For our first message series of the new year, we’ve been looking at “thieves” of joy: things that threaten to steal our joy: things like worry, disappointment, fear, anger, rejection, and all the rest. The purpose of the series is to name those thieves and then identify strategies that will protect us and help us guard against them.
Parish life comes with its own thieves of joy, some of which will be immediately recognizable to parish leaders: criticism and complaint, gossip and infighting, declining attendance, budget woes, maintenance problems. And the ongoing COVID crisis hasn’t made it all any easier either.
But beyond these external forces, there is one thief of joy that can infect parish leaders or volunteers more than any other. And it’s actually not an emotion or experience, it’s a person. But before I identify that person, we need to take a look at a particular passage from the Gospel of Luke:
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22
Every child needs to hear those words from their father. Every child needs to know in their heart of their parent’s approval and appreciation. And no matter your age that doesn’t go away. Jesus was no different. He needed to know that his Father was pleased with him.
But think about that… At this point, what had he done? From Luke’s account of his young life there really wasn’t much to tell. He hadn’t really done anything out of the ordinary or particularly noteworthy. Yet, God the Father takes this moment to claim Jesus as his beloved Son and to express his delight in him.
And here we come to the number one person who gets in the way of your joy when it comes to parish life. You probably know what I am going to say….the number one person who gets in the way of your joy is…the devil, right? The devil loves to steal your joy… right? Right. But there’s actually someone who’s even better at it than the devil.
The number one person who steals your joy in your parish ministry is you.
And one of the most effective ways you do it is when you define yourself by your work: your accomplishments or attendance, your faults and failures or anything else we have done or haven’t done. And in parish life, there’s always more to do.
You don’t properly define you by any of those things. In fact you don’t define yourself at all. God does. God defines you. In Christ, through baptism, God defines you as a beloved child.
Parish life isn’t easy, whether you’re a pastor, staff member, volunteer minister, or committed member. There will always be defeats and disappointments aplenty. But they don’t define us and they can’t steal our joy if we’re grounded in our identity as beloved sons and daughters, working in our Father’s house.