The Paper Cuts of Ministry
3 Steps to take when the little things start to take control
I was preparing an object lesson for our preschoolers at church yesterday when it happened. Out of nowhere, when I was least ready for something tragic to happen, I was attacked by a white piece of card stock. For the rest of the night, my newly injured thumb kept getting in the way of everything I tried to do. While playing guitar and singing christmas carols with our church’s 3 and 4 year olds, I couldn’t quite grip my pick and kept dropping it on the ground. As I high-fived kids and shook hands with parents throughout the night, I winced uncontrollably with each greeting. Even as I signed my own two children out of childcare for the night, I could hardly grip the pen well enough to write my initials.
I hate paper cuts.
If you’ve ever had a paper cut, you can understand the pain I suffered in that moment (and continue to suffer this morning as I type). Paper cuts happen fast. Paper cuts don’t look like injuries to those around you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. Paper cuts get in the way of ministry and disrupt our lives in little ways… and, if we’re not careful, those little ways can add up to big ways.
Over the years, I’ve suffered another kind of paper cut… an injury that would hardly be noticed by anyone else, something that shouldn’t hurt as much as it does and gets in the way of my day-to-day life. It happens in the form of an email from a disgruntled parent. It’s the sharp pain of hearing that a family has decided to leave your church. It’s what keeps me up at night after a program you ran didn’t go quite as you planned.
If you’ve ever experience the kind of pain I’m talking about, you need to know you’re not alone. Most all of us in ministry have experienced a paper cut of sorts and have lived to tell the tale. I asked around this week in the ministry circles I run in to hear what steps some of our peers take in order to deal with and move on from some of those sharp pains in ministry that have the potential to overwhelm us.
Step 1: Call it what it is
One thing I’ve heard over and over is that perspective means everything when dealing with the paper cuts of ministry. In my lifetime, I’ve never met someone who has died from a paper cut. It’s important to take a step back after the sharp pain subsides and evaluate how lasting the injury is going to be. Paper cuts teach us to move a little bit slower and to pay attention to what we’re doing. One of the ways that you can take control over a painful situation is to remind yourself of the scope of the problem.
I have a notebook that I write the paper cuts of ministry in. Every time I go to write a new thing in the book, I look over the old things in the book and I’m reminded of how big and sovereign our God is in my life. The paper cuts of ministry can overwhelm us if we let ourselves get caught up in the initial pain – finding a way to put them in perspective will help you move on and not let the pain control you.
Step 2: Tell someone about it
Have you ever considered having someone in your life that you can vent to about the little things? It’s hard for me to feel overwhelmed by the little sharp pains of ministry when I have to put them into words to someone else. I’ve met a lot of people in ministry (children’s ministry, especially) who feel like they’re all alone when it comes to the hard parts of church life. If you don’t have someone to talk to about your paper cuts, it’s easy to begin to think that your problems are bigger than they are.
This doesn’t mean that you post a Facebook status about your frustration or that you take to Twitter to vent about your paper cut in 140 characters or less. That’s a great way to turn a little problem into a bigger one. Instead, it’s better if you can find a network of real people that you can have conversations and build relationships with. Kenny Conley, over at www.childrensministryonline.com, recently posted a great series on starting a Kidmin Network – if you need a place to start (I’d encourage you to start with THIS POST if you don’t know where to begin).
Step 3: Pray for healing
I might not know anyone who has been killed by a paper cut… but, I’ve met a lot of people who didn’t take care of a wound well and ended up getting a bad infection from something that started out small. In the same way that you’d want to treat a cut in life, paper cuts in ministry need healing – even if they seem like tiny little scrapes. As I’ve asked around, I’ve heard story after story of paper cuts that turned into bigger problems because the people involved never moved on from them and they became much bigger and more infected problems. Don’t let that happen to you.
I love that we have a God who cares about the little things. We should be in the habit of taking our problems, even the little ones, to God through prayer and petition. If you want to last in ministry, and in the position that God has called you to, you need to build prayer into the rhythm of how you deal with paper cuts in ministry. Even the smallest frustration or hurt can turn into an infected mess – take your problems to the One who created you. He’ll provide a greater healing than Neosporin and a Band Aid could ever offer.