Jenga: (It is a fun game) how many pieces of wood can you take out of the stack before it collapses? Ironically it is often ministry success that causes us to slowly remove critical infrastructure from our lives until like the tower above, it falls into a bunch of pieces.
Ministry success brings added obligations and added obligations must crowd something else out. There is limited space in any life. We may start to crowd out key friendships, margin for rest, time with God, opportunity to think and read, time for community and any number of the very things that give our lives satisfaction, meaning and more importantly grounding. This does not happen quickly: like the frog in the kettle it sneaks up on us slowly until we wake up one day and find ourselves in trouble.
Here are the calls I get. "T.J. I can't do this any longer. I am tired, wiped out, empty and confused about what I should do next. Maybe I should leave my church and do something else." There is a weariness in the voice, and a loss of ministry passion and direction.
And ironically it comes to very successful ministry leaders.
How do we avoid the Jenga syndrome as our ministries grow and we experience success?
First we need to be clear about what practices keep us healthy and grounded, personally, emotionally and spiritually and refuse to allow these practices or the space needed for them to go away. I have ten such practices that I intentionally make space for. What are yours and how are you doing with them?
Second, and this is a big principle. Never take on new responsibility without getting rid of another responsibility. The Jenga syndrome is largely a failure to understand that you cannot add responsibilities and obligations without jettisoning some other obligation. When we don't, a Jenga piece gets pulled out of our lives and often it is one of those practices that keep us emotionally, physically or spiritually healthy. We have limited time and space in our lives so something must give.
In fact, I believe that we ought to be able to identify a few critical responsibilities in our lives (four to five major ones) and that if something else is going to be added, one of the existing ones needs to be changed.
Third, resist the temptation to develop a co-dependent relationship with your ministry. We know what co-dependent relationships do to other relationships: they do the same thing when we allow this to happen with our ministry.
In a co-dependent relationship with our ministry, we think we are indispensable and whenever there is a crisis or a need, we are in the middle of it. We have not learned how to separate ourselves or our emotions or our person hood from the ministry we are a part of. The result of co-dependent relationships with our ministry is that we get hooked into too many situations and obligations.
Co-dependent relationships with our ministry start to suck us dry and the Jenga syndrome kicks in because something in our lives must give.
It is a rare individual who can see ministry success on a regular basis and stay grounded and healthy. I hope you are one of them. If you feel like you are suffering from the Jenga Syndrome, start backing up, get some help or counsel because the alternative is, well, the pieces coming apart and that is something you don't want.