On a family trip out west, my family and I were traveling home for Christmas. After four hours of traveling, we heard a loud noise outside the car. We were traveling at seventy miles per hour, but within a blink of an eye, we identified the noise as a motorcycle, screaming by us at over one hundred miles an hour.
Not ten minutes later, as I turned off the highway, I spotted the same motorcycle rider. The driver took the off ramp too fast, to the point of wrapping his motorcycle around a stop sign. As I got to the man, he was bleeding, bones were broken, he had difficulty breathing and, to add to the pain, he was lying in a bed of west Texas fire ants!
How did he wind up in such a mess on Christmas Eve? How did this experienced biker lose control and place his life in harm’s way? Simple. The driver didn’t heed the warning signs to safe cycling.
Ministry Warning Signs
Much like the reckless motorcyclist, those called to serve the local church today ignore warning signs and find themselves at devastating crash sites—their own, even my own crash site. Sometimes the devastating events are due to the actions of others, one’s outright carelessness or failure to take notice of the subtle warnings peppered along the road.
What do these subtle signs look like in the church today? I overlooked ego as an acceptable characteristic in a charismatic leader. Envy is disguised as a “desire to reach people for Christ.” Pop-culture drives the church instead of crying out to God to show up in the worship services every week. Leadership is more concerned about what they will get from the people rather than a genuine desire to serve.
As you read this, warning sirens may be going off in your mind. Take hope, there is a more fulfilling way to serve God and His people. Prayerfully seek God as to what your next steps should be.
Less Obvious Signs
On the other hand you may be the staff member considering a move to a new church. How do you keep from wrapping yourself around a proverbial stop sign? Let me suggest a couple of less obvious signs to look for.
First, check your motives as to why you want the position. Are you going because you can serve and be helpful to the church or does the allure of prestige, power, and position drive you towards the opportunity? Does the size of the congregation or salary lure you to take the job even though you have a sinking feeling in your gut? Prestige, a large salary and power can quickly intoxicate you to the point of distorting your perception of reality.
Second, what is the attrition rate of staff at the potential church? If a church has had a reputation of a “revolving door,” this is a major warning signal. Can you accept a staff position where there has been staff turnover? Yes, you can, but one needs to closely evaluate why there is a revolving door, how fast is the revolving door, and is the door spinning because of the DNA of the church/church leadership? It is foolish to think you can go in and “fix” staff retention if the church’s DNA is off balance. If the spinning door looks more like a fan, consider looking for a healthier environment to serve.
Third, what is the reputation of the church from a past staff member’s experience? Do your homework by talking with former staff. More often than not, these staff members will try to give you an honest opinion of the leadership, the church’s culture, and any dangers to avoid. As you are in the interviewing process, take note of subtle signs, such as staff appearing distant or sheepish. These indicators could keep you from a crash!
Reading the obvious and subtle warning signs can keep you on a journey of ministry that is exciting, life-changing and fulfilling. Overlook or ignore these signs, and you may soon find yourself at another ministry crash site—your very own! These types of crash sites create pain for you, your family, and the Body of Christ. Avoid them at all costs!
Already at the Crash Site?
Suppose you are standing at a “crash site” even as you read this article. You are in agony, your life seems to be in pieces, and you feel immobilized. What can you do? First, seek wise counsel to see what actions may be necessary on your part. Second, respond to your current circumstances in a loving and biblical manner. Third, constantly keep your attitude in check through prayer. Bitterness can result in serious destruction, but when you submit the pain, anger, and hurt to the Lord, you can find freedom to overcome, mature as a leader, and find freedom in forgiveness!
Crash site dummies were designed to go through crash after crash. You have a different purpose in life. You are alive and have the ability to think and reason. As you serve the Lord, be mindful of the warning signs all around you. They are there to keep you alive and safe, as well as to help you navigate through challenges of ministry. Each road you travel will certainly have its bumps, curves and potholes—so stay alert, buckle your seat belt, and take time to read the warning signs.
May your journey in ministry be filled with excitement, impact, and fulfillment as you serve the Lord!