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  • Writer's pictureMark Fairweather-Tall

We do not lose heart...

What is September like for you?

My experience in church life is that the dawning of September marks the start of the picking up of pace in church life. Regular church activities start again after the summer break; New programmes get up and running; In all likelihood we would launch a new sermon series. Meetings that haven’t been arranged because people are away at different times would now take place. September soon becomes busy and I often have mixed feelings about this – excitement for what is ahead mixed with some regret at the ending of a slower pace of life that I have enjoyed over the summer – especially when it comes to evening meetings. Maybe there are others in church leadership who can identify with this.

This year is different, though. Even though there has been some relaxation in Coronavirus restrictions, we are still a long way from normal. We may not have been able to have a holiday in the same way and enjoyed ‘getting away from it all.’ So we may be less refreshed than normal this September. There is still uncertainty about what the coming months will bring and how we will be affected. As restrictions have eased, we have had to engage with many questions about what we do next... and this is more tiring than normal.

Let’s consider one example of this – the question about do we start meeting together for services? Exploring this involves pouring over the regulations and trying to understand how they might work out in our own particular contexts. Maybe you, like me, know this is important to do but you find it a draining process. Then we have to manage the expectations of others – some who are keen to get back together at the earliest possible opportunity, whilst others are more cautious about the implications of trying to do so. For some churches the reality is that not everyone will be able to meet in one service. So other decisions have to be made… do we hold a number of services to cater for everyone? Do we keep producing the material for those who can’t get to the live service? Either route can feel pressured combined with the prospect of increasing our workload.

So, put together that we may have had a less refreshing summer and an increased number of decisions to make and the danger is that we embark on September 2020 from a position of feeling more drained than energised. And so, as our newsletter starts back after a summer break it feels important to recognise this and encourage us to do something about it.

If you are a minister reading this, our main message to you is this: please be kind to yourself.

If you are reading this and not a minister, please be aware that if your church has a minister, they may need extra encouragement to be kind to themselves!

If you are in church leadership as an elder, deacon, secretary or treasurer, you may be feeling more drained than usual. Please be kind to yourselves.

During a quiet time a few days ago, my daily Scripture readings included 2 Corinthians 4. The first verse says: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Probably more than any other letter, 2 Corinthians is the place where Paul expresses that life and ministry is tough. In fact, there was those who argued that Paul’s suffering was so great that he couldn’t possibly be a Spirit-filled apostle of the risen Christ. In spite of the criticism, rejection and sufferings that he faced, Paul was not discouraged, he did not lose heart with the ministry he had.

As I read that verse, though, it struck me that in tiredness we can easily lose heart and actually it is the ministry that we have that causes this. Leading a church is often far from easy. We may face situations that constantly drain us. Many Spirit-filled, highly competent ministers who are called by God have moments when they feel discouraged and wonder about giving up. At one end of the scale it may be a fleeting thought, a few seconds of dreaming about alternatives – a different church or out of church all together. At the other end of the scale it may be a desperate longing of the heart as we wonder whether we can possibly carry on any longer. And there are many places in between these two extremes faced by both ministers and other church leaders.

It is worth noting that one of the most watched conversations in the resources we have produced as an association is the session entitled: ‘Beating burnout in ministry’. It really isn’t surprising that during these challenging times we may feel more drained than normal and this can lead us to losing heart. Are there healthy practices we can engage in to strengthen us? Let me draw your attention to a couple of things.

1) We might consider joining in with the new initiative of ‘The Big Church Read’. The idea is simple – to bring the whole church together to read the same Christian book at the same time. We can then discuss what we have read with others and go on a journey together. This starts on 21st September and the chosen book is: ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ by John Mark Comer, which seems especially relevant at this time. You can find more resources for this here:

2) In the coming days, Ministers will be receiving information from the Ministry Department about ‘Continued Ministry Development’. As people read that, I hope and pray they will understand the heart behind it. It is the desire to see ministers flourish and have good habits that will enable us to keep pressing on in ministry. It is sad when some become so discouraged that they end up leaving a ministry for which they had much to offer. Please also remember that as a Regional Team we are at the end of a phone or email and want to be able to support you when times are hard.

Paul could write: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor 4:8. His hope in God took him to the place where, in spite of life’s difficulties, he was not discouraged: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2 Cor 4:16. Our prayer for those in church leadership across the association is that you will not lose heart but be renewed day by day by our generous God who supplies all our needs.

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