When Loving People becomes JV

Making Money from Art and Making Money from Jesus

There are a lot of potential pitfalls for those of us in professional Christianity. I parallel it to being an artist. When I first started writing songs and doing music I was just thrilled to be creating. The creativity and artistic expression were the end goal. But then, when I started to try and make money from my art, to be a “professional” singer, it messed with the creative process.

Is this song what people want to hear?

These lyrics aren’t pop enough.

This sounds too much like  so and so and not enough like so and so.

Whatever the train of thought- the process was, at the very least affected and at the very worst tainted, by the desire to make money from the art.

Christian leadership often starts as a really beautiful overflow of something exciting and authentic happening in our lives with Jesus. It’s an adventure and there are so many new skills to learn and a passion to be a part of what Jesus is doing in people. Over time there is a natural transition to moving up the chain and becoming a supervisor. As someone in college ministry, our front lines ministry is college students. Gathering new freshmen and students that are curious about Jesus is typically the group we are working hardest to welcome and gather.  The community moves in concentric circles with core students, then student leaders, then interns and then full time staff. A team leader at an established campus can spend most of their time supervising staff and interns and maybe interacting with core student leaders. After 5 or so years in ministry we have often shifted to supervising staff and to roles that are more training and program orientated.

Now I believe in good training. Watching people throw all their energy and heart at something but with no strategy or training makes me crazy. And I do think that more experienced leaders should develop younger leaders. But…. there are some odd dynamics that sneak in.

When ministry is your job, over time your relationship with people becomes supervision. Supervision is really different than discipling and it doesn’t require love. In fact, love can come off as unprofessional and unnecessary. I deeply believe that Jesus invested in his disciples strategically- he focused on 12 people and then 3 and from among them 1. But he didn’t supervise his disciples, He invested in them deeply and loved them intimately in the mess of their sin and brokeness. He was in community with them. He was there when they had petty conflicts with each other and when their comparison issues came up. He loved them profoundly and sacrificially when they were being effective leaders and when they weren’t.

I’m Too Advanced to Love Messy People

As I move along in my leadership there can come an insidious little shift where I start to act like loving people deeply, loving messy people, loving sacrificially over the long haul, is not strategic. It’s sort of JV. It’s for younger leaders. The people we are called to serve become tools for our strategy. But the problem with strategy is that when people are the means- we have to wonder what has become the end.

Here’s the truth. We want to move away from loving people sacrificially and suffering with them in love because it’s hard, annoying, and will often break our hearts.  That’s what you find out. I have poured my heart and life into students who have at times been ungrateful, hateful, angry, and very publicly critical of me. I have loved and invested in people who have turned away from me in my own times of grief and suffering and been in cross cultural relationships where I have felt deeply misunderstood and unseen. I have invested in people who have left the group I was hoping they would lead. And I have made more mistakes than I can count as I’ve tried to care fro students under my care.

The other day my godson asked “How do you keep it from going to your head?” (In regards to being a role model and mentor.) I wanted to laugh. It went to my head for about two years- and then the limits of my heart, the power of my ego, and my own agenda were laid bare. My deep dislike for how messy people are and the deep investment people require surfaced. I found out that we can have a strategy, but when we work with people- the end game is helping people experience the powerful and loving reality of Jesus His truth and His grace. And that can and should sideline strategy.

Over time I wanted to back away from the front lines. Leave it to the young guns to love the young folks- I’ll just work with trained leaders who are ready to be supervised. I’ll coach. I’ll train. Very little heartbreak in any of those situations.

 The Suffering Love of Jesus

But I keep going back to the suffering love of Jesus.

I was recently at a church that has an incredible mosaic of Jesus. His arms are outstretched and in the center of His chest is a gold heart- with what looked like flames coming out of it. After a couple opportunities to meditate on the image- I realized that the heart was surrounded by a wreath of thorns. This image is commonly referred to as the Sacred Heart – hence the name of the cathedral – Le Sacre Couer.

I was struck by the truth of that juxtaposition- at the center is Jesus’ heart burning with love- but surrounded by the suffering thorns. This is what is means to follow Jesus and it is at the center of who He is. And I think it is dangerous for Christian leaders if  we begin to drift away from this center.

There is a place for supervision, training, and strategy. But I believe more and more deeply that at the center must be a commitment to love. Sacrificial Love. Deep Love. Whole Hearted Love.  And if our ministry jobs have shifted to training and supervision, or writing and strategy, then we must find relationships where we are loving deeply and sacrificially. I know that I need it. My ego and my character need it. I don’t have some easy answer to the intersection of professional Christianity and sacrificial love- but this has been my recent meditation and I’m sharing it with you for your consideration.






6 thoughts on “When Loving People becomes JV

  1. Thank you for writing this, Erna. I need this reminder all the time, and you articulated well the tensions I feel both in the world of “ministry” and all up in my own messed up heart.

  2. Thank you so much Erna. This is so true. Thank you for capturing it so well and taking time to reflect on it and share it with us. May we continue to remind each other of this truth and in doing so, experience more and more God’s deep love for us.

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