Sharing the Burden

In my Bible reading the other day, I was in Exodus 18, a chapter that I’ve probably quickly perused as I was on my way to what seemed to be more significant stories on either side of it. When you see the stories that bookend it, it’s easy to see how it could be passed over. Exodus 17 is when the Lord gives the Israelites water from a rock and when Aaron and Hur hold up Moses’ arms in order that the Israelites might defeat the Amalekites. In Exodus 19, Moses meets the Lord on Mount Sinai for one of his many encounters with him there. But in Exodus 18, Moses receives a visit from his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian.

Now, many people have different family dynamics and different relationships with their in-laws. I’ve always been blessed to have a good relationship with my wife’s parents, so imagining a visit from my father-in-law isn’t something that conjures images of drudgery or anxiety, it usually means a fun time and quality conversations. Having lost my own father, my wife’s dad is the only earthly father that I have left, making his visits even more significant.

When my wife and I were living near my father-in-law, I would spend time helping him do home projects around our house, learning as much as I possibly could. I was always anxious to gain as much insight and wisdom as I possibly could from my experiences with him, and he was always more than willing to dole out advice as long as anyone would listen.

What struck me as I read through this story this time was not Jethro’s visit to Moses but the advice that he gives. Moses gets up and takes his seat to serve as judge for the people. Moses’ duty was to judge over the people with impartiality as they brought their issues to him. It didn’t take long for Jethro to realize that Moses had to make a change, he couldn’t keep doing this job all by himself. In fact, Jethro’s point is seen clearly in verse 18 when he says, “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” Jethro encouraged Moses to spread the burden, to share the load with others.

The advice that Jethro gave to Moses is advice that most of us who are in positions of leadership desperately need to hear from others, and probably need to hear even more from ourselves. We need to hear that it’s okay to share the burden, to raise up others who can adequately perform some of the duties that are weighing us down. We need to realize that it’s all right to delegate tasks out to other people, whether they are volunteers or paid workers.

The problem often is something in our own heart though, we aren’t always willing to pass on the burden. It’s as if we think it will be a sign of weakness if we can’t handle everything ourselves. We feel the need to prove ourselves and we have this insecurity lying within us that says that the more things we can hang onto, the more job security we will have. Why is that?

When we don’t share the burden, there are a few possible outcomes, but let me mention the two that stand out to me. First of all, we can burn ourselves out. In our effort to juggle everything, we will most likely find that we aren’t doing anything well. We can do everything to the level of mediocrity, or we can do a few things to the level of excellence. I saw this with my father while he pastored a small church by himself. He handled everything, and while it gave me a great example of servanthood, it also showed me the toll that it took on him. Sharing the burden isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of strength. If we are willing to delegate responsibilities to others, it shows that we are not insecure in our position and that we are willing to let others possibly get the praise for certain things. Sharing the burden puts the focus on the greater good rather than the good of self.

The second possible outcome of not sharing the burden is that when we finally move on from the position which we have occupied, when we exit the role that we hold for a season, it will be that much harder to find a replacement. Let’s face it, we see personality driven leadership all the time. If we think of certain companies, organizations, and churches, we can most likely put a face to them, associating that personality with whatever company, organization, or church that they are leading.

When it comes to companies and organizations, that might not be a horrible thing. Steve Jobs was the face of Apple for many years. Mark Zuckerberg has been the face of Facebook. Bill Gates has been the face of Microsoft. But eventually, a replacement is necessary and what happens then?

It’s also one thing for companies and organizations to have a face or personality behind them but when it comes to churches, there is only one face and name that we should really be concerned with: Jesus. If it’s about advancing any name other than that one, we’re doing something wrong. Sure, there will always be people who will make those associations between personalities and the churches that they lead, but those leaders can do a lot to combat that mentality, if they are secure and stable in who they are and if they are willing to share the load.

As I look at Exodus 18, one might make a good case that it was the starting point for team ministry. What incredible advice to receive from a father-in-law: share the burden. It’s kind of ironic, now that I think of it, that Moses, the one who kicked and fussed at God about placing him in a leadership position, would be the one who would need to be told to lighten his load and share the burden a little.

I need this reminder often and I feel like I’ve come a long way. Pride continually gets in the way and there are times that I want everyone around me to think that I am far from expendable. It’s incredibly reassuring to know that it takes more than one person to replace you and the tasks that you are accomplishing, but is that the point? Should that be our endgame, to make ourselves indispensable?

Those are the times that I need to get over myself and think about the greater good. Sharing the burden looks out for the interest of everyone, not just my own self-interest. Frankly, I think that there are a lot of leaders out there who need to learn this lesson.

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Social Media and the Church – Part I – The Feedback Loop

Suggestion-boxIf we really want our churches to grow and reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, than we want to get feedback on how we are doing. One of the greatest problems that I have seen within the local church is the source of all of the feedback and criticism that comes to them. I’ve heard it said that the church is the only organization that exists for the people who aren’t yet there. If that’s the case, the main place for feedback and criticism to come from should really be those same people who aren’t coming on a regular basis. There are plenty of ways to get that feedback from those who are not yet part of your faith community, among those means is social media.

Let’s face it, there are many times when feedback/criticism comes to the local church via emails, phone calls, and even “Suggestion Boxes” (if you’re stupid bold enough to have one of those). But the people who are already there have already made a conscious effort to be there and if they are offering suggestions, chances are that they’ve been there more than once and have established some kind of relationship with you. Granted, this isn’t always the case, but more often than not, it is the case. How about the people that you would consider to be your target? How do you get feedback from them?

There are plenty of ways to get that kind of feedback, if you are willing and are not afraid to do things a little differently. Going door to door is probably not recommended, but that’s a topic for another day. How can you reach out and gain feedback from people digitally? We have a website, you might say. A website is fine and good, but how specific can you get with the visits to your site? Websites can do a lot of things, but they don’t always offer the same mechanisms for feedback that you can get through social media. Creating pages on Facebook or tweeting out announcements via Twitter can expand the capabilities of churches.

I’m not sure what the difference is in the likelihood of someone clicking on an email link from a website versus commenting on a Facebook page or writing a FB message. If feedback and input is important, especially for those who are not yet a part of your faith community, what’s the best mechanism and medium for making that happen? Websites can tend towards more sterile data such as views and locations versus the somewhat more personal connection that can be gained from social media.

There are exceptions to every rule, but the ability to actually see the people who you are connecting with, see their demographic information, get a small glimpse (depending on privacy settings) of who they are, that’s all information that is not as accessible from a website as it is from having a page on social media.

Creating a page on Facebook also uses the engines that are already in place, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. With a few simple keystrokes, you can get a lot of information right in front of you which allows you to see who you’re reaching with your posts. That can allow you to make the proper course corrections if necessary or to continue to forge ahead with what you’re doing. Are you reaching who you thought you were? Are you reaching who you want to reach? If not, you can make changes, but you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

The feedback/criticism piece is deeply connected to Part III – The Ripple Effect, but that will come in a few days. In the meantime, come back tomorrow for Part II – Keeping Up with Your Peeps and then the next day, we’ll hit on The Ripple Effect.

Drinking From the Firehose

drinking-from-firehoseI had the privilege this week to spend time down in Orlando with my wife and the other pastors and their wives at a church planting conference. We and 5000+ other people spent time drinking in from the experiences and insights of others who have gone before us. The problem is, that drinking felt a little like drinking from a firehose, if you understand the analogy. In other words, it’s a lot of information in a short period of time with little process time in between.

A guy by the name of Matt Chandler was one of the speakers at the conference and he had a lot of very valuable things to say. Among the valuable things that he said was that conferences, in some ways, weren’t fair. People come to a conference and hear people whose experiences are non-normal describe all that they have been through. There are enough of them that have had these non-normal experiences so that their non-normal experiences seem like they are normal. After listening to them for a few days, it could easily be assumed that this is the new normal. Then everyone goes back home to their version of normal, only to find that what seemed normal was really non-normal and it can easily lead to discouragement.

Out of everyone who was there, Chandler was probably the one that I appreciated the most because of his humility and the fact that he just put out there the fact that things are different between everyone’s circumstances. For too often within the Christian subculture, we’ve taken something that worked somewhere and tried to duplicate it exactly in our own context without changing things at all. When it fails, we wonder what we did wrong. How come it didn’t work?

The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t seek to do the hard work of building relationships with people in your own context. It doesn’t seek to do the hard work of spending time understanding who you are trying to reach and what makes them tick. Duplicating a “successful” strategy can easily become a copout, a shortcut to “success” which actually leads to failure and hurt.

I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with a friend of mine in Asheville when my wife and I were trying to discern what to do. We had sensed that our time in Asheville was ending but we had grown attached to the people with whom we were friends. We were torn about the idea of leaving and considered what it might look like to start a church. Through prayer and discernment, we decided that was not what God was calling us to (which is a good thing since it seems that everybody else in the Christian world decided to start a church in Asheville).

I sat down with my friend and he started asking me questions about where God was leading me. I told him that we thought about starting a church but we just weren’t sure where. He asked me where we would go or where we would like to be. I mentioned a location and started my own strategizing, how I might go about doing it. He stopped me and just asked, “what would it look like for you to go there and just build relationships?”

But how would I make money, how would my family live? He told me that wasn’t really the point. He said that I couldn’t go somewhere to start a church because then that would be the driving factor behind everything that I did. What if I went somewhere and just began to build relationships with people, began to see what made people tick, began to understand what it was that resonated within their souls?

I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I am so grateful to my friend for that advice. If he hadn’t given it and if I hadn’t listened, who knows where my family and I might have ended up.

As I contemplate all the things that I’ve heard over the last few days, there are so many nuggets, just like the one that my friend gave me, that speak to me deep down inside. Over the next few weeks, I will have to spend time processing over my notes, chewing them over, drinking from a glass instead of a firehose. I’ll ask myself hard questions and will also be able to process with the people who were with me at the conference.

Drinking from a firehose can be good, but if you do it all the time, you get oversaturated. At some point, you’ve got to step away from the firehose and begin to work off the water that you’ve ingested. If all you do is drink and you never move away from the firehose, it’s not going to do much good. I’ve tasted and I’ve seen, now it’s time to go and do. There will be time to drink from the firehose again, but I’ve got to get to work and work up a thirst again. Here we go!