Written by Nick Diliberto
Ministry is full of problems, adversity, and obstacles.
Parents complain. The senior pastor doesn’t support your vision. Your youth group isn’t growing like you hoped.
The list goes on.
Sometimes you might feel like the problem is eating you (like my daughter in the above pic).
Back when I was in full-time ministry I remember facing adversity daily.
As I reflect on the last year and a half of my life, one of the primary themes that emerges is the idea of facing adversity.
Not the kind of adversity that cracks a human being. Nothing tragic or traumatic. But stuff that has weighed me down.
Here are some of the problems I faced:
The small youth group that I was leading fizzled out.
I launched a travel blog that was a bust.
I started a website for lead pastors, which I shut down after a few months.
I experimented with trading Penny Stocks and lost hundreds of dollars.
I helped a group of junior high students launch a business. After spending over $3,500 on app development, inventory, and packaging – we hit a huge wall and have to start all over from scratch. Which means the $3,500 is a total loss from a financial perspective.
I had high hopes for each of these things, but none of them turned out the way that I thought.
And I didn’t even mention my personal life. There’s always a lot of obstacles to face as a devoted husband (usually I’m the one who creates the problems) and father of three teenagers (my youngest turns 13 next month… so let’s just round up her age).
But isn’t that the way life works? Why is it that we expect life to go as planned, when in reality it seldom does? Aren’t problems, obstacles, and adversity a part of the human experience?
Awhile back, I was feeling bummed out about all of these things.
Then, I remembered a book I read back in 2014, “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday.
At the time, reading that book was a pivotal point in overcoming a huge obstacle in my life. It helped me see how the obstacle I faced could actually lead to the solution.
I embraced that mindset and was able to find the solution IN the obstacle.
In fact, my life was actually WAY better on the other side of that problem. Wow. Mind blowing.
As I began to re-read the book, I saw the situations I faced over the last year and a half with fresh eyes. I asked God to show me his perspective and speak to me.
I started to journal some of my thoughts.
Then, something really cool happened. A saying or a motto emerged. It was a way for me to put problems and adversity in their proper perspective.
I want to share it with you.
My hope is that it will help you face the problems in your ministry and life.
So, here it is…
I EXPECT and EMBRACE problems, which I see as opportunities for GROWTH, and I am learning to ENJOY them.
This has become my personal motto. I’ve memorized and internalized it.
Now, before I break it down.
The exception to this truth is when dealing with tragedy, trauma or real human suffering. It’s probably not healthy to EXPECT those situations, nor is it realistic to ENJOY a horrible life event while going through it.
What I am talking about here are what I define as ‘small to medium-sized problems in your life.’
Let’s take a closer look.
You’ll pretty much always have some problems in your ministry and life. When one is solved, another emerges.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The sound board and computer stop working 30 minutes before the youth service. You manage to fix it, but that night you find out a small group volunteer quits after only 2 weeks.
Your summer camp venue raises its price by $2,000. You figure out a way to reallocate the budget, only to find out 2 weeks later that your youth budget is cut in half.
Here’s the thing…
If you expect problems to surface, then they won’t blindside you.
What I typically do instead is freak out when something bad goes wrong. It throws me off my game. For some reason, I expect everything to go as planned, but that rarely happens.
Instead, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Just accept the reality that problems are a part of ministry. They’re a part of life. In fact, they’re a part of being human.
I’m learning to embrace each problem that comes my way.
What I usually do is ignore it. Then, it gets worse down the road.
I ignore the tension between two volunteers for months, and then at missions camp it unravels leaving students caught in the crossfire.
Instead of dealing with a parent who is upset with me, I look the other way. The situation gets worse, and they eventually threaten to leave the church.
Here’s another example…
I put this one on video (it’s only a few minutes). I talk about how I almost lost my eyesight because I ignored a problem. Watch it here:
We all have a choice in how we respond to problems. We can choose to ignore, complain, or deny it. Or we can tackle it head on.
I’m learning to address the problem right away and do something about it.
Now there are times when we can’t solve the problem. We have to accept the harsh reality of a situation.
But, we can choose how we respond to the problem, and that’s where the next step comes into the picture.
SEE PROBLEMS AS OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
Pain is often necessary for growth. Not always, but most of the time (in my experience) this is true.
About a year ago, I hired a personal trainer to help build upper body muscle. I workout with him two days a week, then one day a week on my own.
I hate my workouts with him. He pushes me WAY beyond what I would do on my own, and it’s grueling. I despise every second of it. I actually pay him to cause pain in my life. Kind of crazy if I think about it.
But I like the results. I’m so happy with the physical and mental growth I’ve experienced over the past year.
Pain was the path that led to the growth. Growth doesn’t exist without pain.
The same is often true with adversity. It’s the path that leads to growth if you allow God to shape and mold you through the process.
For example, dealing with conflict is uncomfortable but often necessary to build a deeper sense of intimacy and trust.
After 15 years of marriage I’ve had LOTS of opportunities to grow in this area. Through dealing with a lot of conflict over the years (mostly brought on due to my issues), I’ve become a more present, patient, emotionally aware, and understanding person.
I think you get the idea.
As church leaders, we know this. We teach it. But we forget to live it.
LEARN TO ENJOY PROBLEMS IN THE MOMENT
Ok, stay with me on this.
It’s something I’ve been experimenting with.
I started journaling about my problems, writing down:
The emotions I experience…
My reaction and approach to problems…
The potential growth or opportunity that resulted…
My thought is… if most problems result in some kind of growth, then is it possible to enjoy them in the moment?
A few months ago, I journaled about a problem I experienced with my kids not doing the dishes.
Emma’s job is to put away the clean dishes. Ethan puts the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and Joey cleans the pots and pans.
But the system has been fundamentally flawed for a long time. I would ask them to do their job. They whine, complain, or give me an attitude about the request. Then, they take as long as possible to do their chore. I get angry, deny that I’m angry, and stuff it down. Every few weeks I explode in anger and let them have it.
I was done ignoring this problem. They’re old enough to do their chores without me telling them to do it. So, I implemented a new rule. I gave them each a time to do their chore each day. If they didn’t do it by then, they lost their phones for a day.
I explained the rule. They agreed to the consequence, but kind of brushed me off.
Within a few days all three of them didn’t do their job on time. I followed through on the consequence. They ALL complained and thought the new rule was unfair. One of my kids even call me “a jerk,” which didn’t end up too well for him. There was a lot of conflict overall, but I stuck to my guns.
Within a week everyone was doing their chore on time without me telling them to do it. It was a huge win for me as a parent!
Here’s the interesting part…
I was actually enjoying the process. Yep… all the yelling, crying, and complaining was actually enjoyable. I know, that probably sounds cruel. But the entire time I kept thinking that all this conflict, which I usually hate and avoid at all costs, will lead to something good. I was hoping it would bring peace of mind, with all my kids doing their job without me telling them.
Because I kept that goal at the forefront in my mind, I was able to enjoy the experience.
So, yes, I do think enjoying problems in the moment IS possible (but maybe just some of the time).
As I continued to journal about my problems I realized that many problems just suck. They’re not fun to go through… even if there is some kind of growth you experience as a result.
But sometimes, with the right attitude, you can learn to enjoy the problem.
That’s my new approach to life’s problems… try to enjoy them in the moment.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. But it’s worth a shot.
A little side note about the dishes situation. That happened a few months ago, and since then the new rule I established fizzled out. I’m back to telling the kids to do the dishes now. But, they do their job right away with a good attitude. Although that is a big improvement, I might need to take my own advice, address the problem, and re-establish the rule.
I recently re-connected with a former mentor of mine. He shared a quote that stuck with me:
“Everything works better when we know how to GAZE AT GOD and GLANCE AT LIFE.”
I just Googled that quote, and it’s attributed to various people. So, who knows the origin.
I think that’s a great way to look at problems, don’t you?
That helps me put problems in perspective. God is bigger than any adversity or obstacle we face. The goal is to focus more on HIM.
Yes, life will throw you a lot of curve balls. We should expect and embrace them, looking at them as opportunities for growth. And even try to enjoy them as much as possible.
But in the end… God is bigger than all of it.
We need to keep our eyes focused on Him!
– Nick Diliberto, Ministry to Youth