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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5 Lessons I Learned from ANGRY Emails

Most pastors and leaders count on email to communicate. We can’t make a call or schedule a meeting each time we need to tell a fellow staffer or leader something. I send scores of emails and receive upwards of 100 each day. I don’t know what I’d do without it. But sometimes email has not served me well. I’ve learned many lessons from angry emails, sometimes my very own.

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Several years ago I began an email conversation with one of our pastors who lead our missions efforts. We had begun serving overseas in Nicaragua and it had captured the hearts of many in the church. I’d been there four times and looked forward to many more trips, especially to train pastors in leadership.

We had just begun planning for one coming up and one of the first steps was to create a budget. A church member who serves as the lay leader of our mission team crafted a first draft budget which came out a bit too high. In my mind, it was a first step: get a draft budget first and then begin to adjust the cost to to fit within our available funds.

Well, the pastor in charge saw the budget (copied via email) and sent me an email that this surprised him. I assumed that serving the pastors surprised him. I sent a quick email back (in frustration) that I was surprised he was surprised because I had been clear about my desire to server the pastors. He then sent me an emotional email and after a couple more emails back and forth, we were ready to declare war on each other. We both thought, “What is wrong with this guy?”

The next day we talked by phone and realized that each of us had totally misunderstood each other. It was the proverbial Mars versus Venus issue. He assumed one thing and I assumed another. We were able to resolve what could have been a severe blow to our relationship in a short phone conversation.

Here are some lessons I learned plus a few more about using email.

  1. Never send a first draft email you’ve written in anger. Set it aside and re-write it, several times, removing emotion laden language.
  2. If an email exchange begins to escalate in tone, stop and call or meet the person.
  3. Realize that the human mind will usually assume the worst-cast scenario when an email is misread.
  4. UNLESS YOU WANT YOUR EMAIL TO SHOUT, DON’T USE ALL CAPS OR USE !!!!!!!!
  5. Keep emails short. Think about it. When you get an email that goes off the page, are you inclined to read it?

What suggestions would you offer about minimizing emotions in emails?

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Who Should Serve on Your Leadership Team? 4 Traps to Avoid

An exceptional book on teams by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird just came out this week. It’s called Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church LeadershipI highly recommend it! I asked those guys (who are really smart dudes, especially in the area of church leadership) to write a guest post. Their post below offers wise insight on avoiding traps when deciding who should serve on your leadership team.

BOOK-Teams-that-Thrive-3d-HARTWIG-BIRD[1]

Determining who should be on your team – and who shouldn’t be – can become a challenge, especially when many different people are vying for a spot at the table. Plus, many pastors understandably want to do whatever they can to please as many of those people as possible (as Charles Stone writes about in People-Pleasing Pastors). But establishing a small yet powerful team made up of the right people – and not the wrong people – is essential to your team’s success.

To help you make the bold, sometimes difficult decisions necessary to take your team to the next level, your leadership team doesn’t need to – and in many cases shouldn’t – be:

1. Merely the lead pastor’s or executive pastor’s direct reports.

While it’s common practice to identify the senior leadership team by drawing a circle around the top two or three layers of the organizational chart, doing so is neither necessary or advisable. Sitting at a particular place in the organizational hierarchy does not automatically qualify someone for senior team membership. For instance, the senior team at one large church we studied does not include the CFO, communications director or worship pastor, even though each of them report directly to the executive pastor. Though each of them brings outstanding individual skill and commitment to their roles, the leadership team was designed to be as small as possible, and so their positions on it were not guaranteed. As you determine your team’s membership, you don’t have to be a slave to your organizational chart.

2. A democratic representation of all church constituencies.

Leadership teams are not mini-democracies. Every special interest group in your church does not need a seat—or direct representation—at the senior leadership team table. A “representative” approach means people tend to lobby and protect their constituency rather than fight for what’s best for the church as a whole. Also, because they are representatives, they tend to encourage even more representation, and therefore a larger number on the team, making it cumbersome and ineffective.

Instead, it is important that the members of your leadership team—or at least one member of your leadership team—can think strategically and broadly enough to be able to generally understand the important interests of your church’s various constituencies and consider them in the team’s discussions. Special-interest pleading is a fatal practice of leadership teams.

3. People you include largely to make them feel special.

A senior leadership team is no place to assuage a staff person who has been passed over for a promotion or whose role has been recently downsized. Nor even is it the group to offer an automatic seat solely because someone is a long-standing volunteer or long-term staff member. While placing (or keeping) that person on the leadership team might soften someone’s potential ego blow, you can be sure it will be a huge hit to your team’s productivity and overall health. Don’t fall to this temptation. At the same time, use extreme caution when using a seat on the leadership team as an enticement to lure a new staff member.

4. The “team” that was here when you got here.

Just because you inherited a team doesn’t mean you should keep that team. You may realize that the current members of the team don’t possess the needed “stuff” to lead the church to new levels. Or perhaps history indicates a particular position has always sat on the team but doesn’t contribute much. In these cases, make a move, and do it soon (and graciously). Too many leaders take too long deal with team members who sap the life out of the team; by doing so, they simply prolong the inevitable. In essence, the only reason a person should be on the leadership team is to bring a critical talent, perspective or skill to the group that enables the team to accomplish its unique purpose.

For more about how to determine your team’s optimal membership and a host of other tips to help your team thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.

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Excerpted with permission from chapter 8 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.

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Are you a Generous Person? 10 Indicators you are

This week I began a new sermon series on generosity. Through examples and commands, the Scriptures challenge His followers to strive for abundant generosity. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul describes an amazing example from a very poor church (the church in Macedonia) that exemplified lavish generosity through an offering they took up for an even more destitute church than they (the church at Jerusalem). As you read these 10 qualities of a generous person, ask yourself how well your life embodies each.

generosity road sign illustration design

First, some backstory. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, a relatively wealthy church. A year prior they had committed to collecting an offering for the poor church in Jerusalem. But, for whatever reasons they had not completed it. Paul address this issue in 2 Cor. 8 by using the generosity of the Macedonian church in hopes that they (the church in Corinth) would complete the offering. I believe this chapter points to these 10 qualities.

Generous people…

  1. Give out of a joyful heart. Paul describes the Macedonian church as overflowing with joy.
  2. Don’t tie generosity to their financial status. Famine and a heavy handed government worked against the Christians in Macedonia. They were destitute themselves, but didn’t let that limit their generosity.
  3. Willing give. This church didn’t have to be coerced. They initiated giving.
  4. Consider giving a privilege rather than a duty. 
  5. Look for ways to give. They didn’t focus on their bad economic situation. Instead, they looked for how they could help others in spite of it.
  6. Have experienced a work of deep grace. Grace is a theme found throughout the 2 Corinthians. They truly understood what Jesus did for them and their lives evidenced that understanding.
  7. Welcome challenging giving opportunities. Paul wrote in verse 8 that giving  can actually “test the sincerity” of our love. They weren’t afraid to step out in faith with this challenging opportunity.
  8. Match their intentions to reality. Unlike the Corinthian church that intended to give but didn’t, the Macedonian church decided to give and actually did.
  9. Expect wise stewardship of their gifts. In verse 20 Paul says he took pains to make sure that how they administered their gifts looked right not only in the eyes of God but also in the eyes of the givers as well.
  10. Enthusiastically give. One of the Christians Paul sent with this message was described as being zealous. I believe Paul mentioned this quality to point to their need to be enthusiastic about their promise to give.

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the late 1800′s and 1900′s served for 55 years without a furlough and spent the final two decades of her life bedridden. She captures the essence of true generosity with this quote.

You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. 

How would you describe your generosity?

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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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