Surviving Ministry Storms

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Batten down the hatches because conflict is blowing your way!
How will you weather the storm?

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After spending months creating a quality summer ministry for
your elementary kids, you’re very proud of your Wonderful
Wednesdays program. How awesome! Five Wednesdays during the summer
— a trip to an amusement park, a bicycle trip, a zoo trip, a
movie, and a trip to a local hands-on science museum — all opening
with singing time, devotions, and visits from local mission
groups.

While passing out the colorful booklets you spent hours
preparing, a parent approaches you. She blurts out, “Just wanted to
let you know I signed up to chaperone the zoo trip. I know you have
that policy about not bringing babies, but I’ll have to bring baby
Madison. I just can’t find a good sitter.”

Unfortunately, your safety policy clearly states, “All children
attending Wonderful Wednesdays must be of elementary school age; no
one under or over this age is permitted on the outings.”

In a very respectful, loving voice you explain the reason behind
this rule and the importance of sticking to it. The mother quickly
retorts, “Well, you can just count my Katie out of all the
Wednesdays then! A mother should be allowed to bring her baby with
her. What kind of children’s minister are you? That rule is crazy
and there are several others who feel the same way!”

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• • •

An elder calls you on your day off to question the amount you
spent on an outreach event. “Why did you spend $30 on hamburger?
Why didn’t you have the kids donate desserts? This is the kind of
waste I see all the time in the children’s area.” You try to get a
word in, but he won’t take a breath. You want to tell him, “I did
have the boys bring soft drinks and the girls bring chips.” It
looks, however, like you won’t ever get a chance to speak. You keep
thinking, This guy is supposed to be on my side.

• • •

One of your elementary teachers informs you that Mary, one of
your co-leaders, is bad-mouthing the children’s ministry and your
leadership. You find out Mary has been phoning several other
teachers to get them to contact the pastor to request your
resignation.

• • •

In times like these the phrase “Ministry is hard!” seems like
the biggest understatement of your life. The truth is, ministry is
hard! Another truth is this: Leadership, in any form, is hard. Some
days you search to remember why you ever decided to go into
ministry.

No one ever says, “Today I had three mothers mad at me and, boy,
do I feel good!” Most of us shy away from conflict at all costs.
Let’s face it, people can be mean when they don’t get their way.
Other people have bad days on occasion and, unfortunately, you
might just receive the brunt of it. Others are simply negative by
nature and fail to see the good in anything.

These conflicts in ministry are “storms.” Most of these storms
are painful at the time, but they pass quickly and become lessons
learned. By putting these steps into practice, you can stand up
against the inevitable storms that’ll blow into your ministry.

Acknowledge Your Opponent

The Bible is clear that as Christians we’re fighting a constant
battle we cannot see. Ephesians 6 tells us, “Our struggle is not
against flesh and blood.” And most ministers will affirm this fact:
Satan’s darts are aiming all the more at you as a minister of the
gospel. You are in a war against evil; you stand there with an
enormous target on the front of your body, a bull’s-eye right over
your heart. Satan desires nothing more than to have his flaming
arrows pierce your heart to destroy you and your ministry.

First Peter 5:8 warns us as well, “Be on the alert. Your
adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking
someone to devour.” Note the severity of the language used in this
verse: “prowl,” “roaring lion,” “seeking,” and “devour.” This isn’t
a picture of a little kitty playing with a ball of yarn. Satan
isn’t just batting us around trying to mess with us and our
ministries; he’s seeking to kill us! His desire is for nothing less
than for you to fail in your ministry, your marriage, and your
call. Never forget this simple truth: Satan wants you to fail!

“To live in ignorance of spiritual warfare is the most naive and
dangerous thing a person can do,” writes John Eldredge in Waking
the Dead. “It’s like skipping through the worst part of town, late
at night, waving your wallet above your head. It’s like walking
into an al-Qaida training camp, wearing an ‘I love the United
States’ T-shirt. It’s like swimming with great white sharks,
dressed as a wounded sea lion and smeared with blood. And let me
tell you something: You don’t escape spiritual warfare simply
because you choose not to believe it exists or because you refuse
to fight it.”

When faced with a storm in your ministry, don’t be ignorant of
your opponent. Be constantly aware of Satan and his desires for
your life and your ministry. Protect yourself by putting on your
spiritual armor every morning. Write the words of Ephesians 6:11-18 on a 3×5 card and place it
somewhere visible, perhaps on a mirror, as you get ready each
morning.

Ask God to help you put on this armor to prevent Satan’s darts
from hitting your heart: “God, please help me to put on the helmet
of salvation. Help me to remember that I am yours. You promise me
this in your Word. Help me show others today that I am a Holy
Spirit-filled vessel for you. Help me to put on the belt of truth.
Lord, please let everything that comes out of my mouth today be
truth and help me boldly tell others about your truth. And God,
please help me keep my armor on throughout the day so Satan’s
flaming arrows won’t pierce my heart.”

Facing the day with prayer and the full armor of God will help
you deal with the well-intentioned, difficult people you may
encounter throughout the day.

Determine Types of Conflict

Although storms or conflicts come in various shapes and sizes,
there are three main types of conflicts you’ll deal with on a
regular basis.

1. Conflict to Ignore — There will be times in
your ministry when a storm arises and you simply have to shrug your
shoulders and go on. For example, you spend all day filling water
balloons for a preschool pool party at your church the next day.
Your fingers have blisters on them from tying those little knots.
You place all the balloons in a trash can, cover it, and put it in
the corner of your courtyard. The next morning, when you come to
the church to set up for the pool party, you notice bright colors
all over the parking lot. Someone has taken the balloons and thrown
them all over the lot. Not one balloon is left for the
preschoolers. And you suspect the children from the neighborhood
across the street.

This is a wonderful example of a conflict that doesn’t need to
be dealt with. You may’ve heard the phrase, “Pick your battles.”
This is definitely not the one to pick. The worst thing you could
do at this point is to walk in anger across the street and accuse
different children you’ve been trying to invite to church of
breaking your balloons. The preschoolers are getting ready to come
and they don’t have water balloons, but they do have pools, water
guns, sprinklers, and food. Never fear…they’ll still have a great
time.

2. Conflict to Deal With… Eventually — Some
conflicts just aren’t that pressing. At the start of this article,
the scenario of the co-leader speaking poorly of you and your
ministry is a perfect example. While there’s absolutely no question
this situation does need to be dealt with, it may be better for you
to take 24 hours to talk with your senior minister to ask for
advice on how to handle the problem before diving into the
conflict.

3. Conflict to Deal With Now — Take a look at
this scenario: The mother of a 4-year-old comes to you after church
and shows you a circular bruise on her child’s upper arm. The child
has informed her the bruise came from, “My teacher grabbing my arm
too hard when I jumped out of line.” The mother is crying.

Without question, this type of conflict needs to be dealt with
immediately. A child in your ministry has been hurt and it’s now
your responsibility to find out exactly what happened. In fact, the
best solution to a situation this serious is to make sure you deal
with this issue prior to any of the involved parties leaving the
church.

When a conflict arises, quickly assess the situation and
determine which of the three ways you should deal with it. The way
you deal with it may not necessarily be the way that’s most
comfortable for you but the way that’s right for the children in
your ministry.

Memorize a “Keep Cool” Phrase

Memorizing a phrase for various conflict situations can help you
keep your cool in very sticky circumstances. In the bruising
incident above, silently repeat your “keep cool” phrase while
immediately getting the teacher, teacher’s assistant, and parents
together to talk. For example, repeat, “There are two sides to
every story. There are two sides to every story.” This will keep
your mind focused and allow you to maintain an open mind toward
what might have taken place.

Here are keep cool phrases you may want to memorize to use in a
sticky situation:

  • • “This person is obviously hurting.”
  • • “I’m wearing my armor today!”
  • • “Satan is not going to win today!”
  • • “You are just one person. Most people think I’m
    wonderful.”
  • • “Tomorrow will be a better day.”
  • • “Consider it pure joy when you face trials. Joy! Joy!”
  • • “What can I learn from this?”
  • • “I will never please everybody, and that’s okay.”
  • Keep cool phrases can be lifesavers.

Handle Conflict Biblically

The Bible is clear about how to handle conflict. Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If another believer
sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the
other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person
back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you
and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by
two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take
your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the
church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax
collector” (New Living Translation).

Try not to involve anyone else in your conflict until you’ve
handled things one-on-one with the other party. Many ministers make
the mistake of “sharing their frustrations” with a good friend,
their spouse, or their leadership and exacerbating the conflict.
Many times a conflict can be resolved with a simple one-on-one
meeting.

Encourage your teachers and parents to handle conflicts in this
same manner. If an upset teacher comes to you with a complaint of
how another teacher acted, encourage that teacher to go directly to
the person. You may offer this help, “If the situation is still
occurring after you’ve met one-on-one, I’d be happy to go back with
you to speak with her.” Employing this policy in your ministry will
save you time and help weed out matters that are serious enough to
justify your involvement in the confrontation. If a conflict is
minor, your volunteers are faced with the choice to confront or
forget. Most will choose to forget and will quickly realize you
won’t step in and mend every situation. Eventually they’ll only
come to you with major conflicts, which is what you want.

Ministry is hard. You have stories about conflict from your
ministry — perhaps even one you could look back on and laugh
about. I once had a parent call and yell at me on my answering
machine because he said I called his son a chipmunk in front of all
the other elementary kids. That I can look back on and laugh about.
Other conflicts still make me sick to my stomach when I think about
the words so hatefully spoken. It’s hard to get over stormy
situations in your ministry, to forget about hurtful words, or to
forgive divisive attitudes. No matter, what, though, never ever
forget your call as you take time to prepare your heart before
conflicts arise.


Jennifer Brackemyre is the author of On Target (College
Press) and lives in Wilmington, Ohio. Please keep in mind that
phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to
change.

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