Dangerously Discouraged

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Redefine Yourself

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“Paula has two options,” advises Beader. “One, let someone else
take over. This on the surface seems like the easy option, but it
sounds like Paula’s dedicated and gifted for this area of ministry,
so it would be a tragic loss for her and the ministry.

“The second option may seem like a bitter pill to swallow,”
continues Beader, “but it may also carry with it the greatest
measure of fulfillment and reward in the end. Paula needs to begin
to earn, command, and expect respect. Like the centurion that Jesus
met, once she settles in her mind whose authority she’s operating
under, she’ll find it easier to stand tall and not be walked on.
Remember, the one out in front is the one who takes the most hits.
Criticism will always be part of life, so she’ll do well to learn
to glean what’s useful from it and toss the rest. As she leads with
confidence (not to be confused with arrogance), over time the
perception will change and her clear leadership will take her to
the next level in her ministry. And P.S.: Titles don’t mean a
thing.” 

On the Fast Track…to Burnout

Trent is a high-profile children’s minister at a megachurch. He’s
an author, a sought-after speaker, and still a hands-on children’s
minister. He also has two months of unused time off because he
hasn’t taken a vacation in three years. Recently he realized
something was wrong but couldn’t put his finger on it. He
eventually became so ill that he missed a month of work. At his
lowest point, he was bedridden and plagued with severe insomnia.
When the doctor finally diagnosed him, he was shocked: Trent was
clinically depressed — a side effect of serious, pervasive burnout
and stress in ministry.  

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Recognize When You Need Help

“Clinical depression is a serious medical illness that negatively
affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act,” say the
medical experts at Berkeley’s Tang Center. “Clinical depression
isn’t a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed
away. Clinically depressed people can’t ‘pull themselves together’
and get better. In fact, [it]often interferes with a person’s
ability or wish to get help. It’s a serious illness that lasts for
weeks, months, and sometimes years.”

Trent’s experience speaks to other children’s ministers who are
trying to do it all. Their diagnosis may not be as serious as
clinical depression, but severe burnout can have devastating
personal and professional ramifications.  

“The limelight has a way of [burning out]some leaders,” says
Monroe. “We’re not capable of this kind of work over the long haul,
and so we come to the end of our physical and emotional selves.
Many individuals in this state of physical burnout either try to
get back to their former ways or just leave it all behind. It’s
hard for leaders to see themselves as needy or as ‘the patient.’
But that’s what they need to be.”

“In our ambitions and our ideas of what success is, it’s so easy
to lose sight of the big picture,” says Beader. “It’s possible that
the future won’t look anything like the past — and that may be
exactly God’s plan.”

“One thing people have to understand is that you can even burn out
doing what you love,” agrees Trent. After counseling, regular care
from a doctor, and a schedule overhaul, Trent says, “I’m doing much
better.”

Where Are You, God?

Not long after Dan arrived at his children’s ministry for work one
morning, he took a phone call he’ll never forget. There’d been a
terrible car accident, and emergency workers were calling for a
chaplain. Dan’s pastor was out of town, so Dan agreed to come to
the accident scene. Once there, he met a mother of two young
children and a newborn. The father had been killed in the accident.
The mother was inconsolable — and furious with God. That day and
in those that followed, the mother harshly rejected any attempt Dan
made to console her, even rejecting his mere presence. So Dan
focused on being unobtrusively supportive and helpful, and over the
next weeks he prayed constantly for the woman and her
children.

But two months after the accident, Dan learned that the woman’s
newborn had died of SIDS. Dan continued to pray and tried to reach
out to her, again to no avail. A few months after the infant’s
death, the woman was arrested on drug charges. She went to jail and
the state took her children.

Dan was dismayed — he’d spent months supporting and reaching out
to the family, untold hours praying for them, and despite all this,
the family was torn even farther apart and had turned completely
away from God.

“It all seemed so…ineffective,” Dan laments. Though time has
passed, Dan says he’s still haunted by the family, still haunted by
the fact that his faithful ministry to them was seemingly in vain.
“I still think about them and wonder how they’re doing,” he admits.
 

Give It to God

In situations such as this, Dan says he learned that children’s
ministers have to recognize that it’s actually God that people are
rejecting — not them. “It’s not personal, even though it may feel
that way.” And, he says, he also learned the importance of “dusting
yourself off” when you’re knocked down. “My advice? Don’t let
rejection or failure affect your faith,” he says. “Our
responsibility is to reflect the Light — we’re not the source of
Light. So if you’ve done that, then you’ve done what you are meant
to do. And you have to be okay with that.”

“When we try our very best and it doesn’t produce the results we
hope for, we assume we’ve failed,” says Kuehn. “[But] we never know
just how much our support, presence, and prayers play a part in
God’s ultimate plan in other people’s lives. Never give up — on
what God can do in this family, on God’s faithfulness, and on his
power at work in you.”

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor for Children’s Ministry
Magazine.


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