I recently learned something that suddenly made a lot of what I had noticed about ministers over the years make sense. Did you know that evidently many universities that train ministers advise students to avoid being too transparent, as it could put their jobs in jeopardy? Even people in ministry who don’t have ministry degrees seemed to have either received similar counsel or have come to a similar conclusion independently. No wonder there are so many issues in ministry!
When you think about the ministry of Jesus and the history of the early church, the focus is on community. Even when Jesus spent time alone with God in prayer, he was in communion with God. Somewhere along the way, the church has lost that community. Oh, we may encourage small groups, but even those often operate on a superficial level. If those in ministry roles do attend small groups, they may be expected to lead the group or take care of the children, so the adults “can study in peace”. We also tend to keep those in ministry so busy, they may rarely take the time to pray or study scripture for their personal spiritual growth and health.
As a result, many in ministry are suffering. Even ministry volunteers can become isolated from others in the same ministry. When this happens, not only is the individual Christian negatively impacted, but his or her ministry as well. Why? Because community in the church had two primary purposes – encouragement and accountability. When we become isolated – whether it is a true isolation from others or because of an emotional barrier we put in place ourselves, we miss out on those two crucial benefits.
Without encouragement, it is easy to become weary and suffer burn out. We may not put as much effort into our ministry, because without encouragement, we come to believe it is a waste of time to do more. We also miss out on learning what is effective about our ministries. Or what aspects might make great tools for community outreach. We can even begin to feel unloved and unloveable to our church family and ultimately to God.
People involved in ministry who avoid the accountability available from being transparent in community put themselves and their ministry in very real danger. Without accountability, there is no one to warn us we are headed down a dangerous path. A lack of accountability can mean we are involved in ineffective ministry and may never know it. Without accountability, it is more difficult to make positive impactful changes to Bible classes and activities. A lack of accountability may mean we have volunteers who are ineffective or even harmful in their roles, but we will never know it. Any number of young people could have their faith weakened or broken because we don’t hear about the changes they so badly need. We can even become enmeshed in sin in our personal lives because there is no one available to beg us to stop sinning.
Jesus always sent people out into ministry in pairs. We also have evidence that people like Paul, Barnabas, Silas and others either traveled with others or quickly attached themselves to other Christians when they reached a new location. They understood how critical community is in ministry – even if it occasionally led to disagreements.
If you want to be a strong, productive Christian and want your ministry to be effective, you must be vulnerable to at least a handful of other Christians. It may not work perfectly, but without it, you are living a Christian life God never intended you to live – an isolated, lonely one where everything is at risk and you may not realize it until it is too late.