5 Kinds of People You’ll Face in Ministry

Recently a leader called to say, “No matter how much time I spend with Jennifer (not her real name), she seems to want more. Her struggles are on-going and she is beginning to have a strong attachment to me. I’m not sure what I should do. I want to help her, but this is taking more and more of my time. I found myself wanting to avoid her at church.”

Many of us could relate to her tensions: we want to help; we really do care; but this is exhausting!

Do I need to always be available and give to anyone who asks of me? Certainly there are times of crises that demand more time up front, but what about the following week or month? How long can I keep up this constant demand on my time and resources while strengthening my spiritual growth?

Each of us is given only 24/7. Yet there are days I think I would pay to get 25….and days I am so glad there are only 24 hours in each day!  Ask a mother who has spent the day with her three small children, a businessperson who has spent the day negotiating budgets with department heads, or a nurse who spends the day at the beside of a dying patient. At the end of the day they are likely exhausted. Why? Because people contribute to or draw from our inner energy levels in ways we may not even be aware.

Someone has said, “Some folks bring joy wherever they go; others bring joy when they go.” Anyone in leadership will discover people work is never-ending. The question for the leader is how will my choices of time-use affect my own health and spiritual passion?

That day on the phone our conversation covered several relevant topics. At the conclusion of our visit I shared a paradigm that has helped me in my attempts to navigate similar challenging waters.

Awareness of the five kinds of people that affect spiritual passion (modified from Gordon MacDonald’s Renewing Your Spiritual Passion) can help check our time commitment choices.

1. People who IGNITE our passion: These people are very resourceful people who always make a positive contribution to our world. They rarely leave without leaving us feeling uplifted, impelled to great growth and more aware of further possibilities. They are our models, we study their ways and customize them for ourselves. We lean on them for direction. We gain energy from their courage and maturity. They are clearly an addition to who we are and what we are doing.

2. People who SHARE our passion: These are our teammates and together we know the whole is greater than its parts. We do not spend a lot of time trying to get along or determining who is in charge. We are bound together for a purpose and together we stimulate each other for better outcomes. Together we rejoice in our successes and weep in our disappointments. These people make a positive contribution to our lives.

3. People who CATCH our passion: These are very trainable people who catch our passion. Although this requires energy on our part, we are glad to cooperate because we sense the possibilities in them. It is in the sharing of ourselves that we stir our own passion to serve and grow because we see the immediate effect it has upon them.

4. People who ENJOY our passion: These are very nice people, they come in large numbers and we love to have them around. They clap, laugh and build our egos. They fill the pews, the rooms and programs. But the truth of the matter is they contribute very little. They do not add to our passion, nor do they seriously diminish it. They simply enjoy it.

5. People who SAP our passion: These are very draining people who consume our passion relentlessly. Gordon says, “I discovered as time went by that every cluster of people (business, school, and church) has a percentage of these people.” They will be drawn to a healthy group of people and will remain until they become self-sustaining or until they are pushed away. A healthy cluster of people will loss its vitality (passion) mysteriously and unpredictably because there are simply too many very draining people to sustain. The life of the group becomes problem or crisis oriented and forward movement becomes impossible. If they are permitted to relentlessly drain leaders of their passion it will ultimately create a climate in which no one will want to serve in leadership. This is true on a personal level as well as group level.

Jesus did not respond to everyone’s demands. It seems Jesus’ carefully allocated his time. A case could be made for five examples in Jesus’ life: God the Father, Peter/James/John, Twelve Disciples, Crowds, and Pharisees.

I affirmed my friend’s desire to help. Much of my own life has been spent ministering to “women in pain.” That desire to help others is not to be diminished. Simply our effectiveness as caregivers will be greatly enhanced as we are intentional about strengthening our spiritual passion.

4 thoughts on “5 Kinds of People You’ll Face in Ministry

  1. I agree in theory with the different types of people and how they affect us.

    What is the solution?
    I do not think it is to avoid certain people, or push them away, or even to treat them with less care and attention than the rest of the crowd we serve. In fact, I believe it would be utterly against the gospel to do so.

    Focus on the words: despised and weak below:
    Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

    What is the solution?
    They drive us crazy, but we must love them. God’s heart is for the humble, the broken and we want to imitate his heart. Jesus managed the crowd by both seeking out time alone and by spending separate time with his more intimate group of disciples. However, Jesus never pushed anyone in the crowd away from his ministry, no matter how despised or difficult they were to deal with. (Read here: the demon possessed! the lepers, the blind, the Samaritans, etc.)

    1. I couldn’t agree more–that we are to love the “humble, the broken.” That’s why I’ve given my life to “people in pain.” The Gospel certainly compels us to do so. Pushing them away is not the intended message here!

      And of course Jesus exemplifies this. (Although Jesus did not heal EVERY blind person, EVERY leper, EVERY demon possessed person, nor EVERY one in need.)

      And yes, Jesus also spent time with the Father and time with his disciples. We need BOTH in our fully scheduled lives. Otherwise, burnout is around the corner. Once burnout arrives, we are less effective and sometimes even impotent to effectively love others. Burnout occurs way too often in people with the best of intentions. I was concerned that the leader who called was headed in this direction–thus my responses.

      My point was a preventative message. Simply as we balance our lives with people who are life-giving and people in need, we best live out Jesus’ example. And this will likely enable us to do so for the long haul.

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