Monday, November 16, 2009

Going the Distance - Chapter 3

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 3: Stress and the demands of ministry: learning to say no
It becomes clear when reading this book that Brain is aiming it at a certain type of person, many of whom I suspect he has come across - the ministers who struggle under the weight of their jobs and who struggle to say no.

This chapter is designed for them. Whether or not you are in ministry, if assessing the wisdom of and deciding whether to comply with various requests is an issue for you, this chapter will be helpful.

Brain starts with a strategy of how to deal with demands on our time:
1. Articulating priorities
2. Being assertive
3. No's give value to yes's

He then goes into a little more detail of how to say no:
- clarify the request - make sure we really understand what is being asked
- assess the reasonableness of the request
- you don't have to give an extended reason why you are saying no
- confidence in our status before God - it is not based on how much work we do, but on what Jesus Christ has done for us in the cross.

In setting the scene for this chapter, Brain quotes a saying which we should heed - and which can be either positive or negative:
If you sow a thought you reap an act
If you sow a act you reap a habit
If you sow a habit you reap a character
If you sow a character you reap a destiny (p42)
I liked this, it reminded me that we do need to be aware of our thought-processes, because over time they influence who we are.
He is obviously aware of the dangers that surround the over-worked and under-supported minister. One of the things our trio felt as we read through this book was how it was really aimed at ministers who are running churches on their own - the 'one-man band' as it were. I know this is the reality of many ministers around the country and the world, but he hardly ever addresses any of these issues in the context of a team ministry.

In our group of wives, my husband is 'the senior staff' (for want of a better term!), one other is a senior trained male, but in his first year out of study; and the other is a trainee. Therefore, the way each of them are responsible for their own time differs greatly.  My husband is more in control of his time. The other 'senior staff' member manages most of his own time, but with some guidance from my husband (eg. he sets the preaching program), and the trainee's time is more planned for him by others. So, there are complications - each 'minister' is not solely responsible for assessing and planning their own priorities. This is where Brain could have included more ideas of how to work in a team - how would (for example) the trainee approach the senior minister when he felt overwhelmed by the things he was required to do? Hopefully easily, as his boss would be kind, understanding and helpful - but we all know that is not always the case!

I found this chapter helpful personally as I do really struggle to say no to things. If I am asked to do something, I want to do it - and often for the wrong reasons, some of which Brain outlined. Sometimes I like being asked to do things, if makes me feel needed, or makes me feel like I am good at something or that I am useful in that area. Also, I feel the pull of real needs - when there truly is a need and I feel like I could help out, I struggle not to offer my assistance, even when it would be a bad idea for me personally or for our family.

Not surprisingly, again in this chapter my mind turned to the balance of time required in various stages of parenting. We still have young children at home, so I have little time and the time I do have I want to use well. Each year we sit down and consider what I could be involved in, besides caring for the family and running the home.

Some years it has felt like very little - but that is because life at home is very busy. Some years I did way too much, especially years with newborn babies. This year has seemed good so far. I took on more, some bible studies and talks, and we all managed well. However, we are always re-assessing what I do, and there are many more things I would like to be doing.

I find my husband very helpful in this regard. He is good at assessing needs and requests, and is able to say no when required. I really respect him for it, and he is the one who helps me assess what I can realistically do and what I can't. And he has already started warning me about what is going to happen in 3 years when my 'baby' goes to school and I want to do everything! Must keep praying for wisdom!

Some things to think about:
  1. Do you struggle to say 'no' to things? What types of things?
  2. If you find it hard to say 'no', why do you think that is so?
  3. How do you assess what to say 'yes' to and what to say 'no' to?
  4. Do you need to re-assess the amount of things you are doing at the moment? Are you at risk of burnout?

Next Monday: Chapter 4 - Stress and Adrenaline: understanding your body clock


Karin Stace said...

Hi Wendy!
Thanks for these thoughts on this chapter. This really was a great chapter that stood out to me when I read the book a while ago and I think a really challenging one too.

This is an area I struggle so much with - being able to say 'no'! I also found his point about not feeling like you have to give long explanations for why I have said 'no'! My first reaction is to explain so that I don't let people down rather than realising that I play to an audience of 1 ultimately - but that also raises the stakes of the sincerity of my heart and motives in saying 'no' or 'yes'!

I have found these years with little, little ones really difficult as it has precluded me from many ministries- but I have found such great joy when I just settle and enjoy the stage of life my littlies are at and know that, God willing, life will go on after Abbby goes to Kindy!!!!

I think a really big challenge for me now, too, is to make sure I don't use the kids as my excuse not to be invloved in certain things that I really could do! hhhmmm - always learning hey?

Bade and I had a really interesting learning experience about this earlier this year - I was organising and MC'ing the women's evangelistic event in our Mission week- it was great but lots of work and 'emotion and energy sapping'. It would have been fine but Baden then had to organise the men's event the very next day and all this ontop of a full on Mission week!! We decided together that week, through our mistakes (!!) that we need to think wisely about either of us taking on future events by taking into account what the other one of us is invloved in. The kids really, really needed at least one of us to be calm and 'at home' and taking care of running the home etc - but rather, we were both stressed and 'distant' and it really unsettled them (of course, being up all night the night before my event with Caleb vomitting every hour, didn't help either!!) In particular, I realised that, usually, it will be me that gives up chances to serve in that way at this stage when Baden's work neccessarily calls for him to be the one out of the house etc....

So, this chapter has really helped us think through these issues and some of our own experiences this year!!

May God give us all the wisdom and humility and clarity we need to balance our tasks so that 'no' isn't so difficult to say but also doesn't become too easy to say either!!!

Wendy said...

Thanks for your comments Karin, they are really helpful.

Don't we often learn these things when we all take on too much! That has to one of the balancing acts in ministry - when you both are or want to be involved but recognising the impact that can have on the family, especially at certain stages of life!

Glad you have been thinking about how it all affects you, I guess we all are continuing to do this!