One of my worst experiences in ministry happened early on. I was planting a church and looking for innovative ways to communicate the gospel to people. Some in the leadership did not share my views, and war started. Secret meetings. Calls to the conference. Pressure to maintain status quo. Some members left what was already a small congregation, and made the reason for their departure known. I remember feeling sick to my stomach constantly. Stress got so bad that food became my enemy and I suffered from several stomach ailments that I never had before or since. Those were dark days. I refer to them as my days in the cave. I identify with David when he was in the cave of Adullam. Maybe you can identify with him too. Here are three principles that have helped my ministry along the way, especially when having a cave experience:
1. Learn from it. Never waste a cave experience.
All of us will have a cave experience. For some it’s early in life. For others it’s later. But it happens to all of us. As I reflect on 22 years of ministry, I now see how those hard times helped shape who I am today. The preaching to 12 people week after week, helped to prepare me to preach to 120 and then to 1,200. The backstabbing I experienced, the issues with leaders that preferred to maintain status quo rather than reach more people, the veiled threats, the hard conversations, all have prepared me one way or another for life in ministry. One of the most practical ways those experiences have prepared me is when I see people struggling with some of the same issues I went through, and being able to tell them: It’s going to be alright. Never waste a cave experience. Grow from it. Learn from it. Help others after you are done with it.
2. Lead your way out. Never get comfortable in the cave.
David “became the leader” of about 400 people in the cave. He understood that he must lead the ones you have, not the ones you want to have. One of the temptations of leaders if to play the victim card, look around the people they have, and either give up or wait for things to improve. Leaders are thermostats. They set the temperature in the room. They do not let circumstances determine effort. They give their best, do their best, where they are.
3. Look for people God sends your way. Never go at it alone.
Change is difficult. When you are in the midst of what I call the “chaos of change” God will always send someone to help you through it. Sometimes we are so focused on what’s going on that we ignore mentors and try to go at it alone. Mentors will give you perspective, encouragement and accountability. Not all change is good. The key is to know what to change at what time.
If you are going through a dark cave experience, and need prayer I would love to pray for you. Write me and I will intercede for you. firstname.lastname@example.org