A Potential Problem With a Servant’s Heart

I was talking to the Executive Director of a homeless ministry recently. Everyday they feed hundreds of meals. Every night the ministry boards dozens of men and women. They clothe people. They help prepare people for job interviews. It’s an amazing ministry, doing great work.

But everything isn’t great.

The leader is tired, the budget is stretched, and the volunteer base is thin. Everyone is worn out emotionally and physically.

What’s the real problem? The real challenge? 

It was easy to diagnose as an outsider.

The leader is too busy serving to ever lead.

She never has time to recruit volunteers, let alone train them. She never has time to do board development. She never has time to fundraise. She never has time to cast the vision. She never has time to plan and dream. She never has time to invest in anything that lasts bigger than today.

And, she never has time to take care of herself. Ever.

All things she verbally recognizes she needs to do.

It’s the real problem. It’s the real challenge to the ministry.

And, if she’s not careful…and I hate to be the one to say this to such a wonderful ministry — eventually, it has the potential to tremendously cripple the ministry. In fact, the future of the ministry, in my professional organizational leadership opinion, is in jeopardy now. And, she is personally a time bomb waiting to explode in burnout.

And, she is one example. But, she is not unique. I’ve seen it many times. I see it among my pastor friends.

Show me a constantly over-worked leader. Show me continually stressed volunteers. Show me a thin budget. Show me a ministry with more demands than the resources or people to meet them…

And, I’ll show you a ministry that is headed for certain trouble unless something is addressed.

It reminds me of the hardest thing I’ve seen for ministers to do who love doing ministry — people with a servant’s heart.

If he or she has a heart to serve others. If he or she loves helping people — connecting with people — ministering to people…

The hardest thing to do…

Is to step back and see the bigger picture.

They have a hard time stopping ministry long enough to explore longer-term issues. They have a hard time doing, what seems to be at the time, unproductive work. People need to be fed. People are hurting. That’s why the ministry exists, right?

And, I get that. I’ve lived that. I even applaud the heart. It’s that heart that possibly prompted them into the ministry. It’s a great heart.

The problem is that it isn’t sustainable long-term. Even Jesus “slipped away” from the crowds. Even Elijah needed to be strengthened.

My advice:

Be willing to stop feeding one so you can feed dozens more in months to come.

Spend time developing the board. Spend time recruiting more volunteers. Spend time raising more funds. Spend time casting the vision to the community. Spend time caring for yourself. Spend time relaxing at the feet of Jesus.

It will seem you’re neglecting the ministry for a time, but in the big picture, you’ll be building a better and stronger ministry. And, you’ll be a healthier leader.

What do you need to stop doing now so you can see even more done later? 

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7 thoughts on “A Potential Problem With a Servant’s Heart

  1. Wise advice and great post. Jesus spent more time with the disciples than he did healing. He didn’t aim to heal everyone. Someone needs to continue on the work that is started or it will die out. If her time is already full, how would you initially advise her to make room for these other things? Is there something you’d have her specifically cut or a way to bring outside help if she doesn’t even have time to recruit more volunteers without collapsing the ministry?

    • There are several options. she can add to the load of a few volunteers for a short time so she can get away. Most leaders are hesitant to turn over the ultimate decision-making power. She needs to.Also, she can close things down for a few days. Again, that seems harsh, but it will do a few things. 1)Show the community the need. (She could disappear tomorrow for health reasons — what would they do then). 2)Increase volunteers who step up in her absence (some people won't until they have to) 3) Prepare her for the long haul.Finally, she can charge her board with doing something intentional on her behalf. She may have to pull the emergency card. Most boards will step up only when they sense the desperation. As long as things are “running” smoothly, many boards will not see this greater need.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  2. Thanks for your honest assessment. We need more of that.
    I have to stop reacting to every need, because we live in a fallen world and there are a lot of needs. Responding to God, taking time to know what He is putting on my plate is what I need to be doing. Being called to God 1st as my busiest time, becomes set aside as second, so my vital-vertical relationship with HIM can stay established as 1st. Without that dependence on HIM, I foolishly think I can do all things and I slip off His yoke, which is easy and take on mine and the heaviness of it will eventually sink me. I need to recognize now that I can't fix everything and everyone. The fallen will always be with us in a fallen world, in order to help them, our appointments must be divinely set up. What I must do now is stop depending on myself to know what to do and when to do it and whom to do it unto and be led by The Holy Spirit.
    Twitter: kmac4him