Are you feeling tired in your ministry? It’s important to remember that we do not make God’s work bear fruit. The seed sprouts and grows by the mysterious force that is God at work in our life and the lives of others. It’s been said, “You can’t make a plant grow by pulling on it.” People have tremendous potential for emotional and spiritual growth—but we can’t make it happen. We may be surprised by which seeds sprout and which don’t. Our task is to do our part, and to pay attention so we notice when the fruit shows up. This is both humbling and hopeful—it’s not up to us, which is ultimately good news.
It can be a hard lesson to learn. Many church leaders are overfunctioners. Overfunctioning involves taking responsibility for others, especially for their problems and shortcomings. In the short term, helping others can be a good thing. But if it becomes chronic, it can contribute to sustaining the limitations of others, and burning us out.
Here are four questions that can help you assess your own life:
Do you feel satisfied, or resentful? Resentment is one clue that you might be taking too much responsibility for others.
Can you say no? People who are working hard at their own work can say no to requests that contradict their own goals. Overfunctioners tend to say yes compulsively.
How do you feel when you get up in the morning: excited or exhausted?
What is at stake? Is it something that is truly a key value for you, or are you simply insisting on imposing your standards on others? My husband, Karl , says to me occasionally, “Just lower your standards, and you’ll be happier!” I’m trying to learn to let go.
We are called to work, and often work hard. But when we make sure the work we are doing is truly the work we are called to do, and when we allow God to carry the pieces that are not ours to do, we’ll last longer. And the harvest will come, by God’s grace.
Rev. Margaret Marcuson works with churches that want to create a ministry that lasts and clergy who want more impact on the people they serve best. She is the author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry (Seabury, 2009). She served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gardner, Massachusetts for thirteen years.