I like to focus on my successes, not my failures. Rarely have I written about negative experiences. In my last entry, I defined the “martyr syndrome” as a breakdown in dysfunctional ministry relationships that end with volunteer Christian workers feeling victimized. Wherever there is conflict, there are always two sides that share some of the fault. I’ve always tried to leave relationships on good terms even though there was a fundamental disagreement. A few times I’ve successfully returned to work with the same people I thought were impossible to work with. Don’t burn bridges, that’s my first piece of advice.
I’ve obviously written this for my own benefit as a guide to reform. But maybe this has happened to you or someone you know? I’ve tried to briefly spell out what people can do to avoid the “martyr syndrome” — that feeling of “victimization” when ministry relationships do not work out.
1. Beware that all people are selfish in some way. Is there a person on the planet that is not selfish? We all share in original sin. No one is exempt from selfish behavior. Most people who are “unselfishly” serving in ministries are actually fulfilling a need for spiritual and emotional fulfillment. Some enjoy the reputation of self-sacrifice. But we should avoid the “martyr complex.” If we blame others every time we willingly sacrifice and yet are taken advantage of or underappreciated, then we have already received our reward. In claiming that all others around us are selfish, we hypocritically exhibit a more extreme form of selfishness. The remedy is to be careful that we not look for our reward from men, but should look to God.
2. Avoid obsessive compulsive behavior. A lot of times the self-proclaimed “experts” are merely those who exhibit obsessive compulsive behavior in one area of expertise. Lots of energy is expended and much gets done in a short time. However, this personality trait almost never stays on track consistently for more than a period of time. The principle of the Kingdom of God is that we must build “little by little” (Exodus 23:30).We must be covenantally faithful with what God entrusted to us over a long period of time (Proverbs 13:11). Then we cannot lose anything if we invest our lives consistently in serving God’s purposes.
3. Avoid unrealistic expectations. A lot of times a ministry project can seem exciting and new to a young volunteer. But be aware that the ones who found and maintain ministries often have to suffer through long periods of what seems to be unfruitful labor before they see any results. Ministries should also be careful not to frustrate and under-appreciate volunteers. Sometimes the encouragement of having some new blood in an organization can lead to a demand for too much from people who aren’t equipped to handle the pressure.
4. Write up a contract of some type. Define the terms of service before any “ministry” work gets done. What is the purpose of the project really? Is it solely to advance the cause of missions? Is it to raise money for a general fund or salaries pertaining to ministry work? Who is in charge of the project? What is the agreement? What happens if the agreement is not followed? Even if there is a written contract, the person in charge will often change the terms when it suits him. In this case, can the worker leave the contract without either side suffering damage? Is there a third party that may arbitrate as a witness if genuine damages occur? These are the main issues to be considered in such a contract.
5. Let God repay you. If we willingly harm other people in our thoughts, acts or words, then God will punish us if we do not repent. I have seen this happen continually in my life. I thank God I am not by nature a vindictive person and God made me somewhat thick-skinned. In every case that I have been wronged, God will always repay me. In any case, we should always seek to reconcile relationships with people we have wronged in any way. At the same time, we need to understand that some people don’t want healing and reconciliation. It’s hard to let that go if you have a heart for God, but sometimes sifting is biblical and necessary.
6. Honor your elders. The people who lead your ministry or church, whether they are ordained or not, likely have more years of experience and wisdom than you do. They are fallible human beings to boot. Yet even when you disagree with them because they are flat out wrong, they still may have something to teach you. Sometimes we even learn by a negative example. Nevertheless, if we persevere in ministry work, God may eventually place us in a position of authority. When that happens God will see to it that people will treat us in the same manner as we treated others.
7. Check your motivation. What are you doing serving a ministry in the first place? Do you want only to please God? Is it for a sense of spiritual fulfillment? Is it to get recognition? Are you there for training purposes so you can benefit in another endeavor later on. If you are looking for a reward, what type of reward do you expect? There is nothing inherently sinful about doing things that will benefit us, but in the end we will get a reward beyond measure if we will only accept what God gives us and be satisfied to do His will.