Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central
When I was in college, my car was a used, red, 1977 Olds Delta 88. It was big, in great shape, a work horse, and rode like a dream. I put over 100K miles on it as I made dozens of trips between home in Pennsylvania and Bethel College in Minnesota. A majority of those miles included an extra bonus – there was no working speedometer!
I don’t know when the speedometer decided to stop working. Maybe around 160k miles. I do know that my college budget did not include such a repair. So, I did the next best thing. I developed a couple work arounds for driving across town and across the country.
Highway driving was the most challenging. Often, I would find a semi or car that was going at a speed that I felt comfortable with and used it as my personal pace car. Though, at times I would find myself driving across America’s heartland when there wasn’t a great deal of traffic. My remedy was an old digital watch set to show the “seconds.” I attached to my steering wheel, timing myself between highway mile markers. My target was a 55 second mile, give or take.
I made it work. But not having a working speedometer brought its share of uncertainty and anxiety. If I was cruising down the road and saw a police car on the side of the road, instinctually, I would take my foot of the gas and look down at my speedometer to see how fast I was going. It would always show 0 mph. Nervously I would check my rear-view mirror to see if I was in trouble because I had no gauge to measure how fast I was going.
Here’s what I learned: You need gauges. Whether it be in life or in ministry, gauges help identify if you’re in the right place, if it’s the right time, and if you’re spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or relationally ready to meet the challenge. This is even more important when your surroundings are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
Consider the Israelites as they began their wilderness trek.
The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel day or night.The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:21,22
When the Israelites had their backs up against the Red Sea, boxed in by the mountains and the dessert with the army of Pharoah closing in fast, the Israelites were terrified. They complained, they questioned the leadership of Moses – “Moses, can’t you even read a map?” Do you know what Moses did? He looked around and saw there was no escape. But then I think Moses recalled what God said in Exodus 13:17-18. He knew they were right where God said he would lead them. More importantly, Moses looked up. He saw the pillar of cloud, he saw a gauge that said he was right where God had directed. He had not misread the map.
That pillar of cloud/fire gauge got them through the wilderness wanderings. It led them to the test at the dry well of Marah (Exodus 15:22-26). Their gauge also led them to Elim, with its twelve springs and seventy palms (Exodus 15:27).
Ministry has it’s mountaintops. Ministry has it’s valleys. The challenges of leading and shepherding a church hasn’t gotten any easier lately. These difficulties can challenge our resiliency, question our calling, or cause us to wonder if we’re in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we might even feel like Moses, trying to lead a group of people through a challenging season and all we seem to hear are the critics. But like Moses, we also have gauges to guide and direct.
What gauges are a part of your ministry?
Prayer. This is a key gauge. Regularly going to God in prayer, yes! But also, times in silence or worship when you allow God to speak to you. We may not have a literal pillar of cloud or fire, but there’s a need to turn down the volume of the world around us and listen for God’s still small voice.
Study. Most pastors spend time in the Word as they prepare for messages and teaching. But don’t neglect just spending time in the Word because you want to, not because you have to. Make time with the expectation of letting God’s Word immerse and overflow your spirit, allowing God to speak in the immediacy of ministry.
Relationships. It could be a more formal coaching or mentoring relationship, or less formal with a few people who not only know you but are given permission to speak into your life. What is the name of the person you could call right now to ask for feedback, counsel, and encouragement? If you don’t have a name, find one!
Your list of gauges may be larger, including family, authors, and others. The takeaway is to know what your gauges are as you navigate your ministry.
Converge North Central desires to come alongside and strengthen our pastors. This includes having gauges in your life and ministry to monitor an guide. Trout Lake Camps offers retreats and facilities that allow you to get away for prayer and study. We help connect pastors with coaches or mentors. Regional Leadership Teams help strengthen relationships and, provide those people that can give you counsel. CNC can help you find your personal pillar of cloud or pillar of fire. Contact us as we would love to help!
Joel Nelson, Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central