How Not to Implode in Ministry

It was one of those two-by-four-between-the-eyes kind of sermons.

I took my team to LifeWay’s Women’s Leadership Forum. (A leadership training event I’d highly recommend.) Eric Geiger was at the podium. My team and I sat with Bibles open, pens and paper in hand, ready to learn.

Instead, I got schooled.

A fundamental shift happened during that teaching that had immediate and dramatic ripple effects in the S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) of the women’s ministry I lead.

The topic was how not to implode in ministry. We’ve all seen people—gifted, God-loving people—cave under the weight of ministry. We don’t want to join their ranks.

Eric pointed out that abandoned buildings are rarely exploded from the inside when the time comes to build something new. Wrecking balls are also a thing of the past. Instead, strategically planted explosives blow up the building from the inside, causing it to collapse onto itself.

Such is often the strategy of the enemy when targeting those of us in ministry. The threats are internal, strategically placed deceptions, laid as traps toward our demise. You can read a blog version of that sermon here. He didn’t make it past explosive number one before I knew I was in trouble.

Explosive: We lead in isolation.

No Leader Alone

As ministry leaders, we are surrounded by people. We are rarely physically alone, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t leading in isolation.

In my case, I was detached from involvement by my church’s pastors and elders because, let’s face it, we’re all busy. It just got easier and easier to do my thing without checking in with other staff members and those who had authority to speak into my efforts.

Selfishly, creating touchstones to regularly connect with others about the direction of the ministry and my own spiritual well-being felt like one more thing to manage. It was another meeting I would need to organize, another agenda I would need to set.

So I didn’t.

But this is not a post all about me (scout’s honor). It is a post about us, those of us who are leading and serving in the local church. I know I am not the only one who, on some level, is chronically leading in isolation.

But, sister, repeat after me . . .

By God’s grace, we will not implode.

Because the Church does not just need us to run our race well. The Church needs us to finish well. The list of names of ministry leaders who started strong then crumbled is long enough. Our names don’t need to be added.

Let’s detonate the lie that we can do this on our own and refuse to minister and serve in isolation. What does that look like practically? I have some ideas!

The Team You Can’t Live Without

As soon as Eric’s sermon was over, I sprinted toward my friend, Tippy. Tippy is in her mid-seventies. She’s walked with and served the Lord longer than I’ve been alive. She’s the Proverbs 31 woman and the Titus 2 woman wrapped up in a beautiful, wise package.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I confessed my sinful isolation to Tippy and asked for help to forge a new ministry path. Together, we reached out to a handful of other wise women within my church, most of whom are elders’ wives, closely tethered to the male leadership of our congregation, and we asked them to consider joining a group we call the “advisory board.”

I was straight with this group from the get-go that this could not be another group where I had to manage the schedule and agenda-setting. I needed their eyeballs on my leadership, and I needed them to be invested enough in that idea that they would take the reins.

Is that a big ask? You betcha! Did they shy away from it? Not for a nanosecond.

These are not necessarily women who think everything I do and say is on point. They ask hard questions. They challenge the status quo. They help me repent. They get monthly access to my calendar, and more often than not, they challenge me to do less not more. This is not my “Ministry is stressful, let’s go grab coffee” group. This is my “The stakes are too high, and you need frequently reminders who Jesus is” group.

I now meet with my advisory board monthly. Last month, I tried to get out of it because my plate seemed too full and our board meeting felt optional. Graciously—in love—the board said “no.” They recognize my tendency to retreat into tasks and simply won’t let me lead in that kind of isolation any longer.

It’s possible you’re reading this and thinking, I don’t have anyone like that at my church. I can’t think of one person, much less a team, who would meet with me monthly without me leading them.

Can I lovingly encourage you to take those concerns to the Lord and ask Him if they are true? I would have said the same thing. I would have been wrong. It required prayer, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, a willingness to be uncomfortable, and the courage to make big asks of women I admire, but ultimately, I found help had been close by all along. I simply hadn’t reached for it.

We have event teams, worship teams, prayer teams, teaching teams, planning teams. . . . Why not have a team responsible for checking your spiritual pulse and lending regular wisdom to your ministry direction?

Other Essential Touchpoints

While a board of older, wiser women has been a huge boon to the women’s ministry, I am also mindful that this group cannot take the place of male leadership. I’ve taken intentional steps to connect with other (male) pastoral staff more often and to reach out to our church elders.

Is this awkward? Yes. I am a woman leading a women’s ministry who sometimes struggles to speak the language male leadership does. Is it time consuming? Yes, again. Relationships and meaningful conversations require white space on our calendars, something that is chronically in short supply.

But let’s remember what’s at stake when we refuse to be inconvenienced. Leading alone may be efficient, but is it really effective? And if it is effective, can it be effective long-term? If we could interview our brothers and sisters who have imploded in ministry, I’m sure they’d tell us that ministry disconnected from the leadership of our local churches simply is not sustainable.

Let’s say it again together: By God’s grace, we will not implode.

It’s true that ministry can be lonely. It’s also true that it doesn’t have to be. You cannot afford to lead in isolation. We cannot afford to let you. 

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager for Revive Our Hearts, and a host of the Grounded videocast. You can hear her teach on The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast.