Looking back on your ministry year
Most of us are now drawing close to the end of the ministry year. We are planning end of year dinners and BBQs, we are looking forward to a break in Bible studies and ministry responsibilities.
But as each of us looks back on the year, with our different experiences, perspectives, and responsibilities, it’s almost certain that even in the same ministry team, different people will all be feeling slightly different things…
- Perhaps you may be proud of things that you might have been able to achieve. This year your ministry did a couple of new things that had never happened before, and perhaps you had a hand in some of these things coming about. And you were thrilled to see how well it came off!
- Perhaps we are disappointed to see that things hadn’t quite worked out the way we wanted them to have worked out. Maybe your Bible study group has been struggling for life. Or the ideas that you floated and hoped would take off, didn’t. Or it could be disappointment at a more individual and personal level – you’ve poured a lot of effort into certain people, you’ve prayed over them and challenged them with the word of God – and to your great disappointment they’ve walked away from their faith. Or they are knowingly putting their faith in danger.
- Or perhaps you might have a little bit of guilt about things that you know you should have said this year, conversations that you should have had this year - but you kept putting off, and ended up never having. Things that you were always meaning to do, but never did… And you now feel a twinge of guilt – or perhaps more than just a twinge, if to your horror you’ve seen it snowball into a big issue.
- Perhaps instead you are angry at certain things that have happened this year. You’ve found yourself disappointed, angry, frustrated, annoyed perhaps at your brothers and sisters here at church. Maybe you’re annoyed at one person, maybe you’re annoyed at a group of people, or the whole system!
- And perhaps you have been exhausted by all the things that have gone on this year. Not the good kind of exhaustion, but the negative kind of exhausted – you are feeling burnt out, you’re feeling bitter and fearful of another year…
When psychologists talk about the emotions, they talk about something called the primary emotions. The five primary emotions you can have are: happiness, sadness, fear, anger and feeling ‘bad’ (see diagram). Just like you have primary colours, which you mix together to get other colours, so too do you have primary emotions, basic emotions, and other emotions tend to be combinations of, or variations in intensity of these basic primary emotions – but they are all built on these primary emotions.
And so as you look back on the ministry year, you might feel one or more of these different emotions inside of you. What can we say pastorally about these different feelings?
- If you are glad, then that’s great, we rejoice with you! But your danger is to turn that into pride, to think that was you this year. When Paul sees the Thessalonians growing in faith and hope and love, what he does is he gives thanks God (1 Thess 1:2-3). Make sure you turn that great feeling inside of you into praise – don’t hold on to it.
- Some of us may have been saddened this year. And first of all that that’s actually a good thing – we should allow ourselves be moved by the foolishness of people we love. When Paul spoke with the Ephesian elders for the last time, he said that for three years he ministered among them night and day with tears (Acts 20:31) – and sometimes there’s not enough of that in our ministry.
But the other thing to say is that it is God who is building his church, not us. The sovereign God is calling some people to himself … and not others. His election is secret and irresistable. It should humble us to know that we stand only by God’s grace, but we should also have a peace that comes from God’s sovereignty.
- Some of us may feel bad for what we may have done or left undone this year. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the Christian life is about discipline and training (Heb 12:5-11). God is working on every one of us, we are all having areas of sin and weakness being revealed to us.
But at the personal level John tells us that if we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves, and that includes Christian leaders. But if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).
- Others of us may feel angry or annoyed at what individuals or groups of people are doing. Anger can alert us to a situation that is wrong or unjust. The earthly church has sin all through it, we have to acknowledge that. The important question for you is what then will you do with that anger? Paul says, ‘in your anger do not sin’ (Eph 4:26).
- And finally some of us may be anxious about the future. We are fearful of yet another year of ministry. Well you should know that God has actually given us all the resources we need to be faithful to him (2 Pet 1:3). There is nothing extra that we should need or desire on top of what he has given us, in order to be faithful! At this point in the year though, something that is particularly overlooked is the issue of resting. When we ‘rest’, we tend to fill up the time we should be recovering with other forms of busyness – and so we wonder why we don’t feel rested! In the break period, make sure you take responsibility of yourself and make time to recover physically, emotionally and spiritually.
[ PS: be aware that different psychologists will identify slightly different primary emotions! ]