We’re now in the middle of winter, and it’s not just because the temperate outside is low. We’re in the middle of winter: the long, hard slog of the year where the days are short and the nights are ling. We’re in the part of the year where it gets dark out at what seems like 2:30pm. The frigid, dark season can also emblematic of the state of our soul: icy due to lack of hope, dark due to disappointment over the failures of the year.
Especially this year. Because it can seem like COVID “stole” a year. You may have had so many aspirations for your life this year, both personal and ministry-wise, that just fell through. In the face of disappointment, how do you respond?
When I face disappointment in my own life and ministry, the two ugly temptations of despair and performance coming rushing in. Despair, that nothing will ever change and I’m missing out on truly making an impact of the Lord. And then performance, if I just double-down, work harder, work longer, then I can make something happen. In those moments, when the Lord usually reminds me that I have about as much control over making things happen in the church as I do over changing the seasons. But change they do. Winter is here; summer is coming.
How Are You Preparing for Summer?
What I have been learning recently is that everything good takes time. A good marriage, time. A good career, time. A good family life, time. A good church and ministry…time. As former NFL GM Mike Lombardi points out, nothing happens quickly. Unfortunately, we can sabotage significant and lasting change by making our self-imposed deadlines too tight. Having unrealistic goals and self-imposed pressure can hamstring us from doing the ministry that God has called us to do over the long haul.
Although it is (literal) winter, we are also in the midst of a dumpster fire when trying to get things done. We’re all home more and can be easily sucked into the endless distractions that the internet or home projects or kids provide. Kids are home with virtual learning so many parents are now doing TWO full-time jobs: they’re normal job and being a homeschool teacher. Some spouses have been reluctantly dragged into teaching their children as well.
On top of all the parenting issues within the home, our country’s leaders have refused to tackle the large issues such as helping families with childcare so that parents can continue to work. They have seemingly debated various bills and bailouts which seem more to score political points than provide help to struggling families and individuals. We’ve seen certain industries of the economy completely gutted, forcing many to scramble to just make ends meet. Instead of solidly making an income from one job, many are trying to piece together as many “side” or “gig” jobs as possible. The combination of parenting and economic pressure makes getting things done very difficult right now. Such admission is not an excuse to do nothing, but instead an invitation to extend grace both to those around us and ourselves. We are not our productivity.
Because change takes a long time, and because we’re in the middle of extraordinarily difficult circumstances, we must be patient. We must look to the (literal) summer. Things will open up a lot more this summer. We will be able to gather as the body of Christ much more frequently and “normally” this coming summer. But we must not rush to get to summer in the middle of winter. If we do that now, we can end up making costly errors and set our ministries back.
So how can we prepare for summer? Preparing for summer looks like identifying and cultivating the small habits for our ministries which will yield large pay-offs in the future. Preparing for summer looks like building a strong ministry foundation over the next five months so that we have capital, both financial and time, to spend.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
- Identify and Cultivate Small Habits: This past summer I was able to score my first book deal. I am contracted to write a commentary on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes for the Kerux Commentary Series. But with all the other writing projects I have going on right now (Sunday morning preaching, Sunday evening preaching to Youth Group, a doctoral research project), I don’t really have the time to sit down and spend long hours writing the commentary. But what I can do now is make a weekly habit of reading a certain amount on the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. By committing to a small habit (reading for 15 minutes a day), I can dig a deep well to draw from when the time is right.
- Building Capital: How can you build financial and time capital to spend later? I think one of the best ways to carve out time is by developing an airtight productivity system. The purpose of being productive is to accomplish the mission of God, to do what God has called us to do. We cannot do that, however, if our time and attention is grabbed by worldly things. Our focus is one of the most important skills to mature. We can also think about what future projects we may want to invest capital in. And don’t think of investing capital as merely spending money on stuff. How can you invest money into people? Maybe instead of using your ministry budget to buy curriculum, a better investment would be to spend it on childcare. Hiring a few faithful and reliable sitters to consistently handle that need may take the stress off of your plate of having to recruit and follow up with volunteers. Or maybe it means paying someone to handle the tech side of things if you are streaming your ministry classes.
The challenges of COVID, childcare, and isolation are really big. But the biggest challenge for us as ministry leaders might be patience. The onslaught of “winter” conditions may tempt us to want to quit the journey, head home, and hibernate. The frustration of longing for “normal” may tempt to scream in anger into the blizzard. But as we put one foot in front of the other, we may just begin to feel the temperature imperceptibly rise. And before we know it, summer is here.