We were often surprised by rain when we moved to Houston. In other parts of Texas, we could see, hear, and feel the rainstorm coming, long before it arrived. But not in Houston. Houston is hot and muggy, then hot and rainy, and then hot and muggier. Rarely do we get warning.
Our family learned to keep umbrellas in our cars. And house. And purse. And offices. We learned to be prepared for the sudden storm, when the skies were bursting with moisture that it just couldn’t hold anymore.
Through the years, I’ve learned that ministry can have rainstorms, too. The kind of crisis that stops everything else in its tracks and demands our attention. Sometimes, they are like a West Texas thunderstorm rolling across the plains. We see it coming long before the dust kicks up, the thunder rolls, and a deluge of rain pours down. More often than not, my experience has been more Houston-like—the atmosphere pregnant with possible problems, soupy with conflict, until the rain bursts and the skies open. Simple conflicts pass like a shower; others are like Hurricane Ike, and life becomes centered on the management of that one crisis.
Spiritually, we must be prepared for these moments in ministry. We need our metaphorical umbrellas ready and waiting and in good working order.
- For the hospice visit that claims our heart while our body returns to our family.
- For the family falling apart who demands every ounce of positivity we can find.
- For the elders’ meeting, on that topic, when it seems that it is impossible to find common ground. Our frustration and cynicism builds with each meeting.
- For a co-worker in ministry who falls prey to sin. The church falls into depression.
- For the assembly announcement that leads to divisions.
- For criticism from members who could not understand what leadership life is like, but they are certain that they could do it better anyway.
- For Satan preying, attacking our attitude, our family, our temptation to sin.
- For the meeting that culminates in a call for a resignation.
These storms are brewing. In your church and in mine. I know because I’ve experienced almost all of them. Speaking from a place of experience, let me tell you, always have your umbrella handy! Umbrellas do not keep the storms from coming, but they help us get through the storm. Umbrellas protect us and let the storm pass around us. Umbrellas do not keep us from experiencing the storm or the pain that comes with it, but they protect the important stuff—in a rainstorm, our clothes and belongings; in crisis, our soul. Let me suggest a few umbrellas to keep handy to protect your soul in the midst of the storm.
The umbrella of Scripture. Don’t just study to teach, study to live faithfully. Scripture reinforces our faith and calls out our sin. Spend some time dwelling in Scripture, writing it on your heart.
The umbrella of prayer. For most of my career, my prayer life had consisted almost entirely of intercessory prayer. Last year, I changed my prayer habits. Now, prayer is about my relationship with God. Sometimes that involves intercessory prayer for those whom the Spirit has laid on my heart. More often, though, prayer is about being with God, listening, and searching. I’ve learned that I can’t control crisis, and begging God to fix it quick is not healthy. God is present, and it is more helpful to me to find God in the midst of life.
The umbrella of family. Our family knows us best. The spouse who admonishes us to slow down or the kids who beg for some extra playtime are also clued into us spiritually. Listen to them and heed their advice.
The umbrella of community. God intends for Christians to live in community. Including ministers. Including the families of ministers. It can be frightening to develop real community—open, loving, confessional community. Satan has burdened church leaders with a lie that we “can’t have real friends.” Satan then traps us into sin without any voices of discernment in our lives. With nowhere to turn, sin takes hold, and Satan wins. Be brave! Take the steps to develop real community.
The umbrella of presence. Too often, I have been guilty about dwelling in past events that I could not change and worrying about the future that was beyond my control. The present is all that we have—this moment, this time, this place. God is busy in the present. Train your mind and emotions to remain in the present and watch God work.
The umbrella of trust. It is easy to declare to the congregation our trust and dependence on God. A more difficult task is actually trusting and depending on God. The attitude of trust is a discipline, much like remaining in the present or developing an attitude of love. Work on it daily, acknowledge God’s faithfulness. The goal is a natural response to trust God when crisis comes.
The umbrella of love. Can I be honest? When I’m tired, stressed, and feeling hopeless, love is certainly not the attitude that exudes from my being. It’s difficult to love some, if not all, people in the middle of a conflict. Love always exudes from God, though. Cultivating our understanding of God’s love through Jesus’s example of loving the marginalized will allow God’s love to exude from us when times are tough.
Next time a storm comes, may your umbrella be ready to cover you through your relationship with God, in godly community, and in the love and trust that comes from being present in the moment and aware of actions of the Divine.