As l drove to the youth meeting, my mind was in a scramble. What am I going to do for my talk tonight? I wondered. I had led many meetings since becoming a volunteer youth leader, but this week I'd gotten behind and hadn't prepared. And now nothing was coming. The closer I got, the more anxious I felt.
Inside I was tired, bone tired. Is this the way autumn leaves feel before they drop off the trees? Between a job and school and this ministry, I didn't have time to spend with friends. And I wasn't taking time to read the Bible, pray, or do anything to deepen my spiritual life. I was drying up. The program seemed so exciting when I first became involved, but now it had become burdensome. Where had I gone wrong? How did I so quickly lose my first feelings of euphoria? What could I do about my fatigue and the sense that I was "weary in well-doing"?
Leaders in a church face many barriers to long term involvement and effectiveness, but I'm convinced, after many years as both a lay leader and pastor, that there are three main ones: fatigue, conflict, and disillusionment. Along the way, however, I've also learned some practical ways to overcome them.
My fatigue as a youth leader stemmed from a positive source: I wanted to do something worthwhile. But in my strong sense of commitment, I had neglected to do some of the following:
Ask questions. We should find out as much as we can about the role we are undertaking. How many meetings a month are expected - not only with the specific program, but also with any peripheral activities? How much flexibility is allowed if an unavoidable job or family commitment comes up? A critical question is "What resources can I draw on for help, and who will train me?" Too often as volunteers we get the "deep-water training program" - sink or swim on your own.
Consider a conditional commitment. We might ask to try on the role for size to see if we are really suited to participate long term. We need to beware the "we can't get anyone else, so we really need you to volunteer" trap. Maybe there are some good reasons no one else would do the job.
Look for relationships. With rare exception, God does not expect us to minister alone. We need time with peers. Sharing program leadership with a friend is one good way to deepen a relationship.
Monitor priorities. We may be the persons with the gifts, experience, or possibilities for growth that God wants to use. In obedience to Christ's nudging we can respond enthusiastically to the call for help. But we must realize that it is not the divine plan that we get so involved that we lose touch with our Source. The work of the ministry is not more important than the personal preparation we need through prayer, Scripture reading, and other spiritual disciplines.
In the middle of the routine business of our church council, Jess (not his real name) began to criticize sharply Larry's work. "You didn't follow the stewardship plan," he charged. "You haven't followed through on your commitments, and you don't have enough people following you to pull off this program." A numbed silence settled over the council.
As a matter of fact, Larry had already helped raise 8 percent more than last year's record stewardship campaign. Why the bitter, unfair criticism? I wondered. Is Jess jealous because Larry raised more money than he did as last year's chairman? Did they have some falling out in their business dealings? How can such demoralizing words come from one who is normally optimistic and compassionate?