Nothing is truly ordinary

Puppets on Strings?

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In ministry, sacrifice is critical.  After all, the core of our faith is based on the ultimate sacrifice Christ made on the cross.  We are to to die to our old selves.  Those of us called into ministry, especially, know that we have chosen a path that will often require us to set aside personal desires so that we can meet the needs of people we minister to.  And as a career path, anyone in ministry will tell you that you don’t do it for the money (though I DO believe ministers should be rewarded well for their hard work).  Sacrifice is KEY to any ministry.

So we walk into ministry with a sacrificial attitude, grounded in the sacrificial nature Jesus preached and lived – and then was continued in the ministry of his disciples.

And as we work with people, we began to ask others to make sacrifices in the same way.  We ask them to give their time and energy – usually by asking them to plug in and serve.  We also ask them to give their money – to teach them to worship through giving, both in regular tithes and, often, special offerings.

When this all works, it’s a beautiful thing.  People serve in a capacity that seems tireless.  There’s a camaraderie that develops when people work together  And you can see the difference it makes in the energy of the church.  There’s excitement – even a contagious excitement where more and more people want to jump in.  It IS a beautiful thing to experience.

The same is true for sacrificial giving.  I have heard many stories where people were led to give up something big (a vacation, a new car, etc.) because people felt led to give to a specific cause.  Through sacrificial serving and giving, it is amazing how the kingdom of God can advance and lives are changed.

So, how can this ever go wrong?

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There is a very fine line between leading people into a sacrificial lifestyle and demanding it – or even manipulating people into serving and giving.  And, unfortunately, I’m not sure many leaders in modern church culture know when they have crossed the line from challenging people to manipulating them.

When we challenge people, we may stretch them, but reasonably.  We are careful not to destroy time with their families.  We are careful not to burn people out. And if we are properly discipling them and maintaining healthy relationships with them, we know their struggles.  We know when it’s time to tell them to take a break. We know when to push, and when to stop, say “thank you,” and let people recharge before we plug them back in.  Challenging people is healthy, because we have their best interests at heart as it relates to the Kingdom of God, their families, and their own spiritual growth – not to mention their emotional and physical health.

But when we manipulate people, we don’t know when to stop pushing.  Or, worse, we do know, but we push anyway.  We overwork people, then justify it by throwing enough Scripture at them to “guilt” them into staying on board.  Words/phrases like “sacrifice,” “privilege,” and “servant heart” are twisted to keep people plugged in.  People tire, yet we press them.  People start to hurt, yet we keep pushing.  Even our OWN testimonies can be used as “sob stories” – even a form of legalism reflecting a “holier than thou” spirit – of how much WE have had to sacrifice, hoping our story will make people feel bad enough that they will give/serve above and beyond what is healthy for them.

People suffer emotionally, spiritually, even physically; yet, we keep driving them.  People burn out and leave and then we blame them for leaving.  Why?  Because the show MUST go on.  Because there’s a Sunday morning (or some other service or event) coming and much has to be done – the band, the sound, the lights, the production, the greeting, the choir, the cleaning…you name it.  Because the show must go on, we quit thinking about the impact our own ministerial obsession has on individuals.  And therein lies the difference between challenging people in a healthy way and manipulating them:  The former has the servants’ best interests at heart; the latter has the leaders’ best interests at heart.  The former is about people; the latter is about the program.  The former is about leading people; the latter is about using people.

People who are challenged grow and become incredible servants of Christ.  People who are manipulated quit.  Or worse, they press on hoping things will magically get “better,” but slowly rot away on the inside.

***

1.  If you’re a leader, ask yourself:  Do you inspire people to serve, or do you manipulate people into getting what you want from them to succeed?

As I look back on my own ministry, I cannot say I have not crossed this line.  On the one hand, I believe (or would like to believe) I’ve poured into people and been a good steward of their time, their talents, and their passion.  I like to challenge people to stretch themselves and develop a serving mindset.  After all, I believe discipleship that does not lead people into serving others is lacking in a key component.

On the other hand, I know the pressure of ministry.  I’ve been THAT GUY who, being so worried about pulling off the big song or video on a Sunday morning, pushed volunteers to the point of frustration…and, possibly, even to the point of quitting.

Sure, people quit all the time.  Sometimes people don’t like to be challenged.  But maybe a first step isn’t to question THEIR heart, but to take a hard look at our own.  Did WE drive them away?  Did we neglect to serve our servants by pouring into them – and their families?  These questions are vital in assessing whether or not we are leaders or manipulators.

2.  If you’re a volunteer, and you’re at that point of burning up, test your own heart first.  Are you simply giving up because you don’t want to make any sort of sacrifice?  Are you forgetting the sacrifice Christ made for us?  If so, the problem may lie within your own heart.  Getting upset with those who challenge you to grow spiritually and serve may be less about BURNOUT and more of a COP-OUT.  If that’s the case, please remember whom we serve:  It is not our leaders, nor even our churches, but God – a God Who knows the deepest motives of our hearts.

However, it may also be possible that you truly are being pushed too hard.  You may be subject to manipulation.  For example, if you’re constantly having to sacrifice time with your family on the altar of ministry, someone probably doesn’t have your best interests at heart.  Another indicator can be found in your reasons for serving:  Do you serve out of a Spirit of joy and wanting to see lives changed, or are you serving so you don’t let someone else (a leader, another person on your team) down?

Figuring out whether you are being manipulated may require some discernment.  A good resource I’ve found is a book called “Who’s Pulling Your Strings,” by Dr. Harriet B. Braiker.  The author identifies the ways manipulators work, and how YOU can break the cycle.  You can check it out here.

***

For those of us who are leaders, we have to set the example in this.  We have to truly care about those that serve alongside us in our ministries.  They are not tools to be exploited by us; they are partners whom we should also be serving.  Don’t use them to complete a task.  Love them, lead them, and work alongside them so that God’s purpose (not ours) is realized in their lives.

Lighten the burden of those who work for you.  – Isaiah 58:6

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