The Best Thing You’ll Ever Do for Yourself

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I’m remembering the time I bumped into Jeff Ingram in the hotel breakfast area. The previous evening, I had spoken at a local church while Jeff had led a conference for Sunday School directors in a neighboring community.

Jeff said, “I had 14 directors in my conference. It was great.”

I have never worked for Jeff’s employer–the Louisiana Baptist Convention with headquarters in Alexandria, Louisiana–but I knew what he is experiencing.

Without asking him, I can tell you the high point of his day.

Jeff is sitting in his office and the phone rings. A pastor or church staffer or lay leader from somewhere across this state is on the line.

“I need help,” he says. Jeff’s heart races. “Great,” he thinks to himself. “Someone needs me.”

What he says is, “Well, I’ll be happy to do anything I can for you.”

If the caller has a problem of untrained leaders or an anemic organization that needs a shot in the arm or his Sunday School is in disarray and he is desperate for assistance, all the juices start flowing in Jeff Ingram’s veins.

This is great.

This is what a denominational worker lives for. (He may even quote the Esther verse to himself : “I’ve come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”)

This is why he’s there.

I guarantee it’s true, whether the worker is the employee of the association, the state convention, the national organization, one of our agencies.

The best part of their day is when someone calls needing what they have to offer.

An even greater thing is when the caller asks for something they don’t know how to give and don’t know what to do about, but recognize as a genuinely needful situation and determine to find the answer. The worker/leader/servant loves a good challenge.

The worst part of his job, I guarantee, is sitting in his office with the phone never ringing. He begins to wonder if he is selling something no one needs, answering questions no one is asking, offering what no one wants.

The saddest part is looking at churches and their leaders who desperately need what they have to offer and either don’t know it or don’t care.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation.

–I’ve been the pastor (staff member, too, in two churches) who has sometimes felt the outside experts with their programs were irrelevant or out of touch or boring.

–I’ve been the denominational guy (the associational Director of Missions) who knew how to help that church down the way but could not force-feed the pastor or its leaders.

What I did

I once wrote a blistering letter to a group of pastors in a small parish some miles below New Orleans, my home base. “My colleague and I drove 80 miles each way last night to attend your meeting. Only two of you showed up.”  The background is that each of them had our gathering on their calendars and should have been present.

Feeling my oats now and enjoying venting–something pastors and denominational guys rarely get to do–I said to those pastors, “This is your meeting. I don’t need it. We did it because you asked for it. I don’t get paid extra for doing this. I could have stayed home with my family last night. Instead, I got in at 11:30.”

I concluded: “If you are not going to support your own meeting, then neither am I. Let me know what you decide.”

I heard from only one of the half-dozen pastors in that small parish. He was upset at the bluntness of my letter. But I didn’t back off. That’s one of the advantages of my not having been a longtime denominational employee: I had not learned to take this kind of guff in silence. As a career pastor I knew that side of the situation all too well.

Occasionally someone needs to talk straight to these guys and speak the truth. Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6).

The odd thing is that all six of those churches were in bad trouble and were struggling, dying even. Then, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina put every one of them out of business and forced the pastors to relocate.

I am completely aware that even had the pastors received my amazingly insightful input and my expert guidance (as Paul said, I speak as a fool), the hurricane would still have ended their ministry in that parish. But still….

What Paul did

Paul and Silas were having trouble finding someone to help. Everyone they saw needed the gospel–that’s the advantage of being a pioneer with Christ’s message–but they kept running into closed doors. Here’s how Luke tells it in Acts 16: And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them….

These guys had to have been wondering, “Well, Lord, we see all these places you don’t want us to go, and we see all these closed doors–but where do you want us? There has to be someone out here open to our message and ministry.”

Acts 16:9 has the answer. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’

Finally! Someone needs us!

And when he had seen the vision, immediately we (that’s a clue Luke had just joined Paul’s team) sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (16:10)

And that’s how the gospel came to Europe.

I conclude from this that someone in Macedonia was praying for help–of some kind; maybe he/she knew what they were asking for or perhaps it was a general cry to the Heavens–and the Holy Spirit picked up the signal and relayed it to Paul and his team.

What you should do

Cry for help.

That’s the best thing that happens in a worker’s day. Someone needs me. I’ll not have another day of marking time, doing busy work, shuffling papers, filling out the endless reports that comes with denominational work. I can do something that actually makes a difference for someone.

The hardest thing for a pastor or staff member or lay leader to do is to call out for help. Don’t ask me why. Is it pride or is it ignorance (“I don’t know what help I need!”) or something else entirely?

When one does ask for help, even if it’s only from a colleague in the same town, everyone wins.

Long ago in seminary, classmate Bill Lowe asked for my help in Hebrew. He was a dozen years older than me and had been out of school a long time. “This Hebrew is killing me,” he said. “I need to study with someone.”

We all lived on campus at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary within a block of one another. Thereafter, we began studying together several nights a week.

That’s how I made a life-changing discovery. In helping Bill with his classwork, I was helping myself.

Nothing makes a lesson clear up in one’s mind like trying to explain it to another.

I have no memory what grade Bill Lowe (who went on to pastor in Georgia and eventually served as associational director of missions before God took him to Heaven) made on that course. I made an A. And it was all because of his cry for help.

Calling for assistance is a win/win proposition. Everyone benefits.

Now, pick up the phone.  Or go on-line. Ask for help. I dare you.

Someone will appreciate it.