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Dangerously Discouraged

Jennifer Hooks

Redefine Yourself

"Paula has two options," advises Beader. "One, let someone else take over. This on the surface seems like the easy option, but it sounds like Paula's dedicated and gifted for this area of ministry, so it would be a tragic loss for her and the ministry.

"The second option may seem like a bitter pill to swallow," continues Beader, "but it may also carry with it the greatest measure of fulfillment and reward in the end. Paula needs to begin to earn, command, and expect respect. Like the centurion that Jesus met, once she settles in her mind whose authority she's operating under, she'll find it easier to stand tall and not be walked on. Remember, the one out in front is the one who takes the most hits. Criticism will always be part of life, so she'll do well to learn to glean what's useful from it and toss the rest. As she leads with confidence (not to be confused with arrogance), over time the perception will change and her clear leadership will take her to the next level in her ministry. And P.S.: Titles don't mean a thing." 

On the Fast Burnout

Trent is a high-profile children's minister at a megachurch. He's an author, a sought-after speaker, and still a hands-on children's minister. He also has two months of unused time off because he hasn't taken a vacation in three years. Recently he realized something was wrong but couldn't put his finger on it. He eventually became so ill that he missed a month of work. At his lowest point, he was bedridden and plagued with severe insomnia. When the doctor finally diagnosed him, he was shocked: Trent was clinically depressed -- a side effect of serious, pervasive burnout and stress in ministry.  

Recognize When You Need Help

"Clinical depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act," say the medical experts at Berkeley's Tang Center. "Clinical depression isn't a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed away. Clinically depressed people can't 'pull themselves together' and get better. In fact, [it] often interferes with a person's ability or wish to get help. It's a serious illness that lasts for weeks, months, and sometimes years."

Trent's experience speaks to other children's ministers who are trying to do it all. Their diagnosis may not be as serious as clinical depression, but severe burnout can have devastating personal and professional ramifications.  

"The limelight has a way of [burning out] some leaders," says Monroe. "We're not capable of this kind of work over the long haul, and so we come to the end of our physical and emotional selves. Many individuals in this state of physical burnout either try to get back to their former ways or just leave it all behind. It's hard for leaders to see themselves as needy or as 'the patient.' But that's what they need to be."

"In our ambitions and our ideas of what success is, it's so easy to lose sight of the big picture," says Beader. "It's possible that the future won't look anything like the past -- and that may be exactly God's plan."

"One thing people have to understand is that you can even burn out doing what you love," agrees Trent. After counseling, regular care from a doctor, and a schedule overhaul, Trent says, "I'm doing much better."

Where Are You, God?

Not long after Dan arrived at his children's ministry for work one morning, he took a phone call he'll never forget. There'd been a terrible car accident, and emergency workers were calling for a chaplain. Dan's pastor was out of town, so Dan agreed to come to the accident scene. Once there, he met a mother of two young children and a newborn. The father had been killed in the accident. The mother was inconsolable -- and furious with God. That day and in those that followed, the mother harshly rejected any attempt Dan made to console her, even rejecting his mere presence. So Dan focused on being unobtrusively supportive and helpful, and over the next weeks he prayed constantly for the woman and her children.

But two months after the accident, Dan learned that the woman's newborn had died of SIDS. Dan continued to pray and tried to reach out to her, again to no avail. A few months after the infant's death, the woman was arrested on drug charges. She went to jail and the state took her children.

Dan was dismayed -- he'd spent months supporting and reaching out to the family, untold hours praying for them, and despite all this, the family was torn even farther apart and had turned completely away from God.

"It all seemed so...ineffective," Dan laments. Though time has passed, Dan says he's still haunted by the family, still haunted by the fact that his faithful ministry to them was seemingly in vain. "I still think about them and wonder how they're doing," he admits.  

Give It to God

In situations such as this, Dan says he learned that children's ministers have to recognize that it's actually God that people are rejecting -- not them. "It's not personal, even though it may feel that way." And, he says, he also learned the importance of "dusting yourself off" when you're knocked down. "My advice? Don't let rejection or failure affect your faith," he says. "Our responsibility is to reflect the Light -- we're not the source of Light. So if you've done that, then you've done what you are meant to do. And you have to be okay with that."

"When we try our very best and it doesn't produce the results we hope for, we assume we've failed," says Kuehn. "[But] we never know just how much our support, presence, and prayers play a part in God's ultimate plan in other people's lives. Never give up -- on what God can do in this family, on God's faithfulness, and on his power at work in you."

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor for Children's Ministry Magazine.

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