Learning to Rest In Ministry, Not From It

This post is a continuation of the conversation Bill Mills had with Craig Parro titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later. Listen to the full conversation below.


Craig Parro: So, Bill, over twenty years ago we wrote the book. If you were writing the book today, what might you change in the book?

Bill Mills: The thing that I have learned the most as I walk with the Lord in ministry next to ministries about Him and what He’s doing that sets me free to follow Him. I would have done a section on learning to rest in the work rather than just resting from the work. By that I mean this: I look at my life and the patterns of ministry that I’ve developed, and I think brothers and sisters in the ministry get caught in the same patterns. We see ministry as pouring out our lives for our people, and every one of us wants to do that genuinely. With a whole heart, we want to serve the Lord. We want to serve our people. So, we give ourselves. We lay down our lives – preaching, shepherding, counseling, organizing, and leading. We give all of our strength and energy and get emptied out in the process. Then we go away for a personal time of prayer or study or vacation or holiday. We get filled up again. Then we follow the same pattern. Laying down our lives or our people, pouring yourselves out, and then finding a place of rest to be filled up and filled up again.

I think the model of the Lord Jesus, and I think of the apostle Paul as well, was resting in the work rather than resting from the work. I learned that primarily from Jesus’ ministry model, that you alluded to earlier, of watching to see what the Father is doing and entering into the Father’s eternal work. He was following the Father in ministry. I think of many ministry trips that you and I have taken together, Craig, and I remember on trips where somebody else was leading, someone else was responsible for the trip, it gave me a sense of rest in the process. I don’t have to be all over this, I don’t have to worry about every detail; someone else is in charge. And there’s something restful about that. I think that’s the way Jesus walked with the Father in ministry. He knew that this is what the Father is doing. He would fulfill His purposes. He was following in the Father’s service, resting.

CP: Along those lines, one of the things that impresses me most about the way Jesus does ministry is how He responds to interruptions. I contrast that with how I respond to interruptions. When I’m on task, please don’t interrupt me. I want to finish what I’ve started. And Jesus doesn’t respond that way. When people interrupt Him, He receives it as a divine appointment, and He puts down whatever He was working on, in a sense, and gives Himself to the person or people who interrupted Him and looks for what God is doing there and how He can participate in it.

BM: Yes, it seems that Jesus’s ministry, as we read in the Gospels, is very spontaneous. Not pressured to get these disciples ready by a certain point of graduation so He can turn over the work to them. He is very free along the way. Knowing that they will be ready in the Father’s timing.

When I think of resting in the work, I think of one those interruptions with the woman at the well (John 4). Here He’s going through Samaria – and Jews, of course, would never do that – but the disciples went into town to buy food. And He sits down to take a rest, and here comes this Samaritan woman. He knew all about her. She’s a hurting woman; she’s a sinful woman. She’s been used, she’s hungry, she’s thirsty for the real things of life. Jesus begins to talk to her about living water. And it just happens along the way. He heals her life. He satisfies her with the living water. And then the disciples come back with lunch. It’s time to break out the sandwiches that they purchased in town, and Jesus says, “I’m not hungry anymore.” And they begin to look at each other and say, “Did someone bring him something to eat while we were gone?” He says, “No, I have food to eat that you don’t know anything about. My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, to accomplish His work.” So Jesus was being filled up along the way through the ministry by the things that came from His Father, in that relationship.

I think the same is ours in the Holy Spirit in this walk with Jesus in the ministry – that we can be filled up along the way in the process, even in the interruptions, and break this pattern of the work of the ministry being exhausting – pouring out my life – and then I need to go to a place of rest to be filled up again. I think we can rest in the work.

The next post shares how gratitude is a powerful weapon.

The Sustaining Power of a Grateful Heart

This post is a continuation of the conversation Bill Mills had with Craig Parro titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later. Listen to the full conversation below.


Craig Parro: Along those lines, I wonder if we were writing the book again today if we might emphasis gratitude more fully. It seems like gratitude is key to resting in the moment-by-moment work. When we express gratitude to the Lord, we are verbalizing the reality that ministry is about Him and not about us. We’re affirming that God is at work – yes, through us; but He’s the explanation, not ourselves.

I think over these last twenty years, I’ve grown a little bit in living more with an ongoing heart of gratitude. I still have a long ways to go. There’s something healthy, freeing, delightful about just walking moment by moment, day by day with a heart full of gratitude – saying, “Thank you God, thank you God for the big things, for the little things, for the surprises, for the difficult things. Thank you Lord.”

Bill Mills: I think part of gratitude comes from the fact that God has already done with us more than we ever dreamed that He would. That leaves me personally in a place of freedom to be thankful to God rather than this pressure to accomplish more before I’m finished. I could leave this earth next week and be very grateful for what the Lord has done without regrets that my ministry wasn’t more fruitful or more effective in those places, since God is at work. I’m walking with Him in what He’s doing. What I hoped at the beginning in a one-to-one discipleship ministry (learn more about LRI’s history), God had plans to bring that to discipling pastors around the world. I never dreamed of this; I never thought it was possible. So, what regrets could I have experienced that I wish God would have done more? That gratitude is a place to rest in, Craig. I think you’re really on to something.

CP: Gratitude also protects us from a sense of entitlement – that somehow God owes us because of our faithfulness, or whatever. Gratitude, circling back to your earlier point, puts God on display. Big God, small us – and that’s a healthy way to walk through life and ministry, isn’t it?

BM: Yes. You know, I’m thinking of pastors that I’ve known who have burned out along the way in ministry. I think the thing that most of them have said is, “I tried as hard as I could. I did the best I knew how to do, and it just didn’t work. God just didn’t do it, and I just gave up along the way.” When God is at work, this God who fulfills His purposes, things not only happen, but we see that He is doing it. That creates this sense of gratitude and worship. It also gives us a place of rest.

Going back to this thought of resting in the work, I think of Paul. He defines his ministry in his letter to the Colossians. This is towards the end of chapter one, where he says, “My desire is to bring everyone I meet, everyone I teach, every person to maturity in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). He says, “This I do with all of His energy which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29).

You think of the schedule – the ministry schedule of the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul – and we’re staggered by it. We want to set boundaries. We want to make limits. I’ll give this much of myself and then no more. I need to think of myself, my family, whatever. There’s a place for that, of course, but with the Apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus, nothing was ever measured out. They were able to pour out their lives – Jesus, because of the work of the Father within Him; Paul, because of the power, the sustained grace, the energy, and the pleasure that he found in serving.

Does Battling Burnout Get Easier Over Time?

This post is the last in a series titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later. Listen to the full conversation below. 


Kevin Halloran: Bill and Craig, you wrote the book on burnout, so that means you’re perfect in this area, right? Just kidding. How has fighting burnout or discouragement in ministry gotten easier as time goes on, and how has it gotten harder?

Bill Mills: You know, Kevin, for me, I think of the battles of ministry: maintaining ministry schedules, being productive, being effective. Craig is always challenging us as a staff to go deeper to get better, and I appreciate him so much in that. Facing all those calls and challenges to me, I think the battle has gotten better. Even as I’ve gotten older and continued to maintain a rather heavy travel and ministry schedule, I find the battle less challenging. I think the things that I have learned by God’s grace have built in patterns in my heart and life: the patterns of responding to the Father rather than asking Him to enter into what I’m doing and make it happen. There’s some level of affirmation that I desire. That has been less and less an issue. I think learning to rest in the Lord in the work, rather than from the work, has been a pattern that has really been helpful to me and made an incredible difference.

I think of learning what the writer to the Hebrews talks about when he calls us to enter into God’s rest and uses God as an example. God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day. Why did He rest? Not because He was exhausted from the hard work of six days of creation. He rested because His work was completed. He was finished with the work of His first creation. That’s what it means for us to enter His rest – to cease from our works. But the thing that I learned the most, and this is one of the great realities for all of us in this ministry, is the power of the Word of God. Because the writer of Hebrews in that fourth chapter carries us to the place, after calling us to enter into God’s rest, to the place of saying that the Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Our God is still at work. He’s still at work in the same way as in Genesis 1 – by His Word and His Spirit. Since God is at work, that means I can rest. How is God at work? The same way through all of history: through the power of His Spirit. So, that’s the thing that has sustained me.

Craig Parro: I would say it’s gotten harder. Burnout or discouragement has gotten more difficult for me as my leadership responsibilities have grown. There’s the responsibility that our ministry has 29 staff members. Having leadership responsibilities for those precious folks is challenging at times because of the battles that they face: some physical challenges, surgeries and so on, struggles with kids, financial challenges . . . there’s a weight to all of that. I would love to wave a magic wand and cure all of those, but I don’t have the power within me to do that. Leadership Resources doesn’t have bags full of money that we can throw at every financial struggle that our staff faces, for example. So in many situations, prayer is the only response – and it’s an appropriate response – but it’s also a response of weakness rather than strength. It’s an acknowledgement that we don’t have – that I don’t have – the answers, the resources, the solutions to the problems facing us. And so we pray out of our weakness and dependency – which is, of course, a healthy place to be at the same time.


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Leadership Transitions and Overcoming “Founder’s Syndrome”: A Case Study in Humility and Gratitude

Some leadership transitions are fraught with tension and conflict. Others can even sink a church or an organization.  Thankfully this wasn’t the case for Leadership Resources when Craig Parro took over for LRI’s Founder Bill Mills in 2010 as LRI’s President.

Craig and Bill recently sat down to discuss the challenges of avoiding “Founder’s Syndrome,” and shared how God helped them transition with grace.


Bill Mills

Bill Mills: God gave Karen and me the grace – the joy – of being the founders of this ministry in 1970. I was president of the organization for the first 40 years. It’s amazing to think back that length of history.

Craig joined our staff in about 1989, and by the time we transitioned from me being president to Craig being president, we had worked together for 21 years. Craig was our International Director and laid the foundation in those years for everything we’re doing overseas today.

Craig Parro

Craig Parro: So, Bill, as we worked together over those years we learned to work together well. We’re wired very differently. Bill is your classic entrepreneurial visionary leader that began the ministry on faith and very little else. And the ministry grew under his leadership. Bill was able to attract people to join him. He’s a man of great faith, and so the ministry grew under Bill’s leadership.

I think during the 1980s Bill began to recognize two things: One is the need for leadership of the ministry with a different gift mix, perhaps. Someone, perhaps, with a little more strategic gifting and organizational-building type of wiring. I had at least some of that, and so Bill began very intentionally to begin to build into me. He really did that the whole time we were together. Bill has always been very intentional about developing me as a leader, as a teacher, and encouraging my gifting.

BM: You know, Craig, what you’re talking about is the reality that drove this change – the shift in leadership. It was purely a strategic move in my eyes. I wasn’t tired of the job. I wasn’t burned out in ministry. I felt, first of all, that I had my chance. Forty years is long enough to be in leadership. But it was a strategic move. I knew that your gifts of leadership and organization were much stronger than mine. And Todd Kelly had joined our staff and he was our Training Director, but of course when you joined our staff in 1989, most of what we were doing was in the States, and our work overseas was just beginning to grow. Now ninety or ninety-nine percent of what we’re doing is around the world and not in the States. And so this was a strategic shift, knowing that we could strengthen the ministry in one move on three levels: You had the gifts needed to lead the work as president that I lacked, Todd could strengthen the work by taking your place as International Director, and there was a need for someone to take over our work in Russia and Central Asia. I was glad to do that, and to me it was purely a strategic move. I loved you and trusted you, so the rest was easy.

CP: But the rest wasn’t always easy. Often for Christian organizations, or any organization or church, when the founding leader turns over the leadership to someone else but then sticks around, that often makes the organization very vulnerable. That’s the “Founder’s Syndrome,” if you will. It’s his baby; he’s poured his life into it. And that can play out in lots of different ways – and often in destructive ways. In fact, Bill watched a partner organization of ours go through a poor leadership transition, and I think one of the things Bill thought to himself was, “Oh, Lord, don’t let that happen here at Leadership Resources.” And it didn’t.

I attribute it to two things that Bill did:

First of all, he stepped off of our Board of Directors when I became president. That meant that Bill had no organizational oversight over me as a leader. What happened is that it gave me space – it gave me freedom to shape the ministry and reshape the ministry as seemed best to me. I appreciated that so much.

The second thing Bill did was to announce to the entire staff that his job description was to do whatever Craig wanted him to do. That demonstrated a humility which was no surprise because of who Bill is and the way God has been building into His life over the years. But I attribute those two decisions, if you will, to making the transition amazingly smooth for us.

BM: But, Craig, to be honest, the truth is, you and I are about as different from each other as two people can be. In character, praise God, we’re very much the same; but personality, gift mix, and the way we think about ministry and the future are very different at times. And you and I have had some very rough waters that we navigated through. And the truth is that, being founder and president for so long, my heart has been deeply invested in this ministry. Not only in the past but in the future. And we have had some real struggles and confrontations, and we’ve had to work through them. And by God’s grace, we’ve been able to do it. We were not thinking we want to do this as a model for others or an example to be followed. We just wanted to be the best stewards of this work that we could be, and so we were committed to getting through this stuff. But it hasn’t always been easy.

CP: One of the things I’ve learned from Bill over the years is when Bill struggles with a relationship at the ministry, he tries to do this – to thank God for that person, to be grateful for the person with whom he’s struggling at the moment. And that is a powerful approach to difficulties in relationships, because it reminds us. . . . When there’s a difficulty in a relationship, we’re always focused on the problem, the negative, the irritant that keeps frustrating us. But when we go to transition to gratitude, we’re focusing on the strengths, the blessing, the gift that the other person is.

When Bill struggles with a relationship at the ministry, he tries to do this – to thank God for that person, to be grateful for the person with whom he’s struggling at the moment.

I think Bill and I have learned to do that with one another over the years, because we have frustrated each other. The transition was eight years ago. I would say during those eight years, we had five or six clashes where there was some real energy and angst and yet none of those were showstoppers, because we valued one another so deeply. We realized we’re wired differently, and my job isn’t to fix Bill or change Bill. Bill’s job isn’t to fix me or change me. So, God just gave us grace to navigate those difficulties loving one another, being patient with one another, thanking God for the unique way that God has wired each one of us.

BM: Yes. One thing you were talking about there can be defined as trust. We talk about valuing each other. We have honestly trusted each other along the way. And underneath that, we genuinely love each other. That is a glue that has not only bonded us, but kept us, together for the sake of the work. It’s not a make believe; it’s a deep and genuine love. But there’s another thing Craig, and you talked about humility a moment ago. . . . I think part of the grace that God gave to us along the way is: this isn’t about us, and we were more committed to this work. We’re talking about not Leadership Resources as an organization, but the work of the gospel throughout the world. This work is more important than we are, and we genuinely were not most concerned about our reputation or our agenda but committed to doing what is best for the sake of the gospel and the growth of Leadership Resources. I think next to the love and the trust, that third thing – the commitment to the work of the gospel beyond ourselves – has been a great power and protection along the way.

CP: Jim Collins talks about a “Level Five” leader. That’s one aspect of a level-five leader: they put the mission first before personal agenda. We both have aspired to do that. We haven’t always been successful with it, but we’ve aspired to be that kind of leader. Dr. Henry Tan, one of our board members, asked the question, “Who’s the boss?” And his answer is, “The mission.” And I think both you and I ascribe to that, Bill. It’s not about us; it’s about the mission. It’s about God’s glory.

It’s not about us; it’s about the mission. It’s about God’s glory.

Kevin Halloran: To close, Bill, say you know the founder of a ministry and exhort him – maybe he’s thinking about or there’s a leadership transition going on. And then, Craig, can you give an exhortation, a word of encouragement to a guy taking the reins of an organization?

BM: What we’re talking about here is really the fruit of much deeper theological understandings and commitments than just how to navigate well through ministry transition. First of all, if we understand that ministry is about God and not about us, if it’s about what He’s doing rather what we’re doing, that creates in us a humility that frees us to walk with God through the process. If we’re most concerned about preserving what we’ve done or our own reputation, we’re in an extremely vulnerable place. So at the root of this is deep and genuine humility. And neither Craig nor I want to put ourselves forward as an example of humility – we are deeply flawed persons – but that’s been part of God’s grace to us.

If we’re most concerned about preserving what we’ve done or our own reputation, we’re in an extremely vulnerable place.

I just want to say that part of what has given me freedom along the way is . . . Craig talked earlier about gratitude, and part of my wonderful freedom and joy is looking at Craig’s stewardship of this ministry that I love so much. You have done very well with it, brother, and carried it to places beyond where I could have ever been, and I love you for it.

CP: My exhortation to someone who is facing a leadership transition and handing over the reigns to someone else is: Get out of the way! You are more invested than you realize; you have more influence than you realize; you can cause more trouble for the person following you than you realize.

There’s a blind spot in the “Founder’s Syndrome” that is a huge vulnerability for you and for the person following you and your organization or church. This comes back to self-awareness. But get out of the way. Bill got out of the way, and I’m so grateful to the Lord and to Bill for that.

BM: Let me conclude with an exhortation for those who are reading: If you are facing a leadership transition in your church or mission organization, don’t assume.

Don’t just embrace the wisdom of the world immediately that says, “The former leader needs to leave the scene in order for the transition to be effective.” Don’t buy into the wisdom, the thinking of this system. That is not biblical, and it’s not even true. There are riches that have been developed over the years that God can use if we are willing to walk humbly through the process and build up each other and the work along the way by God’s grace. So, don’t just assume that, well, this is the pattern; that’s what we need to follow.  

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How Can the Lord Use One Faithful Pastor?

Dear Friends & Partners,

I first met Pastor Timothy* over ten years ago, so our reunion earlier this year was filled with joy. We both had a bit more gray hair! But his warm smile and gentle spirit had not changed – nor had his passion for God’s Word.

Timothy was part of the first training group in a country in Southeast Asia that is hostile to Christ and His Church. During that first training in 2008, a colleague and I taught the book of Jonah. I’ll never forget the response of one of Timothy’s fellow pastors at the end of the week:

“Pray for me. I hate the government officials who have persecuted so many pastors and churches in my country. I find myself hoping that they are all condemned to hell. Now I realize that my heart is worse than Jonah’s. I repent. Pray for me.”

We did pray for Timothy. And in the coming years, God changed his heart and gave him a love for his oppressors. He had a chance to emigrate to the U.S., but he turned it down to serve his people.

The truth is, we see this type of transformation consistently when pastors encounter the life-changing Word of God.

I asked Timothy how many groups of pastors he has taught over the past ten years. “About ten groups.” How many pastors are in a typical group? “It averages 22-25.” Amazing! That means that Timothy has personally equipped well over 200 pastors with our training. Impressive. Timothy went on to share that 30% or 40% of those have passed on the training to others.

My jaw dropped as I did the math. We’re talking about more than a thousand pastors and church leaders being equipped . . . and that’s just through this one faithful pastor.

Honestly, I never imagined ten years ago that we would see this level of multiplication, particularly in such a hostile environment.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself . . . God’s mercies upon this ministry are so evident. Rejoice! And realize that you are a full partner in this. We treasure your giving, your praying, and your encouragement to our staff.

Marveling in Christ,

Craig Parro

President

PS: Our in-country coordinator, on his own initiative, told us that he’s taken our training to a nearby country that is even more hostile to the Church. Please consider a gift today so that we may encourage in practical ways these bold proclaimers of God’s Word!

* Name changed for security reasons.

How Does the Gospel of John Speak to Our Secular Age? – D.A. Carson

LRI’s video team recently had the opportunity to record a few videos for The Gospel Coalition video series in which gifted expositors preach an overview sermon of a book of the Bible, drawing out the main Idea and intended response of that book. We recorded Dr. D. A. Carson on John, Dr. Constantine Campbell on Ephesians, and our very own Tim Sattler on Titus. While the videos we shot await release, you can watch two others in the series: Douglas O’Donnell on Matthew and Gary Millar on Deuteronomy.

After each sermon, we asked each expositor three questions about the book they preached. What follows is the last question for D. A. Carson on how the Gospel of John speaks to our secular age. D. A. Carson is the president of The Gospel Coalition, the Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and the writer of the John commentary in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series.



Transcript of the clip:

Kevin Halloran: We know that all of Scripture speaks to us today. What particular elements from the book of John do you think speak powerfully to our secular and postmodern world?

D.A. Carson: There are many. The first—and this almost by way of flat-out contradiction—is that the book is openly, unashamedly, in your face supernatural. There are many people in the secular arena who treat history as that which takes place in space and time, and is caused, and effects things in space and time, and it leaves no place for God intervening—which means that you have no place for the Resurrection or, in the Old Testament, you have no place for the burning bush or the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea. John’s Gospel is unabashedly, unashamedly, supernaturalistic. Unless you come to grips with that, you’re not going to be able to understand John’s Gospel. It’s not a psychological manual. It’s not a feel-good book.

At the same time, it presents, in its own categories, the fundamental flaw, the fundamental wrongness: namely, unbelief. That lies at the heart of a great deal of secular commitments: unbelief toward anything outside ourselves. We are our own judge. We view sin as a social construct. We view unbelief as a personal choice, maybe even as a sign of freedom and maturity. And over against all of that, Jesus Himself unambiguously teaches that the worst slavery is the slavery to sin, and the worst shackles are the unbelief that fail to see what God has done and is doing. To see how all of that has been addressed by the work of Christ—if you actually come to see it—it changes everything. It changes how you understand yourself and God, how you understand reality, how you understand your life, its purposes, its goals, the nature of faith. It’s not a blind casting yourself on something mystical or mythical so you can have pie in the sky when you die, by and by—it’s none of those things. It’s grounded heavily in truth, and faith is a God-given gift to enable you to perceive and grasp and cast your life on that truth. And the truth is bound with historic events: Jesus dying in space-time history and rising from the dead in space-time history, on which you must cast your life in self abandonment, in genuine repentance, in genuine faith in order to receive eternal life.


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