Vocational Ministry

I’ve been thinking a lot about vocational ministry. What is it? For those who don’t know, it’s when a person gets paid to do the work of the ministry.

Earlier this year, a young man was offered a job at a church. It was a visible leadership position. The advice he got: don’t take it. Instead, go to the church. Love the people, learn the people, earn the trust of the people. Serve and serve well. Don’t hold back on service. Give the church everything you’ve got. Then, after some time, see if that paid position is still available.

When he told me that, I didn’t get it…but I did. God started working.

All around me were people who had been in vocational ministry, but left. Either by choice – or not by choice – in various positions of ministry. I began to ask questions of them. And more importantly, I listened. I wanted to hear where they were, what happened (as much as they could share), and what God was doing in their lives.

This has brought me to a few conclusions. These are my conclusions – and God may speak to you differently – but here they are:

Church first. Find a local body, get connected, love the people, learn the people and earn trust. You may be the most gifted leader, but you may have to start at the bottom of the leadership pipeline. I know of one person so called to vocational ministry that he accepted a job as the church facilities manager. He’s a gifted pastor and leader, but humbled himself in order follow God’s call.

Job second. Too many times, people go to a job and take their family into the church. I think we need to reverse that. It’s your family’s church first. Your job second. Don’t get that wrong. Churches change. Jobs change. Roles change. People change. But your family is who you live with 24/7. Forever.

It has to be a calling — not just a job. The call to ministry has to be just that: a calling. If you don’t know the difference, stop reading and don’t go into vocational ministry.

Serve with all you’ve got. You’ve got 24 hours in a day. What are you doing with them? The greater the calling, the more you’re going to WANT to serve. There are 40-hour/week volunteers. Be one.

Butwhat about the need to earn a living? You knowmortgages, car payments, braces, college.

There are seasons of waiting. In them, serve your church as much as you’re able. But do what needs to be done in order to support your family. I know former church staff members who have gone into real estate, sold snow cones, and worked at a soap factory.

Realize that everything can be a ministry:

“Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.”

― Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

During the job interview process (if you choose job first / church second) propose a time of volunteer service before moving forward with any further discussions on a staff position. If finances are truly an issue, propose working for the church on an outside contractor (1099) basis. Take Sundays off to be with your family, and then if God moves, take steps to get your family more involved in the ministry.

Know this: you are not alone. People have walked this path. There are many walking it with you. Many more will follow.

Follow where and how God leads and set an example for others.

And finally, stop reading this blog and go serve. Serve someone. Somewhere.

But God

But God.

Friday I’ll be about an hour from home. All day.

Friday night I’m babysitting.

I’m old enough to know where my wall is. (I’ve hit it enough times.) Hitting the wall isn’t fun. It’s hard. It hurts. I’ve seen it coming and I’ve been completely blindsided. The wall hurts and it’s hard whether you see it coming or not.

So I put a big red ‘x’ on Saturday. ‘X’ marks the wall.

But God.

But our church scheduled a day of service for Saturday.

Y’all can serve. Need some graphic design? I’m happy to help. Website update? Social media update? I got you.

Anything that can be done from my house + in my pajamas… it’s my wall day.

But God.

But then I realized that maybe there’s something I can do.

So…I’m babysitting Saturday morning for a couple so they can go serve together ❤️❤️

Then Saturday afternoon I’m possibly babysitting for another couple so they can go see a movie.

The wall told me I’d be at my limit.

But God told me I could throw on sweats and keep kids alive and entertained for a few hours. (I’ve been doing that for 22+ years.)

Do I get tired? Nope. Okay, well, yes. But no – because I’ve learned not to hit the wall.

But the same God who moves mountains and parts seas can push that wall back a little further.

☕️ Also, my love language is coffee so if you see me this weekend and I look dead, you know what to do. ✌️

Do we practice what we preach?

I write this to all of the congregations. All of you. Everywhere.

I know this: God has called me to serve vocationally in the local church. Definitely in the areas of communications, first impressions, next steps, and assimilation.

I also know I’m looking for every reason not to.

The sad part is that I don’t have to look too hard. This is a post from a group I’m in (I’ve left out a few details on purpose):

“Does anyone else notice that as we preach mental health as a Church, ours isn’t the best example? I was told on Thursday to (insert project + short timeline). Five hours of work later – on a Saturday – it’s finally done. Is it just my church??”

I have a friend who recently left the ministry. She’s posting a lot of pictures showing the activities she’s enjoying with her family. Many of the posts contain the phrase, “for the first time in a long time, I’m able to…”

Think about that. For the first time in a long time, she’s able to enjoy activities with her family.

Just last night, I received this message from a friend “…after having worked in… a daycare, in restaurants w high functioning alcoholics and/or drug users, a government job, and in a regional insurance office that included several dozen insurance salesmen, I’d never been in such a dysfunctional work environment until now.”

(She’s referring to her job at a church)

My own personal experience? I’ve missed family celebrations, flown home early from a family vacation, and even taken my laptop to and worked at the ER – when I was the patient.

I’ve loaded my personal cell phone (that the church didn’t pay for) with apps and images that were only for the church.

And I justified every second:

  • It’s my family’s church home, not just my job – I want to see things succeed (done, done well, etc.)
  • I’m earning a paycheck
  • Jesus never promised easy, He promised it would be worth it
  • I’m not hanging on a cross

I justified it because I knew it’s what God was calling me to do.

And then I ran. For many reasons. And in some way, I’m still running.

But I know I’ll go back.

Because despite the soul-crushing sacrifice, there’s another common bond among church employees: we love our congregations. Your Pastor loves you (I hope). The church secretary loves you. The maintenance guy loves you. The financial secretary loves you. Even the website and graphic design person loves you.

We know it’s a sacrifice. We know it’s a calling. And each and every church employee I know wants desperately to see people connected to the body of Christ.

And almost every congregant I know will say at some point to a church employee, “you work so hard, you need a break (day off, vacation, etc.)”

You’re right. We do.

So…what’s the point?

Here it is:

If you’re sitting in church, not DOING anything, please step up.

Assume this: every time you pick up the phone and need to talk to your Pastor, every other person in the church also called him. If you attend a church of 200, that’s 200 phone calls. And there are still day-to-day operations.

I used to spend 8 hours a day at the office, then come home to work. For real.

Please – volunteer to do something. What’s the thing you do best? What are you most passionate about? There’s probably a staff leader at your church who needs you on their team.

If you’re not sure where to start, I use a Venn diagram, Make three circles, making sure they intersect. Label each: Ability, Affinity, Affirmation. Ability should be the things you are naturally able to do. Affinity are the things you love. Affirmation are the things that other people have told you that you do well. For example: I’ve been told that I’m good with kids (affirmation). I don’t necessarily like working with kids (that would NOT go under affinity). I think that I’m able to work with kids – if there’s enough coffee. So that could potentially go in 2 of the 3. When you find the thing that hits all 3, that’s your spot.

If you know a church staff member is on vacation or it’s a day off – respect that time. I guarantee you, each and every employee will go above and beyond the call of duty, but even Jesus rested.

Resist the temptation to call, text, email, etc. (Yes, we check our emails on our days off.)

For me, my own first step back to obedience is volunteering.

And I’m grateful every day that I get to practice what I preach.

Have we already lost the battle?

Do they know how loved they are?

As I write this, it’s a Friday morning.

Our county schools have canceled in-person instruction (all remote learning today) because they are concerned about their teachers and students being able to get to school.

From their statement:

“Due to the impact of the gas shortage on staffing availability and student transportation,“

(North Carolina is currently experiencing gas shortages.)

Yet, many churches did not cancel in- person services on Wednesday night.

Now… look at this through the lens of an unsaved/unchurched person. 

Unsaved people typically reach a place of need, a place where they feel empty, or alone. It can be minor or major, but it’s there – the hole in their hearts where Jesus should be.

We, church people, scream from the rooftops, “you need Jesus!” It’s true. They do.

Now let’s jump back to current events. 

There are people anxious, maybe scared.

Heck, if I didn’t have Jesus + church people in my life I would be anxious and scared. I’m calculating the number of trips I have to take over the next few days and seeing closed gas pumps… and so there are granola bars, bottled water, blankets, and blood pressure meds in my car. Don’t think I’m kidding.

So we’ve got nervous, anxious, and scared unchurched people.

And our county school system canceled in-person instruction because they are concerned for their staff and parents of students.

Churches had the chance to lead the way on this on Wednesday night. They didn’t.

24 hours later, our county school system showed more care & concern for people than churches.

Think about what that communicates to the non-Christian. (We’re still looking through that lens.)

They’ve just been told the government cares about them more than a church does.

Why would they ever need or want a church? Why would they ever need or want a church family? Why would they ever need or want a relationship with Jesus?

This is the real battle we’re fighting, Christians, and if we don’t jump out ahead of it, we’re going to lose.

Or maybe we already have.

A Church To Call Home

2020 was….

well…

2020.

I jumped and didn’t look back. (See previous blog post.)

And then…COVID.

And like so many others, Covid impacted our lives. From new work schedules, less hours, and new school schedules, our lives were impacted in both positive and negative ways.

Every day brought more uncertainty, but with one certainty: we trust God.

And one thing I grew to love was couch church. Or as I named it, “The Church @ Marcy’s Couch.”

The benefits of couch church:

+ No commute

+ Coffee and way I want it

+ Dress code: pajamas

+ Super-comfy chairs

+ And if the Pastor says something I disagree with, I can mute him, or “attend a new church”

Everyone wanted to get back to normal. Me? I’m good with this.

But late in 2020, I realized I missed – and needed – a church family.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. I do. But something was missing.

But, like so many others, the time in quarantine gave us a chance to re-evaluate our priorities. What was God calling our family to do, and most importantly, where was He calling us to do it?

Each of us was on a different page, and we took some time figuring out where we needed to be.

But we’ve finally found a church to call home in 2021…and beyond…

We’re excited about what’s next.

Would I rather be home on Sunday mornings?

Truthfully, yes. I like my coffee + couch way better than the church coffee and pews. I’ve jokingly told the Pastor we’re game for opening a second campus.

In my living room.

And maybe not so jokingly.

I’m thinking of signing up to be the online host. Every week. Seriously thinking…

There are still a lot of unknowns, but we do know two things now: we trust God + we have a church to call home.

Truth. Grace. And #TeamJesus

A Pastor once told me there’s truth and there’s grace, but if you’re going to make an error in judgement, err on the side of grace. So I do. I almost always choose Grace. Because of that I’ve been called gullible, and a pushover. I’ve been told that I allow people to use and take advantage of me.

And maybe that’s true. But I’d rather stand before God and account for being helpful and kind than stand before him and answer for the times I selfishly didn’t help someone.

And just because you offer help doesn’t mean you condone actions.

Think of it this way. If someone is playing with fire, you might say, “don’t do that, you’ll get burned.” They continue to play…they get burned.

Quick…what’s the first thing you do?

Treat the burn. Get them out of danger. Show compassion. Care. Love.

Then have a, ‘what we’re you thinking!?’ moment.

I’ve seen way too many leaders fail – moral failures, mental illness, etc. I’ve seen way too many Pastors need to step down. I’ve seen Pastors take their own lives.

As easy as it is to get angry at their failures — and believe me it’s easy, we have to be compassionate.

When the unthinkable happens, we have to remember our Pastors and leaders are people, too.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve sinned and grieved the Holy Spirit, I feel guilty. Guilt usually leads to remorse and repentance, but that guilt valley is a deep – and lonely – one.

In my deepest valleys, I’m most grateful for the friends who stick by me.

So… here’s a challenge and a few tips from someone who’s walked in a few valleys herself.

Challenge: Do you want to be known for being compassionate, forgiving, and trustworthy?

So…Here’s what I needed (and what I believe anyone going through a valley needs):

1. A safe place to worship. I found myself at one point without a church home. I was so grateful for a friend who took me to church (a few towns over from mine).

2. Meals and money. So many times, a step down from ministry means a loss of income and it might often mean a relocation. Organize meals, do what you can to provide financial assistance.

3. Prayer. When a believer has done something wrong, they know. Falls can be public…and hard. Let someone know you’re praying.

4. Someone to believe in you. Let’s face it, our leaders got to be where they are (or were) because God gifted them. A failure doesn’t remove the gift. I’ve seen leaders fail, and make a comeback. Having been there, I’m eternally grateful for the people who believed in me.

5. Chocolate chip cookies. Because who doesn’t sometimes just need a cookie?

If you go this grace route, don’t fault the “truthers.” They want justice. They’re not wrong, they’ve just chosen another stance.

In the end, we’re on the same team.

The same Pastor taught me that. #TeamJesus

I Jumped

I’m looking at the perspective of this picture. Someone has climbed – presumably a long way up. It may be hot, it may be dry. To find relief from those conditions, the option is to jump. Jump into cool, refreshing water.

Would you do it? People do all the time. I’ve watched cliff divers when I’ve been on vacation. I don’t know if I could do it. What’s below the surface? Jagged rocks? Nope. I’m not that brave.

But a few weeks ago, I did it.

I jumped.

Not literally.

Figuratively.

And the next day I was filled with fear. Terror. Gut-wrenching pain.

I cried. I sobbed. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t form words.

Had a made the biggest mistake of my life?

Maybe.

Until…

God said, “I got this.”

And He did.

I used to stress over composing weekly emails to over 1,000 people.

Now I’m copying and pasting HTML code for emails that reach over 7,000.

I ran social media pages that reached into the low thousands, with connected groups made up of hundreds of people.

I open my social media feeds now and see over 20,000 people in a group and many thousands following our page.

I used to get excited over social media notifications. Now I’ve turned them off. There are so many, I can’t do my job.

My written or simple Google Doc to-do list has become a collaborative task list in Asana, where I’m learning how to do a kanban board. (Can I edit an existing project or tasks and move them to a board or do I need to start over? Help!)

I dreamed of ways to impact a small geographical area. Now I realize I’m impacting the world.

I wished for a window office. Yesterday I spent all day working outside.

God instructs us to stay faithful in the small things and He will bless that. He keeps His promises.

I remind myself to stay humble. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. Getting people to a relationship with Him is the most important thing I will ever do. Ever.

It’s taken sacrifice. I’ve given up comfort and security and I’ve invested both my own time and money.

People have graciously allowed margin for error. I’ve surrounded myself with people who give grace and forgiveness, and who believe in me. When I fail, I’m going to fail fast, fail up, and fail cheap.

I’ve owned my mistakes. I’ve apologized. I won’t make the same mistake twice.

I’m staying connected to my local church and will serve her in whichever way best serves the leadership. She’s the bride of Christ. I need these people in my life.

I’ve learned this: every time God calls us TO something, He also calls us to leave something. It happens every day. You leave your house to go to work. You leave work to go home. You leave. You go.

Are you ready to jump?

You CAN do it…but will you?

It begins by trusting. And saying yes.

Putting God First

Two date nights in one week!

I promised you new content each week, and I’m already a day behind! But I have good reasons. You’ll see…

I didn’t spend a lot of time at my computer this week when I wasn’t working.

I logged 50+ hours this week (51). That’s a combination of hours at the office, some projects I chose to work on at home, and a few things I did in a volunteer capacity that are not actual functions of my job.

Fifty-one.

Keep that number in mind when I tell you what else I’ve accomplished.

Dinner with a friend.

Live online meeting with some friends.

Afternoon lunch with a friend.

Watched World Series games 6 and 7.

Went out to dinner with my husband twice (that’s two date nights, y’all!).

Saw a movie with my husband.

Got my teeth cleaned.

Got the oil changed in my car.

Did four loads of laundry in one day.

Finalized a project for another ministry.

I also feel well-rested and ready for the new week!

Why?

Because in addition to all of that, I made time EVERY MORNING for my devotional.

I call it giving God the “first ten.” We give him the first ten percent of our income (tithe). Shouldn’t we also give him the first ten minutes of our day?

This week, try giving God the first ten minutes of your day. Read and study His word.

Then see what He does with the rest of your time.

Burnout: What Is It and What To Do.

I’m resurrecting the blog! Why? Because I genuinely like writing. I’m not necessarily super good at it. I change tenses, will occasionally have a typo, and write conversationally, rather than formally.

But a podcast reminded me to quit listening to “the jerk.”

“The jerk” is the voice in my head saying, “don’t do it.”

Will I only get one – or maybe a handful of readers? Probably yes.

Is it all stuff you could read somewhere else or that you’ve heard before? Also, probably yes.

But it’s my blog. I like writing, and so I am.

When we left off, I had written about what burnout might look like. It doesn’t always look like a moral failure or something earth-shatteringly dramatic. Sometimes it looks normal until…BAM!

Didn’t see that coming!

I saw some warning signs with my son this summer and then one night…BAM!

He collapsed due to fatigue and dehydration, passed out for 5-8 minutes and we were on our way to the ER.

He’s fine now, and we were able to squeeze in a few fun things (would you like to go to the hospital via ambulance or via ferry boat on a sunny day?)

Within 24-hours of him collapsing and being taken to the ER, he was back on stage.

So today, I’m not going to give you all of the warning signs of burnout. When I tell you “how” to recognize it, the first thing I’ll do is tell you to surround yourself with people who will speak truth into your life.

My youngest son sometimes says, “Mom, put down your phone and talk to your family.” So, I do.

My youngest daughter sits in the front seat next to me in the car and when I’m tempted to check my phone at while at a red light, she stops me.

I’ve ceded control of my phone while in the car to whoever is riding with me.

Those may seem like small, minor things. But to our family, they make a big difference.

We’ve been operating in this mode for a few months – I’ve seen a difference.

Let me stop here and say that I have read – and I believe – that balance is a myth. I’m either growing or dying. Healthy things grow. Inactivity is stagnation. Stagnant things are dying.

However, I do believe in sabbath rest.

So, here are the ways I get there – and I’m able to do it on my busiest days when my “to-do” list seems endless:

  1. Surround yourself with the right people. I’ve already told you about my two youngest children. They are rock stars. My husband is awesome and so are my two oldest children. They tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear.
  2. Set some hardline boundaries. I have about a 36 hour window each week that I absolutely will not work (at my primary job).
  3. Limit the side hustles for a season. If you’re truly on the brink of burnout, limit the side hustles. Focus only on your primary job for awhile. Another tactic: don’t accept any side hustles without first talking to your boss about how it may impact your work. If you’re not rested or your family is suffering, your work suffers. So if your side hustles mean you’re not truly resting and investing in your family, they’ll eventually impact your work. Limit them if needed.
  4. Look at hours, not days. If the thought of an entire day off seems like too much, take hours at a time.
  5. Compartmentalize your duties. There are aspects of my job that I don’t love. It’s why it’s called, ‘work’ and it’s why they pay me. I do those things during office hours only. There are other aspects of my job that I love. They are genuinely fun. Sometimes more fun than whatever sport my fantastic family is watching on t.v.. I’ll do those things at home. For fun.
  6. Add rest to your “to-do” list. Just yesterday, I added ‘read a book,’ and ‘take a nap’ to my to-do list.
  7. Use YouVersion. I’m in a YouVersion devotional with a few friends. Do this regularly to make sure you stay in God’s word.
  8. Make friends outside of church. Some of my best friends do not attend our church. Some of them work for other churches, some have other careers.
  9. Is it your church or your job? Before I started working at our church, I told my boss that my family had to be “all in.” We visited and they loved it from the start. My husband said, “THAT was a breath of fresh air.” My kids loved it, too. I know that even if I didn’t work there, our family would attend there and I’d likely serve the church by doing exactly what I’m doing now. If it’s only a job to you, I’ll be blunt: consider looking for another job.
  10. Remember the words of Romans 8:28. God works all things for good. Not some things. All things. Even crazy schedules and long to-do lists.

If you’re anything like me, the to-do list can grow out of control sometimes. It’s a challenge to keep it under control. But I also know God has called me to this crazy thing called “ministry” and I cannot imagine doing anything other than what I do.

It’s a weird cycle. I’m not defined by what I do – I know that first and foremost I’m a child of God. Don’t miss that. But I also know how God has designed me and wired me. I know my purpose.

I also know I’m in it for the long-haul, not the short-term so I have to find ways and times to rest, invest in my own relationship with God, and stay healthy, without falling into laziness or making excuses for things not getting done.

Hopefully this has helped you – even a little bit – if you’re struggling with boundaries or burn-out, send me a message. I’d love to talk to you.

For now, I’m preparing for next week and beyond.

New content coming each week: process, progress, assimilation, sustainability, forms, church management software, family, and whatever else comes to mind.

Burnout

Burnout.

The word brings with it so many other thoughts.

Step down.

Moral failure.

Why?

One of my favorite things to do is get away in a coffee shop, find a corner table, order a strong, dark roast, and create. I pull up stock photo sites, I browse my fonts, I listen (and re-listen) to our Lead Pastor’s sermon, I look at our upcoming events calendar, I people watch, and I create.

Some people use services that provide social media content.

I use services that provide social media content.

I don’t like using services that provide social media content.

I like dreaming. I like creating. I like pushing boundaries. What do I do in my spare time? I study systems and processes, I play with demo versions of church management software (yes, really), and I create.

Is that what I do for fun? Yes.

Legit? Fun? Yes.

Recently I spent some time with my son at his summer job. He plays guitar at youth camp. At the beach. He’s 20 years old and he gets paid to live at the beach and play guitar 2-3 times a day.

Plus he gets some spending money for groceries.

I need a new job!

While I was with him, he seemed tired. He wakes up 15 minutes before he needs to be ready for the day. He naps whenever possible. On Friday morning, his roommate said they were getting ready to leave their room and they looked at each other and said, “I can’t.

They did. They did with excellence.

God got them through.

But it struck me…

Even when you’re getting paid for what you’d likely do on a volunteer basis…

You can still experience burnout.

Burnout doesn’t always look like stepping down. Burnout doesn’t always look like a moral failure.

Burnout sometimes looks like getting paid to live at the beach and play your guitar… or sitting in your favorite coffee shop…creating.

Up next: how to recognize burnout and what to do when you’re there.