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As a high school tennis player, I remember the pressure and tightness I would feel on a second serve with the game on the line. The pressure and fear of a double fault could result in me tightening up and not being able to execute the well-practiced second serve.
In sports, even the best athletes can tighten up with the game on the line. Instead of competing to win, the fear of losing can begin to dominate, e.g., an NBA player at the free throw line shoots an air ball; young golfers boldly sink the putt, but older golfers carry the memory of all of the missed putts.
Pride in Success and the Fear of Failure
In the first few years of directing at Ohio State, our worship team was not very talented and our numbers were not impressive, but we were full of energy, vision, and faith in what God would do as we pioneered the ministry. We saw modest growth each year, as a result, we suddenly had something to lose. Instead of focusing in on the vision, I sensed an increasing pressure to continue to grow and to break 100.
In year five or six, a normal reality hit our ministry. A larger than normal number of our original and strongest student leaders were going to graduate at the end of the school year. A fear began to well up within the back of my mind, and I began to fear the loss of students, shrinking, and not being able to continue to grow the ministry. Anxiety and the fear of losing made me feel like the golfer who tenses up over a makeable putt or a basketball player who is scared of missing the free throw.
I found myself feeling a lot of weight and pressure to keep us from shrinking. I started working even more hours, finding peace only from the exhaustion of having nothing left to give. I hit a breaking point one morning as I was about to leave for campus when my middle son, who was probably only 4 at the time, was distraught about Daddy never being home. In my fear of failure, I had started working all the time. As I was about to go to campus on Saturday morning, he blurted out, “Why do you love them more than me?” I froze, feeling the reality of his comments penetrated my anxious heart.
Learning to be Faithful and not Fearful
It is essential for each of us to keep our identity in Christ and not in our accomplishments. Ministry, like any work or achievement, can become a way for us to declare our value or worth. Anxiousness and fear of failure may drive us to work and give an appearance of success, but at a great cost. Our success then becomes a source of our identity and, when threatened, a source of great stress, anxiety, and worry.
In my life, the Lord continually has to remind me that I do ministry in response to what He has done and not as a means of finding value in His eyes. My identity and value is in Him and not in my success or failure in ministry. This point was driven home in my life when I transitioned to become a District Chi Alpha Director in Indiana. As I prayed over the opportunity, I sensed two things from the Lord: 1) I am calling you to do this, and 2) I am not promising you success. Jesus was making it clear to me that He was seeking me to be faithful to the calling and that I needed to allow the results to be in His hands. It is His mission and He calls us to be faithful.
Your value is in Christ and it does not go up or down with the number of students in your ministry.
For Further Thoughts
Faithfulness not Achievement – Video Blog by E. Scott Martin
Religion vs the Gospel – Article by Kevin Halloran
Gospel vs Religion – Article by Scott Thomas
The Heart Of An Orphan vs. The Heart Of A Son – Chart by Columbus State University Chi Alpha
Living From Your Gospel Identity HD – Video teaching by Jeff Vanderstelt