Everyday Faith

Written by: Nathan Hill

I am sure that you find there are many voices attempting to grab your attention on a daily basis. In my life there are dozens and dozens of voices demanding my attention from the very moment I wake up in the morning—my wife, my kids, my email, people at the church, ministries I have been involved with, letters promoting the next greatest thing, my alma mater wanting more money (haven’t they received enough from my tuition!), and many others.

Therefore, I have to admit that many times I toss lots of email and snail mail without even giving it a second thought. However, there was one letter from my denomination’s International Office that caught my attention a few years ago and it has remained with me ever since. This letter was describing a new campaign that has been operating silently in the background—as it should—but holds the keys to the spiritual vitality of every Christian person.

This campaign is called “Everyday Faith” and it challenges Christians to incorporate four small practices into their routines every day in order to achieve huge results.

Here they are:

Read Every Day: We have a crisis of biblical literacy in our culture today—in our church culture I mean! What is even more puzzling for me is people who say they do not read anything at all, least of all the Bible. I know that our culture is bombarded with multi-media images and sounds and motion pictures—but we still need to read. There is a component of our consciousness that only comes alive as we process the words on a page. There is an art form of communication that only comes alive in our lives as we expose ourselves to the writing of others. So, we need to read—and we need to read the Bible. No matter how little, read the Bible every day.

Pray Every Day: This should be fairly easy because prayer is like a portable power pack, and today we like things that are portable. More then just praying on the fly, we ought to set aside even 5 minutes of God time each day to pray. It cannot be that difficult, can it? I tell the students I minister to that if nothing else take a 5-minute bathroom break in the middle of a dry class and pray while on the toilet.

Give Every Day: Be generous. Fill another’s bucket. Give away blessings to people. Buy something for someone else. Instead of looking for more of what we have, share what we have with others and reap the blessing of it coming back to us pressed down and running over. It works—but that is another blog post.

Share Every Day: Has God so impacted your life that you talk about him regularly with the people around you? I know its easy for me to talk about God at work because I work at a church. I get that—which is what makes this challenge more challenging for me than you! Start easy with softballs, telling people you will pray, or thanking God for your lunch before you eat. Share what God is doing in your life with other people—every day.

I am glad I opened that envelope that day. What I’m even more glad about is that this was not just a one-off idea—it is still running in the background and will hopefully continue to shape the way the ministers in my denomination disciple their churches.

Live your faith every day.

The Art of Doing Nothing

Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill

My wife has a new favourite saying, and it goes like this: “Not my zoo, not my monkeys.” She uses this phrase as a way to say that she is not planning to meddle with things that are none of her business, and that is sound wisdom. I have often told young pastors that I work with to pick their battles wisely, and only fight the ones they know they can win or are prepared to die for. I think everyone knows someone who has a tendency to stick their nose into everything—and I think we all find that equally annoying.

There are times, however, when it is our zoo, they are our monkeys, and it is a battle that we should die for. In these cases, the art of doing nothing is neither wise nor expedient. Rather, it is destructive and foolhardy.

The book of 2 Kings, chapter 15, records the story of Azariah, King of Israel. As king, it was his responsibility to ensure that Israel was well-managed in terms of resources, defense, and religious practices, just to name a few. We learn here that Azariah was a godly man—“he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”—yet he did not remove the “high places.” These “high places” were pagan alters where Israelites would offer worship and prayers to gods other than Yahweh as well as engage in sexually immoral behaviour. Although Azariah himself was not involved in these practices, because he was a godly man, members of the nation of Israel that were under his reign continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense on these pagan altars.

They very next thing we learn about Azariah is that the Lord afflicted him with leprosy until the day he died, and because of this his son Jotham had charge or the palace and governed the people of the land. The text does not explicitly say “because Azariah did not remove the high places, the Lord afflicted him with leprosy,” yet the implication is there and I believe it is a responsible interpretation of what happened. Though Azariah was a godly man, his lack of action in areas under his influence and responsibility caused him to be set aside (by illness in this case) and another person was given charge of Azariah’s kingdom.

The wisdom of Solomon from Ecclesiastes is pertinent here: there is a season for all things under the sun. There is a season to be quiet (i.e., when it really is none of our business), yet there is also a season to speak and act (i.e., when we have been given the authority to do so, or we are prompted by God to respectfully offer a new perspective on things).

Ultimately, the changing of hearts is the business of God by his Holy Spirit, and so we have dispensed our role once we speak or act, regardless if the words or the actions are taken seriously. When we act responsibility within our channels of authority and influence, or when we respectfully offer a new perspective when prompted by God, there should be very little room for offense (at least directed at us and the way we handled the situation), and we should have no need to become defensive of our stance if we are truly hearing the voice of God. Our role is simply to make the change, share the perspective, and then live the change with integrity.

The rest is up to the Holy Spirit—and that is really quite a relief, don’t you think?

Don’t Give Me Grief

Written By: Nathan Hill

There is a scene in the movie “Contagion” where Matt Damon looses his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) to the deadly contagious disease that eventually infected 1 in 12 people across the world. The doctor is explaining to Damon that his wife has just died; they did all they could to save her but her heart just could not keep up with the virus that was racing throughout her body. Daemon’s repose to all of this was: “…when can I go talk to her?”.

While this may have been a source of comic relief in a film that had some intense moments, this was also quite an accurate portrayal of the emotions that many people feel when they are grieving. Denial is common; so is anger, and Damon exhibited that emotion as well not too long after his somewhat ridiculous request to speak with his dead wife. In fact, those who study human behavior have stated that denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance are all ways that we as humans respond to grief.

A while ago, our junior high students explored the friendship between Jonathan and David from the book of 1 Samuel in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jonathan’s father (King Saul) was opposed to this friendship for a variety of reasons and eventually caused the friendship to be completely severed…or else he was going to kill David. Jonathan and David expressed some of the classic behaviors of grief as they journeyed though this difficult time. As time passed and Jonathan realized that it would not be safe for David to return to their land, he discreetly sent a message to David telling him to leave forever. The two friends hugged, cried and then eventually accepted the reality of the situation and departed; each in their own direction. Much later on, when messengers came to tell David that Jonathan and his father Saul had been killed in battle, David asked, “How do you know?” Once David realized that he could not deny his friend’s death any longer he became angry and killed the messenger that brought the bad news…(ever hear the expression, “don’t kill the messenger”?)

There are a variety of emotions that will accompany grief, especially if you are experiencing a significant loss in your life for the first time. Many of these emotions are normal for a season of time and when kept in proportion to the loss experienced. (In your anger it is never right to kill or injure…David was not acting as a great example of faith in this example).

The most important thing to realize with grief is that you can express these things that you are feeling and that they will pass once you are able to accept the loss. Everyone grieves at a different rate but you can hold onto the truth that you will emerge on the other side with the help of God and the help of your friends. If you are grieving right now there is no need to grieve alone; speak with your friends, pastor or a trusted counsellor.

Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Hebrews 4:15 “This High Priest of ours (Jesus) understands our weakness, for he faced all the same testing we do, yet he did not sin.”

Church Leaders are not Experts in Everything

Written by: Nathan Hill

Having been a pastor for over a decade, I have experienced my fair share of odd requests for guidance from families and individuals. In fact, you might be surprised at some of the things I have been asked. It is as though people expect that by virtue of being a pastor I have insider knowledge on divorce law/lawyers, the ethics of reproductive technology, parenting kids, parenting teenagers, marriage counselling, handling conflict with in-laws, how to invest money, what school options are best (i.e., private, home schooling, public)…and so many other things.

Oddly enough, my seminary training involved biblical studies, Greek, preaching and communication, theology, spiritual disciplines, music, pastoral visitation, and just enough counselling and family therapy to know when I am in over my head. That’s all she wrote folks! And, truth be told, pastors should not be experts in all of the other areas (and neither should they pretend to be!), and congregants should not expect that their pastors are expert in anything other than what they have been called to do: preach the bible and provide practical wisdom for life from a biblical worldview.

So, if you were to ask me about divorce, I would open the Scriptures and direct you to Matthew 5:32 & 19:9 as well as 1 Corinthians 7. If you were to ask about reproductive technology, I would remind you of the inherent value in all of human life and that we are known and identified by God as persons even in the womb (Psalm 139:16, Jeremiah 1:5). If you ask me how to handle conflict, I’d direct you to Matthew 18. If you ask about parenting, I’d remind you that God is quick to love, slow to anger. Jesus was firm on his kingdom principles, but loved people despite their actions. He pointed people in the right direction, saying go and sin no more. Even those who were to backstab him were still permitted a place around his table during meals. He never turned his back, offered lots of consistent correctives, and at the end of the day some of his closest people walked away from him—which was their choice and not a failure on Jesus’ part.

Basically, we point you to Jesus. That’s all we’ve got, and scripture tells us that is actually enough. Please do not expect us to be scientists, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, human resources consultants, business-minded entrepreneurs, or professional counsellors—some of us have training in some of those areas, but we are not experts because our professional practice is pastoring and that is primarily what you will get. And when we pretend to know more than we really do…just smile, graciously thank us, and ask us to pray for you. That should help get us back on track☺.

Balance vs. Rhythm

Written by: Nathan Hill

There seems to be a new buzzword finding its way into the conversations of young families these days (and older families too I am sure): balance. Life is busy, but we must achieve a perfect balance of all activities—work, kids, marriage, faith, recreation—in order to reap the maximum benefit from life and to live in the most holistic and healthy way. And so we set off to create the perfect schedule for life that has slots for everything that we need to do. Personally, I love this planning process—spreadsheets, numbers, organization, they are my thing. It’s the implementation of that process that gets a little murky in my life.

You see, the enemy of balance is those pesky little things that do not have a finite category but still take up time in our lives. The computer crashes during the very hour that I have scheduled to do the family finances—I get the computer working again but then I have to rob time from TV night with Mandy to do what I was supposed to do earlier. Or, our son gets sick and throws up all over me and our bed in the middle of the night, and so my plan to get up at 5AM to go for a jog is thwarted because I was up from 2AM–3AM cleaning barf out of my hair, his hair, his bed, my bed…and so on. Maybe I’m extra tired, maybe I have a headache, maybe I just want to sit down and do nothing, maybe I had to work late, maybe I got a flat tire—these things really mess with my perfectly balanced schedule and sometimes throw things into a real tailspin.

The antidote to all of this is to build more time slots into the balanced schedule of life that will accommodate these sporadic events. Yet, once I do this, my attempt to live a simple balanced life becomes really really complicated.

I have been reading a book for the past two years by Mark Buchanan (a Canadian pastor from the West Coast) called Spiritual Rhythm. I have been reading it for two years because I want to soak up everything it says, and so I have seasons and spurts where I read and seasons and spurts where I reflect on what I have read. If you have been shaking your head in agreement with anything I have written here so far, you’re gonna love this—Mark Buchanan encourages us to avoid balance and embrace rhythm. Life is always going to be tilted in one direction or another, toward one thing or another, and so its insane to fight the tilt and attempt to restore balance. Rather, a better way to live is to lean into the tilt and find out where the tilt intersects with what the kingdom of God is doing in your life at the moment.

Sounds inspiring, right? But what does it mean in practical terms! What in your life seems to be demanding the most time at the present moment? Is it your marriage, your kids, your job, your church, your health, your finances…the list could go on. Whatever it is, lean into it and find out what God is trying to do in you and through you in this tilt. Rest assured that the tilt will change as sure as the seasons change, and something else that life throws your way will make you tilt in a new direction before long.

I cannot say that I have this all figured out, but this message seems to resonate with me. I’ve always been a little inconsistent with things in life. I have a tendency to run with motivation when it is there in the moment and to become excited about a new path or activity when it presents itself. While there are things that cannot afford significant inconsistency (like paying bills or telling your wife you love her) I think that Mark Buchanan is really on to something here. Recently I have been thinking more about the rhythm of the season than the balance of my entire life. And so, I would encourage you all to do the same and see if this help you escape the untenable trap of constantly seeking that perfect, elusive balanced life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Late for Church!

Written by: Nathan Hill

My wife’s family has a tradition of showing up on time everywhere they go. I soon discovered, however, that their definition of on time and my definition of on time included slight discrepancies—about 30 minutes to be exact☺. My wife’s family considers themselves late if they have not arrived at least 15 minutes before the scheduled appointment or start time. Prior to marrying into this family, I would define on time as showing up at some point near the scheduled time, and fashionably late was just fine as well. Late, however, is a four-letter word in my wife’s family that is right up there with…well, the editorial team will not allow those other four-letter words to be published here.

So, accommodating to this new standard of time keeping has been somewhat of a challenge for me. Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where my wife and I are flying somewhere and the flight leaves at 10AM. As a 10AM flight is certainly not red eye, I would assume that we could sleep in and arrive at the airport at a civilized hour. Wrong. Let’s do the math backwards together. We must arrive at the airport two hours early, which means that we should aim to be there around 7:45AM. Therefore, accounting for traffic, weather, and the potential for terrorism we should leave home around 6:45AM. This also means that we should be loading the cars by 6:30AM, which means that breakfast is scheduled for 5:30AM and the bathroom schedule begins at 4:30AM with a 15-minute rotation. Next time we’ll take the evening flight so that we can at least sleep in until 8AM or so.

Now, in all seriousness, there are some great lessons that one can learn from this principle of always being on time—or always being 15 minutes ahead of schedule—and despite how it has cut into my sleep habits I am grateful that after 13 years I am finally catching on. This principle of always being 15 minutes early proves quite a practical thing when it come to the way that we interact with our local church. I have a unique perspective of time at my local church because I am on the platform twice each month leading the worship gathering. Therefore, I get to see who is early at church, who is there at start time, and who arrives near the end of the music. Arriving at the start time or even into the worship gathering means that you have missed potentially encouraging and vital interactions with the church family. The unfortunate habit of being last in and first out means that you do not get to know others, and they do not get to know you either. This is a loss for both you and the church.

Imagine you were invited out to someone’s home for dinner and they said the food would be served at 5PM but you can arrive early to visit. What time would you arrive at their house? 5:15PM? (I apologize if I have ever done that before!) It would be much better to arrive at 4PM so that you can visit and enjoy each other’s company. So, lets try to apply this principle to our church attendance. Try arriving at your local church at least 15 minutes before the start time each Sunday this summer and experience what it is like to know others and to be known. I trust that this will be a beneficial experience for you.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Greater Things

Written by: Nathan Hill

Have you ever wanted to do greater things than you are currently doing? Maybe you wanted to have a larger audience for your writing, a better showcase for your artistry, a more exciting career that used all your hidden talents, more elaborate adventures, more mastery of the supposedly simple things like being married and raising kids. In the church context—especially in Pentecostal/charismatic contexts—we can hear lots about doing greater things. Greater depth with Christ, greater clarity of direction, greater effects from our prayers, greater.

I believe Paul when he says that God has given the church gifts, and we are to use these gifts to edify or build up the body. This is important but not the whole picture of what God wants us to be doing—and I discovered this when preparing a message several years ago on the famous but often misunderstood passage from John 14:12: “…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…”

As any good teacher of Scripture knows, it is important to establish the context for any passage that you read. In this section of John’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they will do the works be has been doing, and they will do greater works. So, the first order of business is to determine what works Jesus was doing—we assume they were the miracles because our 21st century mindset equates “greater things” with “miracles,” especially when we are talking about Jesus. Flip back to John 13, however, and read about the works that Jesus was doing right before he said this to the disciples—this totally changed the point of my message that day.

John 13 is the story of the last supper…Jesus washed Peter’s feet…Jesus broke bread as a symbol of his soon-to-be-broken body…Jesus shared wine as a symbol of his soon-to-be-shed blood. What a letdown this was, to think that the greater things Jesus was talking about were not miracles at all, but instead acts of humility. Really? Then again, when asked about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, what did Jesus say? Oh right, the one who is the least. Again, nothing about miracles. Rats.

The prophet Micah touches on this idea of humility as well—“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

I still firmly believe that God does and can work miracles through you and me. His word confirms it and our present experience of miracles affirms it. But, miracles are things that God does of his own sovereign will to display his greatness. We do not own miracles, we do not create miracles, and we cannot replicate miracles. We should expect, anticipate, and even pray for God to move miraculously. However, what can we do that depends on us to achieve greatness and live the kind of life that says to God we are ready for him to move through us?

You guessed it. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. This is the stuff of greater things.

Holy Week — His Descent into Hell.

Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill

Holy Saturday is a solemn day for the church—the day that is wedged between our recognition of the death of Christ on Good Friday and our celebration of the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. What then ought we do on Holy Saturday (aside from attend local Easter Egg Hunts)? More importantly to our forefathers (and mothers) in the faith, what did Jesus do on this day? What is unique about Holy Saturday?

Most traditional gatherings of the Christian church (i.e., Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran) look to the fourth affirmation of the Apostle’s Creed, which states that Christ descended into hell. Christ’s purpose for this descent was to preach to those who had died and to bring salvation to the righteous. 1 Peter 3:18–20 is the closest Scriptural affirmation of Christ preaching to spirits held in captivity. Other gatherings of the Christian church (i.e., Orthodox, most Evangelicals), while affirming the Apostles Creed, find it difficult to affirm the veracity of this literal descent into hell celebrated on this very day—Holy Saturday.

When we are faced with questions of theology and doctrine we must always appeal firstly to the Scriptures that have been handed down to us. This being said, we should never ignore the wealth of history, tradition, and experience passed on to us by those faithful upon whose shoulders we stand today. Granted that Christ’s literal descent into hell has far more traditional and historical grounding than Scriptural, lets consider the impact of both options and of 1 Peter 3:18–20 on our experience of Christianity on this Holy Saturday.

If Christ indeed descended into the depths of hell to preach to imprisoned Spirits and to bring salvation to the righteous, we can be sure of Christ’s confidence and fearlessness in the face of evil. I am sure that we have all had moments when we had to speak about our faith in a hostile crowd—not always an easy experience. Imagine speaking to the disembodied souls of those who had died in their sinfulness from the beginning of time. Hostile may not describe the audience. Nevertheless, this tradition of Christ’s descent into hell does not suggest he was tentative in his approach or that he was fearful of the evil present. On the contrary, Christ was content to go to hell and back to preach a message of good news and to bring the righteous with him. Likewise, Christ will go to the depths of whatever earthly hell we find ourselves in today and will preach his good news of freedom and salvation. As ambassadors of Christ, we can operate in that same confidence and fearlessness as we bring Christ to the very areas of hell on this earth.

If Christ’s descent into the depths of hell rubs against our Christian minds because of its uncertain Scriptural precedent, we can still celebrate Holy Saturday and the truth found in 1 Peter 3:18–20. My former NT professor in seminary, Dr. Craig Evans, stated in his commentary on 1 Peter that a more appealing interpretation of this passage might be found in the story of the Watchers (i.e., the angels who fathered the Nephilim in Genesis 6). The full story of the Watchers is found in the Jewish historical book of Enoch, but is referred to explicitly in Scripture in Genesis 6, 2 Peter 2:4–8, and Jude 5–7. In this story we read about sons of God (i.e., angels) who procreated with daughters of men and introduced all kinds of evil into the world. These angels are, however, bound in prison for their behavior, waiting their final judgment on the “great Day” (Jude 6). Holy Saturday then can be a celebration of the “subjection of rebellious orders of angels to Christ”1 and the defeat of death and darkness that is, in the sense of commemoration, taking place as we read these words on this very day. No more do we need to fear earthly hells, but neither do we need to fear the powers of this dark world referred to in Ephesians 6:12. We can affirm on this very Holy Saturday the words found in 2 Peter 2:4–9, that God spared not the angels nor men (and women) when they sinned, and he was faithful to rescue Godly men (and women) from trials while at the same time holding the unrighteous to account! No matter the evil we are surrounded with in our present lives—skewed morality, attacks on our traditional Judeo-Christian ethics, spiritual warfare, and others—we need not flee in fear. Rather, we need to remain steady and love until the day that Christ rescues us, which will come not a moment too soon or a moment too late.

Tonight at sunset the church universal will come alive once again. Our traditional brothers and sisters will begin by holding Easter vigils, others with sunrise services and breakfasts, Easter Sunday gatherings, baptisms, and confirmations of faith. We can all hold to the certain assurance that the darkness of night always gives way to the illumination of the Son.

Why I go to Church (and why you should too!)

Written by: Nathan Hill

The local church is the hope of the world. These are not originally my words—I stole them from the founder and well-known preacher from Willow Creek, Bill Hybels. He honestly believes that the local church is the engine with which the message of the gospel will be spread to the world. And I believe he is right.

Early Christianity spent much of its time attempting to work out what they believed about Jesus, the nature of the Trinity, and how to deal with those who felt differently than what was decidedly orthodox. Thus, when you read the early creeds there is a lot of focus on the Godhead, and less focus on other things like the church.

Nevertheless, the Apostles Creed clearly states, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” Not catholic in the organizational sense (i.e., Roman Catholic) but catholic in the sense of universal. Denomination, ethnicity, age, or status does not matter—those whose faith is in Jesus Christ alone are members of the church. They are the ones “called out” (which is the Greek meaning of ecclesia, or church) to a new way of life together. We are united together in our faith.

Thus, participation in a local church is a necessary aspect of your faith. I participated in the local church before I was a minister and I participated in the local church during my 9-month transition period between ministry positions. I am a local church member because it is good for my faith, my theology, because Scripture teaches that I ought to gather, and because the local church is the hope of the world.

Theology: Orthodoxy is best determined in the company of the local church. We need to look only to the book of Acts to see how theology is derived in community, not in isolation. When the Jews and Gentiles were having disputes about what needed to be done in the flesh to gain entry into the Kingdom of God, the local church overseers took their views to the overseers in Jerusalem. Many people gathered over several days at this first church council to discuss what was an appropriate understanding of this matter. Over time they were able to come to an agreement that seemed good to them and to the Holy Spirit, and they wrote a letter to the churches conveying their findings. Theology is best derived in the community of the local church where there is diversity of thought and the presence of all of the gifts that God has left to his church (Eph 4, 1 Cor. 12-14), not just the few that are present among our group of friends.

Spiritual Covering: Think of the local church as a place that provides fences or boundaries to our spiritual lives. Scriptures teaches that on our own we have a propensity toward sinfulness. Therefore, standing alone makes us far more vulnerable to fine sounding deception from the enemy. The first thing the enemy will do to an isolated Christian is affirm their distrust of the local church. Despite our North American individualism, we need each other in Christian community to mount a spiritual offensive on our behalf. Think of an army metaphor—there is a reason soldiers move in groups. It is for their protection. We need the spiritual covering (and protection) of the local church.

Diversity: Now, you might still be inclined to tell me that theology and spiritual covering can be obtained in the company of a group of friends outside of the local church. What you are describing, however, is a small group and not an expression of the local church. Here is why: the local church contains not only those people that you like, but also those people that you need. We gather in small groups with friends because we find comfort and security in that. We gather with the local church because the diversity of people present challenges us to grow in character and in our understanding and experience of God. God places broken and perhaps annoying people in our path to expand our expression of love and humility.

If this has challenged you about your involvement with the local church, I encourage you to re-read the New Testament, especially the parts about unity among Christians, not ceasing to gather together, and submitting to the authorities that God has put in place. Finally, no matter how you feel about the local church in your community, do not talk bad about it—it is the bride of Christ. God is the judge over all that he created and he will right all wrongs some approaching day, not us.

Therefore, participate in your local church—it is the hope of the world.

Manage Conflict Or It Will Manage You!

Written by: Nathan Hill

Conflict is never fun—at home, at work, at play…it is just plain terrible. Some people love a good fight. Others, like me, would prefer that everyone just play nice and fair all of the time. No matter our personality, however, we will all experience conflict and we will need to manage it or else it will manage us.

I received a specific question this week from a family where both the mom and the dad are involved in ministry positions and constantly feel as though they are in a spiritual battle. I gather from the email I received that pieces of their life are continually coming unglued despite their best efforts to put them back together.

Mandy and I have experienced difficult seasons of ministry along the way. Some have been longer than others, yet all have been incredibly difficult. The temptation in ministry is also that you never leave the office at the office—life, conflict, work…they all get mixed together. There have been a few occasions when I have been determined to go a different path—back to the med school pathway, or even a two-year B.Ed. to then teach high school physics, which would be amazing! Nevertheless, when I step back and look at life as a whole, I can see that this is where God has placed me for now, and he will sustain me throughout.

Now, this does not mean that we sit back and do nothing in the face of continual conflict. We have to pick our battles, but there is a time to do battle. In seasons of ministry where things are coming unglued all over the place, here are some practical questions to ask.

Who has my back?

You need to have people who believe in you and people who are praying for you. It is best if your lead pastor and the deacon/elder leadership at your church have your back. If the lead pastor and/or other leadership do not completely have your back, as a staff pastor you are navigating some difficult waters. Ultimately the lead pastor sets the tone and vision for the church, and if there are difficult dynamics in the deacon/elder leadership it is the lead pastor’s responsibility to right the ship, so to speak. As a staff pastor, you need to let the lead pastor do his or her job without overstepping your position, even if you have great things to offer. If things are not moving according to your liking, you need to seriously consider if you can submit to the leadership above you and work in these conditions for the present season…or if this is a Paul and Barnabas moment where the path will diverge. If you cannot minister within the parameters of your job description and under the covering of your lead pastor and deacon/elder leaders, it might be time to sail on to a new ministry context.

When are you off?

It doesn’t matter who you are, how much you love Jesus, how great you are at your job, and how much going to work feels like a hobby—you need time away from church conversation and even church people. Mandy and I have a date night every Tuesday night and we have a rule that we are not allowed to talk about anything to do with church. I cannot even so much as say, “Guess what happened today?” without getting completely shut down. (Mandy runs a tight ship in many areas, and this is one of them!)

When is your time off? If you are having difficulty or even hesitation answering this you probably could improve here. So, join a gym or a bowling league. Audition for a musical! Go see a movie. Do something that regular people do, or something that you used to do before ministry.

Can you survive?

If ministry next month is like ministry was this month, can you survive? If the answer is yes, I think I can do it for one more month, then put Ephesians 6 to work in your life, pull up your bootstraps, and step back into the battle. If you decide that you cannot survive another month like you just had, that is ok. But you need to do something about it. Take a leave of absence, take a sabbatical, speak to a life coach or counselor, take a vacation—take all of your vacation time at once even! Do something that will get you out of the rat race for a short time so that you can regain some perspective and balance. Otherwise you will be out of the rat race for a much longer time.

Everyone needs balance in their mental/emotional life, their physical life, and their spiritual life. When one area is out of balance it affects all of the other areas as they try to compensate for what is lacking. Ask yourself these questions and then be courageous to take big steps to greater/higher functioning.

Everyone will have conflict, but you need to manage it or else it will manage you. That is a fact!