Do you think of work as a gift?
I know we don’t tend to think of work as a “gift,” but that’s just what it is…a gift from God. We were designed for work and Adam and Eve were hard at work before sin ever entered the picture. From that point on, work became tainted by sin like everything else, but it still remains a gift from God.
Work is an area that we have seen cause many missionaries to derail. When work becomes an idol, it can become a real problem. Since the beginning of our ministry, we have focused on helping missionaries who have had their lives become unbalanced due to work. Missionaries can become so passionate about their callings, so driven, that they run over their family, their health, and even their relationships with locals as they throw themselves into their work.
When we become so focused on work, and neglect Sabbath, we can all miss the mark whether or not we are missionaries. Taking moments to worship, pray, study, and play can help us to become more productive in our lives. We know this a challenge and this is why we created the missionary guest homes, and why we host the Gathering and marriage retreats each year. Sabbath is crucial, and we affirm healthy and balanced rest.
Today we want to speak to another side of the work issue, and reach out to those of you who may be struggling on the other end of the spectrum.
Let’s take a moment and look at the life of Paul for some guidance here. Paul was called to ministry, and he took that calling seriously. He set an example as a hard worker and you too should have that reputation. Are you making the most of your time? Keeping a Sabbath implies you are working hard the other 6, or at minimum 5, days of the week.
There is a Facebook forum for Expats here in El Salvador and a few weeks ago there was a post that received a lot of negative comments about missionaries. Some posters even commented that missionaries are on “church-sponsored vacations.” For most of you, nothing could be further from the truth; but for some of you this hits a little too close to home.
The danger for missionaries is that long years on the field with little accountability can lead to unhealthy habits. Let’s do some self-reflection here…
The average employed American works 46 hours. For many of your supporters, a 60 hour work week is probably closer to the reality they are living which means they are working 8am-6pm for 5 or 6 days a week. They also are probably active in their local church which means they are volunteering additional hours for nothing. Then, they may even be picking up extra hours and making personal sacrifices to keep you on the field. Shouldn’t you be willing to work at least as hard as they are?
We get that your job isn’t like a “normal” American job, and we understand that there are seasons to ministry. Holidays and summer time may be intense work-wise, so then it’s okay to back off for a few weeks. You may work much more on the weekends, but be a little more relaxed during the week but you should still be working a full work week if your support check reflects that. The truth is, you should be showing up for work like you are clocking in somewhere. In fact, it may be a good idea for some of you to actually get a time clock and clock in to get some perspective on what your work week looks like.
(As a side note I am not talking to those of you who have “retired” and are working hard while your peers are playing golf! You have an amazing place on the mission field, and as you move into your older years, you need to take care of yourself and not over do it!)
Is any of this striking a chord with you? Maybe you need some help in this area. Here are a few things to consider to help you get back on track…
Waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean wasting time. Lulls in your ministry can happen, sometimes everything goes south and you need to regroup. There is a place for reading the Bible, praying, and seeking God for clarity. If you don’t get any direction, start doing something. Other ministries may need your help in the meantime.
Don’t believe your own newsletters. We all know that actions speak louder than words. If you are lazy, the locals know it and your team members know it too. We joke about not believing what we are writing in our newsletters to supporters but maybe this is a truth that some of you need to take to heart.
Make sure your Sabbatical months don’t turn into years. Burnout is a real issue that has destroyed many missionaries’ lives. It is completely healthy to take a season of Sabbatical for healing and preparation for the work that God has next for you, and if spiritual authorities in your life are recommending it by all means take it! But don’t let this season of a few months turn into years, or into your new normal.
Be accountable for your work week. Who do you answer to? Make sure that there is accountability in place in your life to help you be good stewards of the time and resources entrusted to your care. We can help be this for you if this is something you need, and there is no shame in seeking this out…we all need accountability! We would love to sit down with you and help you think through how to use your time more effectively. That is one of the reasons we are here
Get off Facebook. There is nothing inherently wrong with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all other forms of social media. There is even pressure for missionaries to maintain an active profile to keep supporters in the loop and raise funds for projects, but you should not be spending large chunks of time on Facebook. Some studies have shown that it can even prohibit missionaries from fully adapting to their new culture if they are constantly engaged with friends and family back home. Limit your social media time to strictly work related during work hours and start with a goal of just one hour a day. You will be amazed at how much time is freed up.
Turn off the TV(or better yet throw it out the window!). Turn off the TV and toss the game console. You won’t believe how many hours people waste in a day on these things. I’m not saying that none of you should have a TV, but I will say with conviction that there are some of you who should not have a TV. Are you watching more than an hour a day of TV? Have you ever neglected things that needed to get done because you were playing video games? Put limits on these activities and you will find more time for what really matters.
Don’t hang out or hide on the mission field. The mission field is not a place to hang out or to hide out. If your only ministry is “building relationships” then maybe you are just hanging out. If you are fearful of what a future off the field looks like, then maybe you are just hiding out. If you are receiving support you better be working for it and diligently moving toward the purpose that brought you here in the first place. Otherwise, you are taking wages that belong to someone else, and could better serve God’s Kingdom in a different way. Do we dare take wages we have not earned? If you are struggling in this area please come and sit with us. We know a lot of times you just need someone to help you find direction.
Know when it is time to go home. If you find yourself drifting along, lacking clarity, unmotivated, hiding out or simply hanging out then maybe it’s time to consider going home. If after 3 months you still lack a purpose or a way forward, then it’s time to start thinking about transitioning off the mission field and freeing funds for someone who could be more productive. Many missionaries stay because it’s just easier then going home. There is no shame in following God’s call to a new kind of life, and being obedient and brave enough to go back home. We want to partner with you especially in this. We want to see you return well so you can embrace the next challenge that God has for you.
El Salvador is a place with so much need and so much opportunity for ministry. The truth is that the enemy would love to have you sitting around and wasting time on things that don’t matter. We don’t want to see any of you robbed of the joy to be found in carrying out God’s amazing call here for you in El Salvador. He has given us the gift of having the opportunity to work in this beautiful place.
We are here to help you if you need guidance and support in this area, we want to help fulfill your calling here in El Salvador. Let it be said in the end of all of us that we finished the race and we finished it well.