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Mountains, molehills and ministry

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

Whether you work on staff at a church or a parachurch organization strong staff relationships are key to ministry impact and effectiveness. When relationships are strong mountains (big issues) become molehills (little issues) and when they are weak molehills become mountains.

I can’t help but think back to my first “staff” position in ministry. It was as a junior high youth ministry intern. I was twenty years old. Although I only got paid enough to cover my gas I worked about twenty hours a week at a little Baptist church. I loved working there but the youth leader who was in charge of me and the other interns drove me nuts. Everything about him made me cringe. The very intonation of the words that came out of his mouth were like nails on the chalkboard of my soul.

Obviously there were some deep, underlying forces that had been at work in our relationship over the years and the cracks had turned into chasms. There were subtle and not-so-subtle ways that I began to undermine his authority. Rolled eyes or sarcastic comments (under the lying cloak of “just joking”) during staff meetings made it obvious to everyone else that something was seriously wrong in our relationship. As a result the ministry suffered because I didn’t want to work for him, with him or by him. I was convinced that the feeling was mutual.

I had thrust the dust of our relationship under the rug for so long that my brush was out of bristles. All it took was one seemingly small incident to push me over the edge. On the side of a literal mountain our figurative mountain became Everest. It was during a youth group hiking trip that we were suddenly face to face and toe to toe. The others in our group were so far ahead of us on the trail that they had no clue that what was about to go down was a throw down.

Before I knew it he had my shirt collar wrapped tightly in his white knuckled fingers and I had my left hand wrapped around his throat. My secret, sinful dream was finally going to come true, I was about to unleash my free fist of fury right into his nose until…

He started crying. Yes, he started bawling right there on the mountain trail right in front of God and the chipmunks. He apologized profusely for the way he had been treating me and, through his genuine tears, he asked me for my forgiveness.

Now there was no way I was going to hit a crying, truly repentant man (although, at the time, I was so mad that I would have hit a sniveling, quasi-repentant man.) As a matter of fact I broke down too and asked for his forgiveness as well.

In that equal-parts-awkward-and-awesome moment our relationship was repaired. Our professional relationship blossomed into a genuine friendship for the very first time.

Before this incident every little problem (aka “molehills”) we would encounter would set me off. Little deals became big deals and conflict ensued. But the conflict resolution on the mountain began to turn big issues (aka “mountains”) into molehills for the rest of the time we ministered together in youth ministry. We were able to tackle big problems together. I had his back and he had mine.

How does all of this tie into your ministry relationships? Simply this, if you have strong relationships then together you can overcome huge obstacles. If you don’t then you’ll get tripped up over the smallest, dumbest issues. Things that could be resolved with a quick text now require a major meeting…usually filled with drama, trauma and politics.

When we approach relationships like Paul challenges us to in Philippians 2:1-4 mountains become molehills, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Choose the molehill. Build strong relationships!

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