Still Not Jaded: Part Two of a Plea to Resist Cynicism in Life and Ministry

Scott Armstrong

In the previous post, I shared a story of being a new to the mission field and confronting some hard truths of conflict and politics in the Church. Were the words to me from a trusted veteran missionary correct? Was I eventually going to become jaded like everyone else?

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I determined then and there that I would not let it happen.  I would battle against cynicism and disillusionment.  The following suggestions have helped me enormously in the years of ministry since:

  1. Start to date again. Just as marriages can become dry and passionless after years of routine and the stresses of life, so also our spiritual lives must be tended to intentionally and creatively. What was it like when you first met God or when he first called you? What were the dreams he planted in you? What do you love most about serving God? It may be that you need to get away to dedicate time not just to ministry, but to Christ himself.  “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
  2. Make sure mission is prominent in everything you do personally and corporally. Becoming “jaded” can many times be attributed to forgetting our mission. This applies to a general lack of remembering the Great Commission, but it also refers to the specific mission that God has given you, your family, and your leadership team.  I remember in college that I read Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First, and then was assigned to write my personal mission statement.  I emphasized renewal in several areas and a dedication to God’s calling and to my family.  Maybe it seems laughable for a 20-year old with high hopes and little experience to chart a missional course toward the future.  And even Covey encourages us to revisit and amend that statement as needed every so often.  However, if we do not do it at 20 years of age, when will we do it? If we do not focus on mission today, we should not be surprised when we are rudderless years later. Revisited often and adjusted occasionally, that statement has provided a foundation for my life and ministry for the last two decades – and will continue to do so going forward.
  3. Call a spade a spade. Many people think that the antidote to becoming jaded is denying or dismissing the awful things that have been done to us and within the Church. It is pretty impressive how we can rationalize others’ sinful actions with biblical or spiritual pretense.  “He was abusive, but he is a revered leader, so it must be me who is at fault.” “She hurt me, but I know all things work together for good…” These mental (and emotional) gymnastics may temporarily mask the issue, and make things run smoothly in spite of the dysfunction. But the real way to remain passionate about life and ministry is to admit that the Church has failed in many ways. Be specific.  Who hurt you? What took away the joy? Have you forgiven? Only when we identify the disease poisoning our joy can we begin to treat it.
  4. Develop spiritual and emotional tenacity. A lot of times we equate tenacity with the physical.  The image in our minds might be a soldier pushed to the brink of exhaustion, dehydration, and pain.  With blood and sweat mixing on his brow, he keeps on going – literally gritting his teeth. The Apostle Paul also uses a physical metaphor of running a race when speaking of spiritual perseverance and even refers to “beating his body” so as to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27).  Images of emotional perseverance are harder to come by, however.  What if we were to develop just as much “stick-to-it-ive-ness” emotionally? What if we were to begin to value a tenacious attitude as much as we do physical striving? Much of spiritual and emotional tenacity has to do with choosing joy in the midst of suffering or focusing on the enormous blessings of God instead of many daily annoyances.  Remember Paul and Silas singing in the Philippian jail? In other words, emotional tenacity is recognizing that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). God needs soldiers who are tenacious: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  5. Love the Church. It is the bride of Christ. It is the body of Christ. And yet, if you’re like me, a lot of times I find myself complaining and grumbling about it. A call to love Christ is to love his Church. This relationship is both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others). We will not be able to fake it too long before people know we are frauds. The Holy Spirit must change our hearts when we’ve been disillusioned or hurt.  “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).  This is not the same, but is certainly closely related to our final suggestion…
  6. View the Church through realistic lenses.After sensing that God called me to join him in his redemptive work, I could hardly contain the excitement. Sure, it was overwhelming, but God wanted to use me to change the world!  Little did I know that the barrier that would most attempt to discourage and dissuade me from that mission through the years would be the lack of vision and general unhealthiness of the Church.  While I have resolved to never lose my optimism, I have also had to be realistic.  Every obstacle will not magically fly away because I have answered God’s call.  I am imperfect, and every other Christian is, too. Pettiness and politics will still remain in the Church at every level because it is made up of humans.  But knowing all the details of conflict and confrontation does not mean that we are forced to allow that reality to disfigure the image of God in us.  The movement behind the curtain does not have to divert us from the masterpiece God is performing on stage right in front of us.

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I am no longer a rookie missionary.  I have seen a lot of filth, and there have been many circumstances that have threatened to leave me frustrated and cynical.  Yet, I remain as passionate as I was that first year of cross-cultural ministry – much more so, in fact.

So, what about you? Would you join me in the war against becoming jaded?

 

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