When the Ministry Honeymoon Wears Off

The ‘honeymoon’ concept dates as far back as the 5th century. After getting married, a newlywed couple would often drink lots of mead, a honey-based alcoholic drink thought to have aphrodisiac properties. So, their inebriation made everything between the two early on appear overly positive. And then when they got sober they faced reality. In a similar way, when we take a new job or assume a new ministry role in a church (paid or volunteer), the honeymoon effect can mask the realities of this new role. So what do we do when the ministry honeymoon wears off? I suggest five ideas that may help.

honeymoon

First, what might be some signs that your ministry honeymoon is over?

  1. You may hear more rumblings and criticism than you did when you first came to your new church.
  2. People may become more overt in their criticism. In one church I delivered a message series with which a small group took issue. They boycotted the series.
  3. Mental fatigue may give way to chronic negative thinking. When we start in a new ministry, we bring dreams, excitement, and anticipation that all will go well. When things don’t go as planned, you may find yourself dwelling more on the negative rather than on the good things happening. This leads to mental fatigue which in turn leads to more negative thinking. This negative thinking loop is called rumination.
  4. You may question the decision you made to move into the new ministry role. You may begin to have second thoughts. “Did I make the right move?”

If you believe your honeymoon is ending, consider implementing these simple ideas to help you move forward.

  1. Remind yourself that it’s part of a natural ministry cycle for every honeymoon to end. Jesus also had a honeymoon (great crowds, Hosannahs on Palm Sunday, etc.) and even though He led perfectly, His ended. Yet, it had to end for resurrection to begin.
  2. Stay hopeful. When a marriage couple’s honeymoon ends, it gives them an opportunity to truly love each other. If they are both committed to the marriage, their love will deepen. When your ministry honeymoon ends, you have the opportunity to deepen your love for those in your ministry and in your church.
  3. Remember, it’s seldom as bad as you may think. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative. It’s called the negativity bias. We have five times more brain circuits dedicated to focus on the negative in contrast to those dedicated to the positive. Guard against catastrophizing like Chicken Little mistakenly did when he yelled, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The sky probably isn’t really falling in your ministry.
  4. Don’t cut off your critics. This post unpacks the important principle that distancing ourselves from our critics often backfires and makes things worse. Don’t ignore and dismiss your critics yet don’t let them use you as a punching bag.
  5. Don’t get defensive. Defensiveness only complicates matters. This post suggests 5 ways to avoid defensiveness.

So, enjoy your honeymoon while you have it. But when it ends, embrace the new ministry phase that offers great new opportunities for growth and learning. 

What has helped you weather the ministry honeymoon?

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8 Indicators that your Ministry May be Drowning You

In the 1992 presidential race Ross Perot coined the phrase, “giant sucking sound,” to describe his concern that a proposed treaty would cause American jobs to go overseas. I believe it aptly describes how ministry can sometimes feel to church leaders. Every day church ministry demands that we sooth someone’s hurt feelings, solve a ministry problem, seek new ways to grow our churches, or satisfy what seems to be some church members’ increasing expectations. Ministry does feel like a “giant sucking sound” that can suck the life out of us. How do we know if our ministry is drowning us?

Sharks

Major crises can certainly increase our stress as church leaders. But often lots of small stresses converge at once that unless we see the warning signs, we can end up casualties of ministry. Several years ago several church issues converged at once and I found myself not liking ministry, feeling stressed, and not being a very nice person to be around. I had to step back to re-calibrate my life. My first step was to take inventory and define reality.

I’ve listed below what I saw happen to me as I got sucked into ministry stress. As you read these, ask yourself if you can identify with any.

  • I felt like I was skimming my most important tasks as the senior pastor in an attempt to get to everything else that was screaming for my attention.
  • I felt so tired when I got home that I wanted to go to bed at 8.30 every night. Sometimes I did.
  • I easily began to do mind-numbing stuff like check Twitter every hour.
  • When I went home all I seemed to talk about were the problems at church.
  • What I’ve always enjoyed doing (looking and dreaming ahead about new ministry ventures) I now had little internal drive and motivation to do.
  • My daily devotions suffered.
  • I felt achy all the time.
  • I felt anger floating just beneath the surface ready to quickly surface when faced with another stress.

If you hear that “great sucking sound” in your ministry, I suggest you take inventory as I did as a first step in gaining a healthy balance in ministry.

What have been indicators of that “great sucking sound” in your ministry?

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3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame

Shame is a powerful and often silent killer of our soul. It has afflicted many pastors and ministry leaders. Edward Welch, author of Shame Interrupted (a great book) defines shame in this way. Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. Or, to strengthen the language, you are disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses (Kindle loc 177-180). So how do we deal with it. Here are some thoughts.

Upset boy against a wall

3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame

  1. Realize where shame comes from. 
    • It comes from our own sin.
    • It comes from sins others commit against us.
    • It comes simply by association (i.e., someone in your family commited something scandalous and you feel shame because of it).
    • It comes from our humanness (i.e., when we realize we don’t have what it takes to achieve our goals in life; this is often true for pastors when they realize they may never pastor a big church).
  2. Take comfort in God’s perspective on shame.
  3. Make four critical decisions.
    • Turn to his face in repentance. Read the amazing story of Isaiah’s encounter with God in Is. 6.1-7 for the biblical basis of my thoughts below.
      • When we feel shamed, we don’t want to look someone in the face. We want to avoid them. However, Jesus wants us to come into his presence and look Him in the face to deal with our shame caused by our own sin. He wants us to confess and repent. Psalms 34.5 says, Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
    • Receive his touch of forgiveness.
      • Jesus often physically touched the outcast, broken, and shamed. Human touch can often melt away shame. Jesus wants us to experience his touch of forgiveness and cleansing
    • Drink deeply of His Spirit.
      • In John 4 we read the familiar story about the woman at the well. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water, he crossed many shame barriers: rabbis did not talk to women, Jews did not talk to Samaritans, and Jews did not contaminate themselves by eating or drinking with non-Jews. He offered her life-giving water from His Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit can wash away our shame as it did for this woman.
    • Feast at his table of acceptance in the church community.
      • After Peter denied Jesus, he felt great shame. Yet, after Jesus’ resurrection and after Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, he had a meal with Peter and the other disciples which pictured his being welcomed back into community. Shame can melt away when we experience real community in the church.

Shame stings, but it need not be deadly. Although people and circumstances around us may still shame us (and it hurts), Christ can release us from its destructive power.

1Pet. 2.6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

What has helped people you know deal with their shame?

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10 Ways Porn Damages your Brain

I just finished the message I will bring to our church in two weeks entitled, How Porn Changes your Brain (for the worse). It’s part of a larger series on sex. With my prior interest in the brain and my recent research on the brain and porn, I’m amazed at how deadly porn can be not only to marriages and our walk with Christ, but to the brain. Consider what science is now telling us. 

Until recently the research on how porn impacts the body and brain have been correlative. That is, from a scientific perspective, studies did not show that porn use directly caused these problems (although common sense told us otherwise). The correlative evidence, however, is quite damning in itself. The problem has been that researchers have had trouble finding college students (the most often chosen group for guinea pigs in research) who have not used porn. And, even if they did, it’s questionable the ethics of introducing someone to porn.

Dementia Disease

However, new research is now showing clear causal relationships of porn use to damage to the brain. In fact, the variable (use or non-use of porn) is now becoming more available as a large number (over 75,000) of former porn addicts have formed an on-line community called NoFab. Through surveys, they are posting how their lives have changed for the better after getting off porn. Also, a recent German study has shown a clear causal connection between even moderate porn use and damage to the brain.

Here is what research now indicates that porn does to our brains and bodies.

  1. It becomes addictive. Overstimulation of the brain system that releases the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine (which internet porn spurs in massive amounts) results in the buildup of the molecular switch protein called deltaFosB, an ingredient common in most addictions.
  2. It impairs memory and concentration.
  3. It numbs you to other pleasures of life and real sex in marriage (called desensitization). You develop a tolerance and need for greater and greater stimulation because real sex has become dull.
  4. Sensitization. Because your reward system has been hammered, you have an amped up attraction to porn that can tempt you to view it through even simple cues like seeing your computer monitor. Your brain goes into autopilot and your reward circuit says, “Do it now!”
  5. It diminishes impulse control and willpower. The fight between clear thinking and temptation is heightened and you have less willpower to say, “No!”
  6. It increases sensitivity to stress. Even minor stresses can lead to cravings and relapse because they activate powerful sensitized pathways.
  7. It literally shrinks your brain. Studies actually show that even moderate amounts of porn can shrink grey matter in areas associated with cognitive function related to our ability to focus. Porn users report pervasive brain fog.
  8. It causes depression and low energy because it interferes with normal dopamine production and signaling.
  9. You become more susceptible to risky behavior. Since porn addicts need a bigger and bigger hit they gravitate to more degrading kinds of porn and risky behavior to get that hit with diminished fears of experiencing negative consequences (i.e., getting caught).
  10. Erectile dysfunction. Porn users become less sensitive to real sex with their spouses and need more and more stimulation to get aroused. Ex-porn addicts report that porn created significant sexual problems, specifically ED. 

That’s the bad news.

The good news, however, is that because the brain is plastic, porn users can break free from porn and change their brains back to a healthy view of sex and sexuality. With Christ’s power, men (and women) can find freedom from the devastating effects of porn.

In my Tuesday post I recommended a great site that offers help. Here’s the link again. If you struggle with porn, please check out that web site.

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How Often should Preachers Practice their Sermon?

I’ve served in ministry over 30 years and I’ve preached a lot of sermons. Some have been good and some, well, not so good. Three factors have made the biggest positive difference for me: preparing my heart before the Lord, scheduling adequate study time to avoid feeling rushed, and practicing preaching my sermon. In this blog I suggest a few benefits from practice and describe my practice/preparation process.

gray word on red wall

As a framework, a few insights about me.

  • I’m not an A++ communicator. I’d say I’m a solid B+. God has gifted me with a good mind and relatively good speaking abilities, but I don’t command a multi-thousand person church audience. I’ll speak to several hundred people on an average Sunday.
  • I don’t have a photographic memory that allows me to memorize my sermons.
  • I don’t have unlimited energy, need 8 hours of sleep at night, and go into a semi-comotose mode at about 8:30 each night. So, I can’t pick up extra study hours at night. If study gets done, it must happen during daylight hours.
  • I study slow. I can’t quickly craft a message. Even after three decades of doing it, I still need 15 hours or so to create a message, excluding practice time.

Even with my limitations, I’ve discovered that practicing my sermon yields several benefits.

  1. Familiarity: When I practice, I become more familiar with the homiletic part (how will I say it), a different kind of familiarity than hermeneutic familiarity (what the Bible says).
  2. Improvement: When I practice my message, I notice how I can say things differently which improves what I eventually do say.
  3. Shortening: Practice often helps me realize that I can remove some parts of my sermon without affecting the message I want to convey. I almost always shorten my sermon as I practice it.
  4. Confidence: The more familiar I become with my sermon, the less I have to think about what “comes next” when I preach which increases my confidence during delivery.
  5. Memory: Although I don’t memorize my messages (I work from a complete manuscript), the more I practice, the more it imbeds into my subconscious which frees me to connect better with the congregation through eye contact and body language when I deliver it.
  6. Timing: I usually try to use humor in each message. Professional comedians practice a lot to improve timing in their humor. When I practice, it helps me improve my timing.

Here’s my routine.

  • I complete my study and write my manuscript at least two weeks ahead of time.
  • On the Thursday prior to the Sunday when I will deliver it, I review it again, tweak it, and highlight key phrases (all in Microsoft Word).
    • I save it as a PDF to my iPad app Notability, one of the best PDF markup apps available. I preach from an iPad mini, instead of paper notes. You can read about my experience with an iPad here.
    • I go to an upstairs closet in the church and preach it out loud once.
  • On Friday, I slowly and silently review it, further tweaking it directly on Notability.
  • On Saturday, I preach in out loud in my bedroom closet (second practice).
  • On Sunday morning, I practice it out loud one more time in my closet (third practice).

So, I practice it out loud three times and silently tweak it twice.

I’ve found that this pattern allows me to best prepare, without overdoing the practice.

What is your prep routine?

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