
Don’t Get Sick, Get Supervision
- Written by: Rev Fiona Preston
My first career was in Fashion Design. I studied for four years and found a job through a friend designing children’s clothes for a company that supplied to Myer, Target and Big W. It was a steep learning curve! It started out with much excitement and enthusiasm as I used the skills I had learnt at TAFE and learnt new skills on the job about shipping, designing a year in advance, and looking at previous sales to dictate future styles. But nothing from my studies could prepare me for the emotional toll the job would have on me and the difficult personalities I would meet along the way. One manager I had was prone to throwing things and didn’t believe me when I came down with influenza: the real one that makes your body shake uncontrollably and binds you to your bed for a good week. There was very little trust in that workplace, a lot of gossip and much finger pointing when things went wrong. After four years I couldn’t take it anymore and after one particularly bad week I told my husband I was quitting…tomorrow! After leaving I had plans to create my own pieces of fashion so I went out and bought unique fabrics from fancy shops, and bought an industrial sewing machine. Sadly, I was exhausted and uninspired. All the joy and enthusiasm I began my career with was gone. I sold the sewing machine and I still have the bag of gorgeous fabric sitting in storage. I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but I was burnt out. I never returned to the fashion industry and the thought of sewing garments still fills me with anxiety.
In their book ‘Burnout: From Tedium to Personal Growth’ Ayala M. Pines and Elliot Aronson describe burnout as, ‘The result of constant or repeated emotional pressure associated with an intense involvement with people over long periods of time…Burnout is the painful realisation that they can no longer help people in need, that they have nothing in them left to give.’
Sadly, my story isn’t unique, burnout is very real and the price of burnout to self, family and community is high. As a now ordained Deacon working as a prison chaplain and Spiritual Director, God has been good and has certainly taken me on an interesting journey through life. In a way, I’m fortunate that I burnt out from the fashion industry and not from ministry – though it could easily happen. It’s very upsetting when someone burns out from working in Christian ministry. Where they were once full of joy and enthusiasm, they become fatigued, gloomy, fearful and resentful. Unfortunately, I know people who have burnt out and I am aware of others who are on the precipice of it.
One issue I perceive is that we start out our ministry vocation with great passion! Comparing our ministry to Jesus, Paul or other greats who have walked before us, who appear to be so self-sacrificing and sold-out that when we feel tired or weak, we berate ourselves for not being more capable. After all if they can do it shouldn’t we? Actually, we are all unique and our ministry settings and situations are unique too. As members of the body of Christ comparing our ministry output won’t benefit us and may bring more anxiety than anything else.
Another issue I observe is the toll of being a solo minister. As the number of ordained clergy decline and church membership lowers there is less opportunity to employ curates, deacons or assistants. If ministers don’t set good boundaries from early on and delegate to lay parish members, they can end up doing everything and being the sole solution to most problems in the parish.
These are just two areas I identify that can cause stress and pressure. So, what can help with all this? I believe one key answer is sharing our mental load with others.
Prioritising our mental health and wellbeing means we are putting in measures so we can last the long run in ministry. One way I encourage is to have a recurring monthly appointment in our calendar for supervision, counselling, or spiritual direction. Many dioceses are now providing pathways to subsidise supervision which will enable more people to afford this essential care and oversight. Unlike when we go to the doctor when we are sick, or to the physio when our body aches, supervision is something we can put into practice before we get too sick and achy and, is a means of prevention before we need intervention.
What does supervision look like? Professional Supervisor Emily Rotta, a registered supervisor and member of the ACA College of Supervisors says “In sessions, I create a supervision relationship based on trust and transparency. As well as providing an open space for learning and best practice which focusses on the supervisees self-reflective practices and wellbeing.”
Supervision should be a safe, confidential space where the wins and hardships of ministry can be aired and explored and where one should come away feeling heard and supported.
Let us strive to run the long race in ministry, be encouraged to find a supervisor and make an appointment today.
Fiona Preston ministers with MinisTree Bendigo and is a Spiritual Director.
Stress, Burnout, and … Creativity?
- Written by: Rev Ralph Mayhew
“What’s cracking? It’s Ralph Mayhew here and I’m a full-time minister, serving a merger church, in Burleigh, QLD and I have a YouTube channel on photography and filmmaking, which has nothing to do with my ecclesiological ministry!”
If you watch one of my videos, you won’t get that intro, but you’ll get something that feels just like it. I remember the day when I clicked the button that would send my first YouTube video live. It was a couple of years ago, and the torrent of 36 views that followed was inconsequential. It was a gamble to start my channel, as I wrestled with the question “Will this bring me more life or take it away?” This was the only question I needed to answer. I had a hunch it would, but the only way I’d know, is if I tried. I did try and it has, tenfold.
This question “Will this bring me more life or take it away?” is a dangerously underrated question we often feel guilty asking in the world of Christian leadership.
I sit with lots of new leaders, many of them young who are feeling tired, worn out, stressed, perhaps even angry, exhausted, frustrated and with declining mental health reserves. The common thread in every one of these scenarios is they are putting out more than is being poured in. Their life is being taken away, and not being replenished. They are gaining the whole world of ministry (only not really) and losing the health of their soul in the process.
“But I meet with God every day, I read his Scriptures,
I seek his will for my life and my ministry. How can I still be feeling like this?”
A valid retort, but unfortunately an incomplete one. As these words are expressed, Psalm 23 whispers to me “I will make you lie down in green pastures.” I often wonder if God is saying to this generation of Christian leaders, ‘you need to find a place where you are reconnected with where you came from. Where you find joy, meaning from being, express your creativity and aren’t held hostage by unrealistic measures.’
Of course, time alone in prayer, and Scripture study is imperative to our health as leaders, but the story is much broader and deeper than just this. Our story began with a creative God, who breathed us into existence. We could have looked like anything God desired, the result being we were inspired by his own image. In exercising his creative Spirit he produced us in the form we have.
The writer of Genesis declared: “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)
We were created, we are created beings, by a creative God, who declares his creation to be made reflective of His image, a creative one! Do you see the common thread? We were made by the creative spirit of a creator God, to live a creative image, by creating. So why is this the first thing to be eroded in a leader’s
life as they step into the river of Christian ministry? Perhaps because the creativity the church requires from us (especially now); perhaps the time and energy we might otherwise invest in personal replenishing creativity, has been all but used up by the demands of ministry.
When I push back on those leaders and ask ‘what are you doing that is creative? That isn’t attached to any goal posts or key performance indicators, that brings you joy and causes your energy to be spent in a most wonderful way?” They nearly always look at me with loss for words, a lingering grief with a hint of intrigue. The intrigue comes from the invitation into creativity, which resonates with something deep inside them.
As the conversation ensues there’s always something that causes them to say “You know, I used to do that,” or “I’ve always wanted to learn about that or give that a go.” Those who follow through find greater balance, increased joy and a creative expression that repairs and sustains their soul like nothing else can. It’s as if they now get to enjoy the most painless and freeing therapy session, whenever they wish.
That’s why I’m on YouTube. That’s why I’m a photographer. It gives me life! It improves my relationships, my ministry, my energy reserves and my mental health.
Making a video, of which I have done a few times now, is a wonderfully creative experience. It starts with an idea, then develops into a plan, with a loose script, I then film and re-film, and sometimes, re-film again. Then we go to the editing room a process which has gotten longer and longer, correlating with the length of time I’ve been on the platform, and finally I export, upload and release it to the world.
My channel is about photography and filmmaking, which is the other creative pursuit I document with my videos. I call it therapy. Getting outside with my camera in creation. Accepting a challenge to capture something intricate, beautiful or bizarre. It enables who I am to be celebrated and expressed, in a way that doesn’t need to please those who have varied expectations of me (think: those you minister to).
I love those stages, all of them, because each, in their own way are creatively replenishing. Replenishing because I am exercising my creative muscle, outside of the need to please anyone or anything. It gives me life, it stretches my ability to think beyond constraints, it offers something that may help others, and it ushers me into wonderful connections and relationships with people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
I can spend my full day off, planning, photographing, filming, thinking and creating, and as a result I then move into the following week with far more energy and vitality than I had previously. I’ve discovered that when we take our cues from culture about what it means to replenish, binge watching Netflix on the couch, that the image of God within us is dulled.
But when we adopt the same stance that our creator God took, who is madly in love with us, we discover life, replenishment, strength, courage, hope, joy and creativity, all of which God then uses in our ministry.
I have also discovered that there is only one person who can truly give you permission to explore this for yourself. It’s you! And me now, too, I guess. No one else will be able to gauge or trust the incredible value a unique creative pursuit can have for you, but you can try it for yourself and see. My prayer is that you do!
Ralph Mayhew is the pastor at Burleigh Village Uniting Church and you can find him online at Ralph Mayhew Photography (http://ralphmayhew.photography/)
Becoming Single Minded
- Written by: Dani Treweek
In one sense, it’s no more important that we Christians be more faithfully single-minded right now than at any other point in our history. The Body of Christ has always included single men and women. Biblical passages such as 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Timothy 5 disclose the vital presence of unmarried, divorced, and widowed members within the first-century church. The Early Church Fathers demonstrated high regard and concern for those who remained unmarried (or, in their vernacular, virgins). There was also a prevalence of unmarried men and women throughout the Middle Ages. This included monks, nuns, priests, and ordinary, everyday “single” and “single-again” Christians. Indeed, unmarried individuals, particularly unmarried women, would go on to constitute a significant portion of the population of early modern Europe as well as those nations that it would colonise.
That is to say, there has never been a time in the church’s history when singles have not formed a recognisable and substantial part of its membership. As a result, there has also never been a time in the church’s life together when it hasn’t been necessary for the church to be genuinely and earnestly mindful of its unmarried members. And yet, there is a genuine sense in which our current moment seems especially imbued with a call towards a renewed and re-energised sense of faithful, Christian single-mindedness. The reasons for this are theological, pastoral and also, missional.
- Written by: Andy Pearce
REV ANDY PEARCE
It’s January 24th 2021 and I, my wife Kim, and our five boys are sitting in a church we have never visited, living in a house we have never visited, in a city we have never visited, in a state we have never visited, meeting the people we are about serve for the very first time.
We are 50km south of Perth at St Nicholas’s Anglican church, Rockingham for our first Sunday. People are looking at us inquisitively; the way you look at exhibits in a museum or animals in a zoo. The repeated questions on their lips: “Do you know what you’ve signed up for? You know this church is very different from your previous church?”
And they were right! It was very different from City on a Hill Melbourne. It was physically 3500km away and the culture even further. This small quaint 80s building - furnished with stained-glass, sanctuary light and matching aumbry - was home to 100 mostly retired saints; one of whom had actually met Graham Kendrick. It was quite different to our large inner-city Anglican church that gathered millennials in a cinema, sang to a rock band and where smart dress was a lumberjack shirt and box-fresh sneakers.
But yet, there was a warm familiarity and beautiful similarities. There was the same commitment to the living and active Word of God. The same heritage of, and hunger for, engaging, faithful bible teaching. The same desire for people to encounter, and be disrupted, by the glorious gospel of Jesus. And above all, a very familiar warm and infectious love for Jesus that showed itself in a generous and practical love for the Pearce family.
Both Kim and I have never felt so called to a place than we have to Rockingham. God had convicted us to move from our big network church and serve Jesus in a local church. So, we started to pray for an open door into a local church that had an evangelical heritage, was close to a major city and had an ambition to innovate and reach the lost for Jesus. Rockingham ticked all those boxes and after some pretty miraculous answers to prayer, the Archbishop of Perth invited me to be the Rector of the Parish of Rockingham-Safety Bay aka. St Nic’s.
Since my commissioning in February, I have tried to keep my leadership approach simple and faction free; attempting to love people, invoke joy, build trust and see what God is doing in the church and the community. This season has seen my longest week-to-week preaching stint since leaving Bible College. I conducted more funerals in my first month than my entire ordained ministry. I have tried to strengthen the strengths, note the blind spots and identify low hanging missional opportunities; very conscious that I stand on the shoulders of some fine evangelical ministry.
Through it all my prayer has been for God to give me a fresh delight in Jesus that would continually shape me and radiate from my preaching as I embrace God’s people with Christ’s love.
By God’s grace we have seen immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine. We have seen joy and warmth envelope a full church each Sunday; with newcomers arriving and staying. We have seen people give their lives to Jesus, had baptisms on the beach and seen a wonderful new boys’ gardening ministry called ‘Sprouts’ start at the local primary school.
One highlight has been a young guy - in his 20s - who came to trust Jesus for the first time recently. Before
arriving at St Nic’s, Murray had never been in a church or opened a bible. On his first visit, someone gave him a bible and told him to start in Matthew and work his way forward. He could not put it down! By Wednesday he was half way through Luke and after a month of questions, listening and wrestling with God’s Word, Murray bowed the knee to Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
Mike McKinley wrote that church planting is for wimps. Well, I don’t know about that, but taking on an existing church you have never even visited is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but one that has given me much joy and a fresh delight in the sovereignty and goodness of our wonderful God.
We are excited to see what God does in Rockingham as we trust Him to build His house and serve our Father as His devoted labourers. What a privilege that is.
Rev Andy Pearce is Rector of the Parish of Rockingham-Safety Bay in WA
Together for the West
- Written by: Peter Greenwood
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to ask a senior Melbourne evangelical leader a question. He had just spoken on the theme of church leadership and repentance, and I was curious. “What would you see as a characteristic sin of the Melbourne Church? His answer came quickly, and was not a particularly surprising one. Tribalism. As a whole, Melbourne Christians stick to their denominational and theological groups, and have little time for others. I came to Melbourne in 2010 to study for ministry at Ridley College. Since then I’ve heard the same diagnosis made countless times. Sometimes accompanied with other words to the effect that they would love things to be different, at other times with the unspoken sentiment that this is just the way it is and things won’t change.
Not once have I ever heard someone posit a solution. Of course ‘ecumenicalism’ - cross-denominational relationship - has always been a thing. There are pastors networks all over the city doing good work in encouraging each other and occasionally collaborating together. But I think it would be fair to say they are not making much dent in changing the tribalistic culture of Melbourne.
A few years ago I was at a conference hosted by City to City Australia. The speaker was Neil Powell, a pastor from Birmingham, UK. Ten years ago Birmingham had few healthy churches, and no culture of church planting. A random meeting between Powell and John James, pastor of a charismatic church just a short walk away from Powell’s church, led to a conversation about what would happen if dozens of churches across denomination and tribe began partnering together in a new way for the sake of the city. From that conversation came a church planting movement – 2020 Birmingham - and a book - Together for the City.
Powell’s story really captured my imagination, and got me thinking about my own context. I planted a church in the inner west of Melbourne in 2015, and I soon realised how under-resourced the western suburbs are when it comes to Gospel ministry. Churches are few and far between and there are some newer suburbs that do not have a church at all. Pastors I met were generally unaware of what other churches are doing to see the Gospel go out, and there is very little communication outside of denominations.
Inspired by Neil Powell, in late 2019 I decided to email every western pastor I knew and invite them to a meeting. Eighteen turned up, some of them people I didn’t know, from churches I didn’t know existed. That meeting sparked something we now call Together for the West - a movement of pastors, planters and leaders with a clear vision to see 20 new churches, 20 renewed churches and 1000 new Christians in the western suburbs by 2031. Currently we meet weekly to pray for revival in the west and look for ways to partner together for the sake of the Gospel. We deliberately put aside issues of secondary disagreement to build genuine friendships out of a commitment that so much will not happen, unless we do it together.
Tim Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Co-Founder of Redeemer City to City, has said on numerous occasions that it takes a movement to reach a city. Movement is a buzzword at the moment, but in Keller’s definition no single church, network or denomination can be a movement. A movement of the Gospel happens when the churches of a city move from being in ignorance and competition to cooperation and collaboration. It’s when the Holy Spirit convicts us that, far more important than our differences, is what we share in common - the same God, the same Gospel, and the same Mission.
The church is the Body of Christ - made up of many members with essential gifts. This is true, not just of the universal Church, nor just of the local church, but also the church of a city. We count Presbyterians, CCCVAT, Churches of Christ, Australian Christian Churches, Gideons, AFES, Anglicans and FIEC as members of Together for the West, and each one adds something unique and wonderful to the movement. Yet we are not satisfied, we long to welcome members of all tribes who share our vision for the West.
Perhaps tribalism is not just the way things are. And perhaps the solution is not actually that complicated. It can start with a coffee, or with an email, or with a Zoom call. To quote Andrew Katay, CEO of City to City Australia, it starts with the dangerous question, “What won’t happen if we don’t do it together?” Then it continues with a determination to chase after a razor sharp vision of what God just might do if we do do it together.
Rev Peter Greenwood is the minister at Inner West Church, Melbourne