I can’t imagine, for the life of me, that there wouldn’t be, frankly.
The writers of Bearing Fruit: Ministry With Real Results tell the story of a marathon runner in the Marine Corps Marathon who felt the temptation to quit around about mile 18 (mile 18??!?). When asked why that leg of the race was so hard (besides the fact that was 18 miles, of course…), she explained that right at that point the race course led over the 14th Street Bridge in DC. The crowds watching were not allowed to gather on the bridge, so runners had a whole stretch of the race with no cheering section. The intensity of the race and the lack of support made giving up seem like a really good option at that point.
Continuing with the metaphor that ministry is like running a race, it seems that just survival, never mind thriving, is deeply dependent on the minister having a supportive cheering section.
The writers recall the story of the Prophet Elijah, who, after intense conflict with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, wanted to give up. His biggest lament? He felt he was all alone in his work. And feeling all alone in such intense work as pastoring is a terrible feeling; it’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel. Things got better for Elijah when he realized there were others who were facing the same things he was facing.
Things got better for Elijah, and things can get better for us if we make sure we know who and where our cheering section is. The authors list three possible groups that can provide support:
- Friends who are spiritual leaders
- Friends who value you as a person rather than a pastor
- Staff members and leaders in your church who share your calling and care about your journey
These folks can provide encouragement when times are hard; accountability to keep the course and keep it well; and insight into the situations in which the pastor finds herself.
Cheering sections are important, and I knew that long before I read about them in this book. I’ll take a little personal detour here to tell a story about my own personal cheering section, a group of five pastors with whom I meet once a year for a week to plan sermons and generally support each other. During a very difficult time in my own pastoral journey, this cheering section gathered around me, prayed for me, and “re-ordained” me—reminded me of my calling by reaffirming my ordination. I was about ready to give up and their love, support, and cheering helped me keep going. They still do that for me.
The authors of Bearing Fruit say that your cheering section is where you go when you are tempted to give up the race. The Christian life, and certainly the pastoring life, was never meant to be lived in solitude; we need supportive community to help us keep going.
So…who’s cheering for you?