26 February 2013
Frodo Baggins: Model for Ministry in Tough Times
We all have models of ministry we emulate, ministry leaders we look up to. These are mostly those who model success, who are able to perpetuate good times and positive ministries. But what about when things are hard—really hard?
We often lack for ministry models in those time, in part, I suppose, because we like to talk about our successes far more than our failures. We don't as easily celebrate people for their brokenness and struggle, and yet, in ministry, we all wind up there at one time or another.
At some of the most difficult times in ministry, I found an unlikely ministry model: Frodo Baggins.
Frodo is the main character in J.R.R. Tolkien's book trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. During the toughest times in my ministry I found myself watching the recent movie versions often, not merely for escapism, but because in those times I came to strongly identify with Frodo Baggins.
You'll remember Frodo as the diminutive Hobbit, who is charged with carrying the burdensome ring of Sauron across Middle Earth in order to to destroy it at Mount Doom in the forsaken land of Mordor.
The ring weighs more and more heavily on Frodo throughout the story. The carefree life of his home in the Shire is replaced with a grinding pilgrimmage through unforgiving terrain. He tires and ages before us. The evil influence of the ring threatens to corrupt is kind heart.
Ministry, whether in good times or bad, is about ring-bearing. It is about carrying the burden for your people—for the congregation itself and for the larger church. Always, we hold the hopes and dreams, and aspirations of our people. In difficult circumstances, we also carry their fear and their anxiety. We are often the recipents of criticism and bad behavior. The weight of the task of guiding a congregation through difficult times can take an enormous toll on the ring bearer.
THE TIME THAT IS GIVEN US
In the Fellowship of the Ring the burden of carrying the ring is weighing heavily on Frodo. He says, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” And the wise wizard Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that it not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
We must also decide what to do with the time that has been given us, even if it isn't what we would have wanted or chosen for ourselves or others. Some of the decisions that Frodo made and some that were made for him, decisions that enabled to fullfill his goal, his destiny, are also some of the best advice for surviving the most difficult times in our ministry.
Here are four things I learned from Frodo:
Get a Fellowship
Frodo did not make his journey alone. He relied on a Fellowship, a group of people that committed themselves to one another for a common purpose—in this case, to destroying the ring. Although Frodo carried the ring itself, it took all of their abilities and courage to make it through. It took the various talents of Aragon the Ranger, Legolas the archer Elf, Gimli the Dwarf, hobbits Merry and Pippin, and Gandalf the Wizard to endure.
For me, this was my mutual ministry committee, a talented, dedicated, caring group of three people with different but complimentary gifts. We met as often as needed and I knew I could always pick up the phone or shoot off an email. They could not bear the ring for me, but they helped me to carry it through their presence, support, and wisdom. If you don't already have some kind of group you can rely on within your congregation, assemble a fellowship.
Some find support outside the congregation in formal or informal clergy support groups. These are also good to have in tough times. However, they can't be a substitute for a group within your congregation. You need to find support within the congregation, otherwise you risk demonizing the whole place. Also, outside clergy can't stand up for you an annual meeting.
Have a Wing Man
Samwise Gamgee was Frodo's constant companion throughout his journey. He swore never leave Frodo's side and he didn't. In difficult times you need at least one person (but hopefully more) that will always have your back, will always go to the mat for you, that you absolutely trust—someone you can look to across the table or room during a meeting an know you are not alone, and if it comes down to it, that you can walk out together. This is the only thing that saved me from being a completely nervous wreck in some meetings. Find your Samwise.
The ARt of the Grind
Frodo's every step was labored and weighed down with the ring and yet he kept moving ahead—slowly, yes, but he kept moving. I discovered in my difficult days that there is an art to grinding it out. It's not exciting or glamorous, but it works. Sometimes the best you can do is just keep moving, keep plugging away, trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in the hope that something will open. For some, the grind can last months or years. Don't become discouraged. Measure progress in smaller increments. Know that there is nobility in each small step of your journey. Be disciplined with your time and your tounge.
Act With Integrity
Above all, act with integrity. In the end, no matter what happens in the congregation, you have to look at yourself in the mirror. You will live with your words and actions. None of us knows what the ultimate consequences of our decisions will be, but we can act in a manner that is befitting the office we hold, that reflects of personal integrity, that stays the course and holds the best interests of the congregation, even if many don't see it that way.
Don't Give Up
This doesn't mean you should stay in a conflicted place that is harmful to you and your family. Sometimes the right thing and the best thing to do is to leave. Don't give up on the Gospel. Don't give up on your own sense of calling, which transcends any one congregation or call. Don't give up on the goodness of people and congregations. Don't give up on yourself.
And thanks for your ministry, especially in the tough times.