Maintaining Autonomy In Ministry

Autonomy.  The quality or condition of being independent.

Not something you hear about in reference to ministry often. Or at all.

After all, as Christians we are all part of the same body, and belong to each other (Romans 12:5).  Additionally, we are told to die to ourselves (John 12:24-25), and we are to think of others before ourselves and look out for the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3-4). What’s that acronym? J-O-Y: Jesus-Others-You. These things are important, and believe me, I’m all about them.

So much about them, in fact, I frequently lose sight of my individuality. I become so much about the church, so much about the ministry, I forget my personal endeavors.  I forget that we are all “members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27). I forget that God has given me unique gifts, talents and things so that I can better enjoy Him.

I got into such a forgetful state about this last year.  I had been challenged and convicted about dying to myself as a 2012 New Year’s resolution. I wanted to be that seed that fell to the ground, died, and brought forth fruit in as a result. (Or at least, I thought that’s what I wanted).  As many of you know I was directing FortyOne20 Ministries during the spring and summer of last year. I was also heavily-involved with church activities. I was doing good things, and honestly, I thought I was doing the right things as I sacrificed personally-beneficial activities for ministry activities over and over.  Things like fellowship and building relationships with the people I was trying to minister to, personal writing and other creative pursuits, and enjoying my relationship with God. I was so busy and frazzled doing what I thought was most important, putting myself at the bottom, or very often, thinking about myself at all. And by the end of June, I was also completely miserable. I have never felt more lost and outside of myself as I did last summer and fall, and I really thought that was the dying to myself that God had called me to, that this was what  He wanted for me. And I stayed that way for several months, burning out and coming to a complete halt ministry-wise.

In November, I read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and I came across this quote: “When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” I know this book is not the word of God, but this struck me as particularly true in my case. God wants me to enjoy Him. God wants me to enjoy and use the gifts and talents He has given me. And God wants me to enjoy relating to people. God wants me to live freely, how He created and intends for me to live.

Since then, it’s no longer about obligation for me. It’s the best-worst thing that’s ever happened to me. You might think, with a hard-learned lesson like that, I would more heavily-consider what I take on and why. And I’ve been pretty good about establishing and maintaining boundaries over the past year.

Then suddenly, last weekend, I felt overwhelmed by all of the things I needed to do. I wrote it all down to make sure I wasn’t just psyching myself out, and discovered I’m involved in like six or seven different things on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, I’m not spending much time writing or producing, which I need to be doing to maintain my personal portfolio as an independent writer/producer. I feel busy all of the time, no time where I’m not thinking about the next thing, including during my personal times with God.

I had to let a few things go in order to better worship God, in order to better use and enjoy my gifts and talents, and in order to more effectively minister to the people God places in my path. I’ve decided to take one day a week (Sunday) to worship and rest in God, to be present and spend quality time with family and friends, and to otherwise do things I enjoy, so that I’m refreshed and ready for my week. I’ve decided to spend time every day writing and working on production projects. And I’ve decided to be more intentional about the people in my path.

So, where does dying to myself come into the picture? The hierarchy is still Jesus>Others>You.

My relationship with God is my first priority.  I will spend time with Him even when it means giving up time with other people or time for personal endeavors. And I really want to enjoy that time and be present in it.

I’m still called to walk in humility, to look out for your interests before my own. I’m still a part of a body, and I still need to think about how my actions (or lack thereof) affect that body. I’m called to love you, serve you, exhort you, and walk through life with you. I’m also called to reach the lost. And I still need to use my time, resources and energy to do these things.

I’m also still a unique individual, by God’s design. I’m told to rest (Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4:11a). I’m told not to strive (Psalm 46:10). I’ve been given abundant life (life to the full), not a frazzled and frustrated life (John 10:10). And for my well-being as an individual, I have to establish limits and boundaries in ministry.

And believe it or not, so do you!

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