When the Show Must Not Go On

canceledHaving witnessed and experienced a great deal over my lifetime in parachurch ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the most important question we can ask ourselves in ministry work is this: Why am I doing what I am doing and at what cost to my health, spiritually and otherwise,  and the most important people in my life?

Those who are single must also ask these questions, but those who choose to create families and then go out and work in additional ministry are the ones who need to ask this question frequently and allow themselves to give honest answers.

There is a wrong-headed view that we are ultimately responsible for carrying forward God’s work. While it is true God works through humans, I don’t believe that abandoning our first responsibilities to our families to reach strangers is OK with God. The human toll on families can be horrific.  Ask some of the children of foreign missionaries who were left at boarding schools most of the year to be raised by strangers how that worked out for them, as some of the tragic stories have made recent headlines. God didn’t give you children to outsource their upbringing to hirelings so you could minister to others. He didn’t give you a spouse for you to be AWOL. The unreached tribes are not more important than your own children. The unreached of America are not more important than your own families. No, they are not.

A mindless obsession with busyness for Jesus ends up being counterproductive. Ministries that insist on growth at the expense of the humans running the machine will ultimately crash or at the very least, lose what impact they might have had. Also, the business that creates the busyness often becomes the subconscious focus. Keeping the gears turning becomes more interesting and compelling than the spiritual and physical realities on staff. Workaholism (even when called ‘sacrifice for Jesus’) creates burnout, burnout can maim and kill, literally and metaphorically.

A friend of mine who lived nearly exclusively for his work ended his own life last fall. He did great work, and he did it all hours of the day and night, but in the end, he died by his own hand, the same way his non-Christian brother had. It is a tragedy I am still getting over. Every life needs balance. Without even a little counterbalance to work, we are doomed.

God never calls us to do personal kamikazes for Jesus on the deck of ministry. If we’re personally self-destructing to keep gears moving in ministry, we are doing more than we are called to do. If we are imploding because of someone else’s vision and wrong priorities, we are called to say no. A sanctified, holy, NO.

God is gracious and merciful. He frequently allows wake-up calls. He allowed me a wake-up call, thankfully.  But the sobering reality is that the damage to spiritual lives, physical lives, and relationships is sometimes not easily repaired. It can be permanent and life-altering.

The “show” must not go on as usual when it is harming others. That is not the work of God. That is the work of flesh and it will fail. No person, single or married, can withstand years of burnout and be OK. Those with family responsibilities have their first calling, and any job that requires more than a decent work schedule is asking you to go out of God’s parameters in terms of priorities. Any leader or leadership structure that requires or allows you to go outside a work schedule that respects your spiritual and physical and family needs is outside of God’s parameters. Idolatry of someone in ministry doesn’t end well. And when we listen to someone else’s voice over the loving voice of our Shepherd, we are asking for trouble.

There are still birds singing, flowers growing, blue skies and love in this world, and how easily we forget that in the race. We are also doing God’s work by loving and laughing and caring for those in our families first. Everything else must come a distant second in our hearts and thinking. The payoff for right priorities is without price.  And the price for wrong priorities is too high.

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

13 thoughts on “When the Show Must Not Go On

  1. Judi says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Jesus set for us the perfect example. He knew better than we do all of the NEEDS out there. But he never ran around frenetically. He always took time to spend alone with His heavenly Father. I remember Elisabeth Elliot, on her radio program Gateway to Joy many years ago, saying a question to ask in deciding whether or not to take on some task is this. “Can anyone else do this job?” (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory.) In essence, she was saying that in the Church there are many jobs that can be done by someone else. Not as an excuse to say no. But to help prioritize. ie. No one else can be my husband’s wife. So those needs take priority. No one else can be my children’s parents. So those needs take priority. I think it is a simple and helpful question to answer, as we look to the LORD for His guidance.

  2. Judi says:

    … and so much of “Christian” work is really just busyness. Kind of like the burden of all the extra laws the pharisees piled on the people.

  3. heallingInHim says:

    Oh Ingrid, So well said …. ” Any leader or leadership structure that requires or allows you to go outside a work schedule that respects your spiritual and physical and family needs is outside of God’s parameters.” — I lived this and was ostracized for refusing to take on the burden of an adult Bible study class. I had a young family and was helping the church as best as I could.
    This attitude really shook me because the Scriptures that I read compelled me to love my Savior and Lord and serve Him by serving the family He blessed me with.
    Amen, Ingrid.

  4. Denise says:

    You are so right! I faced this situation several years ago when I had committed to some very intensive projects in my church. My mother suddenly became ill, and I tried to care for her while fulfilling my commitment at the church. It became overwhelming, but I was too timid to say “no” to my church. I finally brought my problem to the pastor who said, “Your mother raised you to be faithful and she will understand that working for Jesus comes first.” It made sense at the time and I completed the church projects. My mother passed away 5 years ago, and I regret that I put my family obligations on the back burner. We bear so many unnecessary burdens when our priorities get out of whack. Thanks again for this article!

  5. Sam says:

    I think a large part of the problem is that most Christians don’t believe marriage is a calling or a ministry or even anything particularly special. It is just something that everyone does, a default state of life, so to speak. So it gets the dregs, the left overs while Christians do “real” ministry. But marriage is so much more than that. It is a calling from God, a true vocation. It is a ministry, a mission. A sanctifying sacrament.

    Most of all, it is a very real icon of the life-giving union of Christ and his bride the Church (see Eph. 5). That is the very reason why the devil hates marriage and has done all he can to destroy it or mock it.

    Another problem is, marriage is not a “sexy” ministry. Changing diapers or taking out the trash won’t get you invited to speak at conferences or multi-million dollar book contacts. But the more we understand about God’s way of seeing, the more we understand that these are the things that truly matter in his sight. The big, showy stuff? It’s all a clanging gong and crashing cymbal most of the time, and it won’t amount to anything eternally. Those who get caught up in such things, well, “They have their reward,” as Jesus said.

    My number one calling in life is my wife and children. Period. Anything that comes in the way of that is not of God and is displeasing to him.

  6. Janice McKenzie says:

    I have learned this lesson the hard way..sadly our girls were grown before I “got it.” Even now, I still have to deal with guilt of not doing, doing, doing. Presently, I am fully and happily engaged in just one ministry and that is reviewing lessons sent in from prisoners from all over this country. (Christian Library International out of Raleigh, NC) I do this at home with my ipad. It’s me and the Lord and the prisoner’s lesson. The prisoner will never know who I am until we get to Heaven. This one main ministry gives me time to make a meal for someone, send an encouraging note, take someone out to lunch and have time to just listen. This one main ministry gives me time to spend my second year studying Revelation through Precepts and to really dig into the Word and not hurridly throw something on paper or fill in the blanks…my past pattern. Our three girls are grown, but they know we are here for them anytime. My husband has a great meal at night (well, most nights).Yes, we sit down and chew our food slowly. And best of all, I have time to listen “and be still and know that I am God.”

  7. Ron says:

    I too have had to learn this the hard way. I sacrificed my family for the church because I chose to listen to man instead of the Word. I lost so many precious years that I can never get back, all in the name of church. I now make it my mission to guide others in the light of scripture along with sharing with them my own failure in the hope of steering them away from a lifetime of regret.

  8. Marika says:

    Ingrid, is there any word on what will happen to VCY America leadership in the future due to Vic’s ill health? I’m sure donors are interested in the future of the ministry. Do you know if there is there a plan in place?

  9. Donna says:

    I have a background in management and don’t know that there’s much doubt what will happen there. Healthy organizations are structured with succession plans in mind. They do not depend on a single person or even a few people. And they have checks and balances, so that one person is not permitted to dominate decisions.

    This organization certainly appears to have been run as a mini-dictatorship. That means it is inherently unstable. And if the uncontrolled “leader” (misuse of the word) is incapacitated or otherwise unavailable, it falls apart. The price of failing to have an appropriate structure to begin with.

  10. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Hi Marika, I am sorry to take so long to answer you. We can only hope that the same board of directors that showed so little concern for 3 faithful (their own words on our plaques) employees of nearly a quarter century each and their families will show a much greater regard for the future of the donor supported organization.

    As readers of this blog and Spiritual Sounding Board are aware, this Board of Directors allowed their organization’s name on a legal threat letter against our family and my sister’s family for seeking Christian mediation of the shameful family and employee situation and sharing our hearts with a local pastor who tried to help us. We ignored their unbiblical letter, and since that time, they have shown absolutely zero interest in clarifying, retracting or explaining themselves regarding the threat. It simply hangs in the air like a bad stench. Dr. Randall Melchert and cohorts believe that we were not human enough to deserve at least professional, if not Christian, treatment. The Lord knows and has seen all of it, and the future of everything belongs ultimately to Him.

  11. J.L. Pattison says:

    Excellent article, Ingrid. And excellent comment, Sam.

    Sadly, the devotion to multi-million dollar church buildings (and the activities carried on inside) has become the sole purpose for having church buildings and all those activities carried on inside. The purpose for their existence is now circular.

    Don’t believe me? Leave the local church and watch how fast your “brothers” and “sisters” lose your number. The local church is no longer about God, His gospel, and His people; it has become nothing more than a social club for those following a therapeutic, moralistic deity. And as a result, the anaemic sheep are pushed aside to make room for the bloated goats.

  12. Rose says:

    Sam, I passed your comment on to my son, a young father of an 18 month old with another one on the way this Fall. He was very encouraged by your words. Her wrote back: ‘Thanks, Mom! . This was very motivating for me to work hard to ensure my family life really glorifies God.’

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