By Terry Linhart
Most of us who work with youth or follow cultural trends are familiar with the term “selfie.” Some of our youth take so many that we won’t be surprised when it shows up as a skill on their resume in a few years. Ellen DeGeneres took one at the Academy Awards alongside a group of movie stars and it was shared so many times that Twitter shut down.
The example of taking a selfie is helpful for the Christian worker. For the last 15 years I’ve been developing and training young adult for Christian ministry and nonprofit work. These amazing and gifted adults, many volunteers, give of their lives for the sake of Christ to make a lasting difference in others. However, I’ve also discovered three problems that often keep them from being effective. They limited my effectiveness in my younger days of ministry.
- They have patterns of behavior that keep them from being effective.
- They aren’t even aware that they’re doing them.
- They have no one speaking to them about these issues.
Over time, we develop ways of interacting with the social world around us. We inadvertently learn ways to protect ourselves, deal with problems, interact with and influence others, control and use our personalities, and employ our gifts. Sometimes those patterns create problems and we don’t even know it.
I encourage people in ministry to take a “reaction selfie,” to watch their reactions to events around them. As they have an emotional response (or lack of one!) to something around them, I have them pretend to snap a picture of it and later evaluate what caused the strong response, which is usually just an internal one that no one sees.
This idea may not seem biblical, but Paul was ruthless in self-evaluation. He was careful to live in such a way that no one would stumble (II Corinthians 6:3), but never assumed it was automatic. If we are to “rid ourselves of such things” (Col. 3:8-10) or “train” to be godly (II Timothy 4:7), we must then “throw off” (Hebrews 12:1) what holds us back from faithfully and effectively serving Jesus in ministry.
Life a rearview mirror, these self-reflections help us peer into our blind spots and see what we don’t naturally see in our lives. And, like a rearview mirror, our reactions tell us that the problems may be closer than it appears. Here are some common ones in ministry:
- Strong emotional responses to success, failures, or confrontation.
- A high level of conflict or an avoidance of it.
- Jealous at others’ success or promotion.
- Inefficient use of time or money.
- Consistent patterns that haven’t changed for years.
- Secret sin that few if any know.
- Negative self-talk. Your own opinion of you keeps you from living freely.
So, here’s the kicker: Some of our issues are so personal to us that others around us may never even say anything to us. Christian circles have become quite good at not wanting to hurt another’s feelings. Boards that oversee a ministry boards don’t usually excel at restoration or personal development, so it’s less messy to just let someone go rather than work with them to improve.
If you’re serious about growing in your ministry effectiveness, then let me invite you to find two people who can help you look in the rearview mirror with you and talk through your “reaction selfies.” Ask them to coach you on what it is that you don’t see. It’s not going to be easy at first. You’ll be reminded of the patterns and problems that have plagued you for a while and that’s never fun.
I was tooling along in my early ministry days, serving in a national role as a teacher/trainer, and feeling good about being in that ministry for many years. One day, my supervisor called me to a lunch meeting where he let me know that my future in that ministry there was coming to an end. Many external problems contributed to the decision, but I hadn’t helped matters by the way I acted and my criticisms of others.
I had no clue how much of a trail of conflict and hurt feelings I had left behind until my job change forced me to look back. But it was too late. Those next two years formed a wonderfully painful crucible where the Holy Spirit burned away the dross and retooled the personalities of a couple who were deeply hurt, tempted to be bitter, and to run and hide.
Remember: Whenever you react, take a “reaction selfie.”
Blog post by Terry Linhart who teaches youth ministry at Bethel College in South Bend, Indiana. He is the Academic Network Coordinator for Youth Specialties and he is the author of six youth ministry books. You can learn more at TerryLinhart.com.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net