Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Frustration of Unidentifiable Results

If you need identifiable results from the work you do to feel affirmed, do not go into ministry.  In most professions if you do the work you see results.  They may not always be the results you want, but the results, either positive or negative, are identifiable. 

Doctor - you either make someone better or you don't...either way there's an identifiable result

Lawyer - you either win the case, lose the case or find middle ground with a plea bargain...either way there's an identifiable result

Mechanic - you either fix the car or you don't...either way there's an identifiable result

Farmer - you work to raise crops or animals and see the results

Accountant - you crunch numbers and find the results of the numbers

Sales person - you either get the sale or you don't...either way you know the outcome

Manager - people either want to work for you and do well for the company or they don't, either way, while it may take time, the results will be identifiable at some point

Therapist - if it's a long term relationship with a client - you either see progress or not - either way there are results


You preach - you put your heart and soul and self into a sermon and deliver it yet you never know if it really connected.  You never really know how God is using it in people's lives that week.

You counsel - you share time with an indivdual and/or couple and encourage them and point them to biblical truth and may even make a difference in their lives. But you can't see whether or not they are genuine and "buying" what you are sharing with them. You can't see what's happening inside of them.

You officiate funerals and weddings - you plan and prepare for these important services.  You deliver the eulogy at a funeral and the message at a wedding but you never really know if your words helped the family or if your words will be heeded by the man and woman.

You lead - you lead by pointing the leadership of the church towards changes that you believe are desired by God.  Those decisions are made and change occurs that could either shrink the church or grow the church, either way, while there may be results, it's hard to discern whether the results are because of a good decision or bad decision.  Numeric growth doesn't always equal health and numeric decline doesn't always equal lack of health.  Sometimes a church needs to shrink before it grows, it's just hard to see whether or not the results are due to a wise decision or unwise decision.

Please do not misunderstand, I love being in ministry and I am not trying to gain pity or sympathy.  I am not trying to say "poor me I can't see results."  More times than not I find myself fulfilled with what I am doing.  And to be honest, there are times when you do see and hear about results (I'm not talking about the assumed "good message pastor" on the way out after the service, that's usually...not always...but usually just a cordiality).  Maybe it's a phone call after a sermon or a card after a visit or an e-mail several years after counseling with someone.  These are wonderful affirmations of your ministry, however, they are few and far between.   

What I am saying is that ministry is unique.  There have been seasons in my ministry that are frustrating because I cannot see results even though I am putting in the work.  It's difficult to work and work and work and see no identifiable results of that effort.  Dealing with that frustration comes with the territory of ministry.

So if a person is results oriented and called into ministry, they need to know that they will face the frustration of unidentifiable results in their ministry at some point or another.  It comes with the calling.  Maybe this is one reason so many pastors burn out in less than 7 years.  They get tired of not seeing results of their efforts and choose a career where identifiable results are more obvious.  It makes sense.

There are three ways I deal with the frustration of unidentifiable results in ministry:

1. When there is an affirmation/result of my ministry, I accept it and give it staying power in my life...I know I'm going to need it to last a long time.  I was telling a counselor one time about a "win" in ministry and how good it felt.  He asked me "is that enough to keep you in ministry."  After a pause I said "for now it is." 

2. I choose to believe that God is at work even when I cannot see it.  If I am faithful and obedient to what God is calling me to do and to who God is calling me to be, then the results are up to Him, not me.  This is hard to do when the results seem to be counterintuitive.  There is a decision the leadership at Catawba made at my request that has hurt the church both in attendance and in budget.  I still think as hard as it is, it was the right decision.  It grieves me to see people leave the church and for there to be tension in relationships but I have to trust that God is doing something I cannot see.

3. I choose to beleive that my identity is not in the results of my ministry, but in my relationship with my God.  I am called to be faithful and obedient in ministry.  I am called to be a steward and to be accountable as a leader.  I take that calling seriously.  However, the results of my ministry and the feelings surrounding those results, whether celebratory or frustrating, do no define who I am.  Choosing to live in the truth that I am loved by Christ regardless of what I've done, am doing and will ever do should be where I find my identity.  The work of Christ on the cross and the susequent result means that I don't have to put my faith in results but in the finished accomplishment of Jesus Christ.


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