Would you prefer to listen to Navigating Life’s Demanding Seasons? Click over to the podcast version on “The Spiritual Coaching Dashboard.”
As we watch nature cycle through the seasons, we see a handy metaphor for explaining, and sometimes defend, over-working. Although it is not always easy to tell at first, nature will eventually let you know that one season has passed and the next has arrived. However, when it comes to serving and helping others, it is far more difficult to tell when a season has ended… or when it should be ended… even if by force!
Allowing one season of ministry to run too long, or so long that it blurs into the next, is dangerous. Especially so when that season is a period of intense pressure, expansion, work, and expectation. It is far too easy to be manipulated (or to bias ourselves) with justifications like, “it is a good cause,” “ministry requires sacrifice,” “sometimes you have to adjust your priorities for the sake of the mission.” My favorite is, “well, it is only for a season!”
If you are a leader in the church, I am sure you have heard these familiar refrains, or ones very much like them, probably from your own mouth. They certainly have come from mine.
When I was younger and had been married for only five or six years, I allowed expanding ministry opportunities to turn my wife into a widowed, single mom. That season lasted for over a year. Let me say, I am not proud of that admission. It was not one of my finer moments. Yes, God was meeting with people in my counseling office in wonderful and frequently supernatural ways. It was an unprecedented time that in some ways resembled stories of revival. And… I unnecessarily abandoned my family.
I mistakenly thought that if I did not meet with people immediately when they were ready, God would not keep them ready until I could more responsibly schedule them. (How small we can make God!) And I did that for months on end. It was a sacrifice that God never asked me to make. I will explain what I mean in the article that follows.
In part one I will set the stage by telling you a true story, and share one of two unexpected myths about demanding seasons.
Myth 1: I Can Get Away With Skimming
- A Lose/Lose Scenario – Everyone Loses
- What is “Skimming?” – Dabbling in What Deserves More
Keep reading if you have questions and want more details.
Image by Kevin Ku, Upsplash
by Pastor Kerry Krissel
When A Demanding Season Has Been A Long Enough Season (Part 1)
Let’s make sure I am being clear about “demanding seasons.” These are times when the press of ministry is more intense than usual. When leading up to a big event or opening or service. There is a lot of work and only so much time to get it finished. Or a lot of opportunities and only some many people and so much time to capitalize on it. Consequently, the time you spend working begins to push out into the rest of life, past your normal boundaries, straight through your margin, and begins to consume everything in its path.
It is when ministry becomes an all-consuming monster that is difficult, if not impossible, to tame. This is usually intentional but sometimes it sneaks up on us and takes us by surprise. However you get there, the press of ministry has grown to the point where it cannot be contained within the normal hours that you routinely set aside for work. Both your vertical and horizontal relationships are stretched thin, squeezed, compacted, reduced, and demoted if not effectively banished.
In response we tell ourselves that we will just have to push a little harder, skimp in a few areas, make a few adjustments and sacrifices, and make it work “for a season.” Everyone will just have to understand! Let me give you an example…
“Demanding seasons” = when the time you spend working begins to push out into the rest of life, past our normal boundaries,
straight through your margin, and begins to consume everything in its path.
Six Months of Pushing!
Recently our church went through an intense “season” of growth. Every team lead was pushing hard to keep up with the demands of expanding ministry opportunities. We launched our first two satellite locations, in towns that were a couple of hours apart, and opened them both on the same Sunday. Both needed renovations but one required extensive demolitions and rebuilding. We not only had to keep things going at location number one, but we had to get things going at the other two as well. None of us had ever done anything like this before.
While that was more than enough to overwhelm most, on the front end of that season we also opened in our first permanent location after having been a mobile church for 5 years. It too required weeks of hard work that forced us to push both schedules and bodies to get the building ready for occupation. We moved into new facilities in spring (on Easter Sunday) and then the busyness of summer came just as all the preparation was ramping up for our mid-September expansion at those two new sites. If you add that up it was about eight or nine months of insane amounts of work and pressure and pushing through.
Routine and Rhythms
About halfway through that “season” (July), I conducted a 2-day spiritual retreat for our leadership. The effects were already showing. The exhaustion and consequences of skimming on the relationships and routines that keep us plugged into God and others were impossible to keep in check. There was no margin to be found anywhere. I think they came to the retreat more to take a breath then to do any real spiritual work! And we still had a couple of months to go.
Trying to create totally new routines when you are exhausted in every way, is a fool’s errand.
We are now well past the launch. As the spiritual coaching pastor, when I checked in on our leader’s spiritual health following that season, well, you probably already guessed what I found. Our people were struggling to get their spiritual and relational equilibrium back. When you fall off your normal routine for long periods of time, your new season defines your new normal. Getting back to the old normal is difficult at best. Recovering emotionally, physically, spiritually and relationally is a massive undertaking.
When the exhausting season has run too long, sometimes things have changed so much that the new normal cannot be what the old normal was. Trying to create totally new routines when you are exhausted in every way, is a fool’s errand. But those rhythms are what we need to get our balance back. Whew, I am feeling exhausted again just thinking about it!
In the remainder of this article and the two that follow, I am going to suggest some guidelines. Ways to protect yourself, and your relationship with God and others, when in just such a demanding time. Seasons that requires us to push so hard that our routine and rhythms are paused, our margin is cluttered, and too little sleep is our only respite.
In fact, that is not a bad way to describe what I mean when I mention “intense or demanding seasons of harder than normal ministry.” I am referring to an intentional period of time when the normal routines that you have in place to protect your relationship and priorities are temporarily suspended. When you deliberately skim on the very things you count on to keep you healthy. Having said that, this first of two myths may seem unexpected… But first…
Let me quickly interrupt our chat. If you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around, and then click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE. If you are not local to upsate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment by using social media to connect face-to-face. Now back to our discussion.
Myth 1: I Can Get Away With Skimming.
Give up the myth that you can plan an intense season in such a way that no damage will be done to your relationships with God and others. The only way that can be remotely true is if you are single with no family or friends. If you have no relationships! However, that still leaves your connection with God flapping in the wind. Ignore those rhythms of life for a single week and those you love around you will feel the impact.
Relationships do not last unaffected nearly as long as we would like to imagine. The expiration date on them is shorter than a gallon of milk! I am not suggesting that the relationships are lost that quickly, just that they are negatively affected. I am suggesting that when a relationship is lost, it often began to deteriorate in a “season” of well-meaning neglect.
And here is a quick freebie for you. Children are not resilient. They may be good at burying the wound or harm but it is not dealt with and you can be sure it will show up later in life. The tools they employ to fight emotional and relational wounds are, um, childish. They “work” after a fashion in their youth but are not helpful in adulthood. They will eventually need to “grow up” in their memories as in every other part of life.
Take it from one who had a very painful and dysfunctional childhood as well as who has done spiritual counseling for decades. They. Are. Not. Resilient. Their little hearts and minds are very fragile, easily deceived, and only appear durable by means of dysfunctional coping mechanisms that always leave them feeling and thinking less of themselves. Ignoring them or worse, taking out our frustration on them when we are exhausted, marks and mars them. That is never God’s will for your kids.
So, what I am saying is that the very definition of “demanding seasons” should sound dubious at best. An intentional period of time when the normal routines that you have in place to protect your relationship and priorities are temporarily suspended? Wait, what? Did anyone catch the problem there? If you finished that sentence in your head with something like, “…without any loss or ruin coming to our health or relationships,” there was probably at least the hint of a question in your voice.
Intense seasons of ministry, or life for that matter, will always cycle around to us. Responding by skimming is a pretty common response and a universally bad idea. Stay with me while we think this one through.
Unplug from your normal time with God and in a matter of days, your perspectives begin to lose their holy quality. A mind previously seasoned, programed, and protected with truth begins to lose its power and affect. With your defenses down the onslaught of worldly priorities, values, and viewpoints begin to seep into your thinking. There is little to keep them at bay, less and less the longer the season drags on.
A Lose/Lose Scenario
The stronger the Christ-follower the better they will do the longer the season lasts. But wait, there is a problem with that also. The more mature we are the more time we are used to spending with God, the more we value and need that time with God. The spiritually mature know that stress and pressure call for more time along with God! The less spiritually mature, which being interpreted means the weaker our connection with God is, the less unplugging from it will unsettle us. If you can go days and not feel the drain on your soul, you are in more danger than you know, and you are less spiritually mature than you think.
I just made a case against my own claim that the stronger the Christians the less damage is done when the season grinds on. If it does not mess with you, you are in trouble! If it does mess with you, you are in trouble! Conclusion? You are in trouble! Extended seasons of skimming on your relationships and healthy routines is a lose/lose scenario.
If you can go days and not feel the drain on your soul, you are in
more danger than you know, and you are less spiritually mature than you think.
Think with me about “skimming” for a minute. It means to move quickly and lightly over, to pass over (a surface), nearly or lightly touching it in the process. When we skim a book or article we read quickly or cursorily to note the important points but skip the rest. When we skim we deal with or treat a subject briefly or superficially.
Interestingly enough, one way the word is used, which is closest to its origin, is to remove or “skim” from the surface of a liquid so as to remove the scum (dross) that bubbles up to the top. Does that not speak for itself? The problem of skimming is that you are dabbling in things that should never be just dabbled with. Things that should be a top priority. When it comes to our connection with God, we are trifling with something that should be all-consuming. When we begin to skim in our relationship so that we can put the time and energy into another project, we treat them superficially, and in so doing are only putting out the fires, dealing with the problems, the dross that bubbles to the surface and demands attention. All of which is pressing and urgent and noisy, but not the highest priority any more than they are worthy of our limited available attention. All while we ignore the real treasure that is the relationship.
We are lightly or only nearly touching others! Doing that for any lengthy period is gambling with lives and relationships. Skimming is risky business, even for a short time. Skimming leaves you floundaring in the dross, in the superficial, while the treasure underneath is never touched!
If you are in a position where you can get away with just not doing your normal job so that you can focus on a temporary and demanding project, and still keep your personal life intact and running smoothly, that is another story. But ministry does not tend to be so amicable. “All in” is often the only way we feel we can deal with the emergencies and situations that ministry brings up because, well, lives and eternities are at stake. Right?
Where has the time gone? I will have to pick up here in the next article when I address the second myth, I Can Never Sacrifice Too Much!”
Again, if you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around, and then click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE. If you are not local to upsate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment by using social media to connect face-to-face.