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Limited Limelight

Out of the spotlight.As associates, or other staff members, we grow accustomed to limited time in the limelight. The lead pastor gets the majority of the “up front” duties while we are in the basement with the youth group, in the nursery with the children, at the booth running production, facilitating a meeting of a small group, or doing other work behind the scenes. For those of us who have made staff-ministry a career, we prefer it this way… most of the time. Other times we can fall into the trap of wondering if anyone notices what we do, or if we are toiling in anonymity.

It is not a character flaw to want your efforts to be noticed. We all do. That should not be a driving factor in our efforts though because that is not what ministry is about. Our role as a staff member is to participate in the ministry of the entire congregation as we lead our particular area(s) no matter who is getting the credit at the moment. We are part of a team where every member matters (see more about this in another post, and Paul’s image of the church as the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 et al.). It ought not be about who is getting the credit, other than God.

Years ago, when Shaquille (Shaq) O’Neal was a rookie, I saw him play in the only NBA game I have ever attended. While living in New Jersey, my brother got us tickets to see the Nets play the Magic. During the game, Shaq broke a basket. He didn’t shatter the backboard, but instead dunked the ball so hard that the basket collapsed. It was incredible. The crowd went nuts, but the Magic weren’t declared the winners because that amazing thing had happened. No, a new basket was brought in and the game resumed. Truth be told, Shaq’s awesome dunk was worth 2 points – just like a layup from one of the players whose name I don’t remember.

Shaq - the early years

Shaq did his job. He fired up his team and brought loads of attention to them. But he didn’t win the game alone. The other four guys on the floor, and even the guys on the bench who pushed him during practice, were as much a part of that win as he was. The “supporting cast” was important to the team success. There are times when all of us can be tempted to go for the accolades that come with a basket-breaking dunk, or a flashy, attendance-driven program. That, though, is probably not our role. We are needed to do our job to the best of our ability, no matter who is getting the applause.

I once worked for a lead pastor who made the newest staff member the “golden child.” There was constant turnover within that staff, so this happened at least once a year. The latest hire was going to save the church, or at least the ministry area in which she served. She was innovative, energetic, and just the right person for the job – until the next person came on staff. Then she was just one of the rabble. The fall from that pedestal was hard.

A subtle, almost subliminal, atmosphere of competition permeated the staff. It was fun being the “golden child.” We wanted to stay there, or regain that status when it was lost. Some wanted it at the expense of the one who had it. After several years I began to notice the unhealthy ministry environment that had been created.

Ministry is not about one-upmanship. Ministry is a team sport.

There are times when you are going to feel like the “supporting cast,” quietly doing your job in apparent anonymity. Don’t let that get you down. You are an important part of the team. Keep striving even when no one is looking. There is always One who is, and that One is who you really work for anyway.

“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” –Matthew 6:17-18 NRSV

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