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Strategies for Fewer Regrets in Ministry

by Kim Martinez

Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor working primarily in urban areas. She has a master's degree in Theology from Fuller Seminary and is a contributor to Ministry Today.

When I was 18, I was given a fantastic internship. The internship required me to live with a family whose system I didn't understand, and after 6 weeks, I quit the internship and ran home. Six months later, the pain began. You might know this pain — it starts with a clinched stomach and the back of your neck knots up. Then a lightening flash of emotional pain shoots through your system. On the worst days, it sends you to the edge of panic. On better days, it reminds you that you never again want to do something that will cause this pain of regret.

Regret is caused by a failure to live up to the expectations of ourselves or others. If you remember high school science, you will remember that even in the most controlled environments, we humans mess up 3 percent of the time. This means that no matter what you do, there will be times that you let yourself, God, and others down. You will make mistakes. However, there are a lot of things you can do to turn these mistakes (or the sense that you've made a mistake) into growth opportunities instead of festering pools of regret. Here are a few things that might help:

  1. Manage your expectations. I coach women through life and ministry. One common theme I have found is that we tend to create a picture of life as it should be and head for it. We figure out what God is calling us to, and then we figure out a path to get there. We start out on this path, and then life happens. Someone builds a brick wall in the middle of our well-planned road to success, or an earthquake plows a canyon right across our path. There we are, dangling over the edge, trying to find traction, and hoping life will soon return to our well-planned-out "normal."

    When you hit a brick wall at 60 miles an hour, it causes pain. Some people have a hard time recovering from this — they keep trying to find a path to that picture of perfection they had in the first place.

    Brick walls can be disappointments or failed dreams, like when two people show up to your event that you planned for 80. Canyons are major life events, like the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job you love.

    A few years ago, I had a job that I loved. Then I didn't. The transition from this church and job that we loved was quite possibly the most difficult transition of my life — somewhere between a brick wall and the Grand Canyon.

    Recently, I listened to my 21-year old daughter deliver great wisdom on this topic. She told me: "I'm learning to manage my expectations. Instead of setting my agenda and trying to accomplish it, I am waiting for God to direct my path. I've decided that as long as I get closer to Jesus every day, I've accomplished my goal."

    Why didn't I think of that? Why did I spend so many years trying to plow a road to ministry instead of trusting God to build me into the person He created me to be?

  2. Accept that a woman's path is different. I think that for years I sought to be a valued voice in ministry — where men are largely in charge — by walking a path that could be respected by, and looked familiar to, men. Since the male life is pretty linear, I felt beaten down every time I found myself on yet another detour. A woman's journey isn't the same as a man's. Although our input and status is equally important, equal does not mean the same. Your voice will be valued because you bring to the table a depth of experience that is different. You don't have to walk the same path as your male counterparts in order to have a valued voice. You do need to let God develop you through all of life's detours and experiences.

    You will make mistakes. However, there are a lot of things you can do to turn these mistakes (or the sense that you've made a mistake) into growth opportunities instead of festering pools of regret

    After the birth of my second child, I found myself on a major detour. I had been out of ministry for a couple years, and I felt like God had completely forgotten me. I gave away all of my ministry books except my commentaries. I expected a nice linear life, and discovered that God uses detours. This was an incredibly dark and difficult time. Six years later, God suddenly called me back to active ministry. I was a different person, with depth and wisdom that can only be forged through the insanity of toddlers who won't sleep and budgets that only God can fix.

  3. Get input. There is a new thing going around – Mastermind groups. The point of a mastermind group is to find five or six of the smartest people you know and make them a part of your life. Meet regularly, and let them give you input. Some of the most productive people I know have two or three mastermind groups — one for their spiritual walk, one for their ministry walk, and one for life in general. The term "mastermind" is new, but the concept is old — at least for women. Women walking together can make a difference.

  4. Create space for your spiritual life. This is more than "have time for devotions." If you know how you receive information and what your love languages are, you can determine how you best relate to God. In addition, the spiritual disciplines were designed to help you create space to hear God's voice, to see what He wants to show you, and to feel His presence. In the Northwest Ministry Network/District, we have groups of women who commit to a year-long spiritual disciplines cohort. In groups of five or six, we study the spiritual disciplines together, encourage one another online, and connect for a retreat. It might help you to create your own cohort to give your relationship with God priority in your time and energy.

  5. Realize that your expectations can create your reality. There was a time when I thought my job was to make my life fit into paradigms that made sense to other people. In the process, I tried to make myself and my husband into people that we weren't. I will never be cute or sweet. Yet, I beat myself up continuously because I couldn't fit a mold I wasn't intended to fit. I had unrealistic expectations, and facing those daily made me cranky. Being a cranky person created a cranky reality. When I changed my expectations to be the person God created me to be, I began to walk in grace and joy. This created a very different reality of acceptance and peace.

  6. Know your strengths and feed them. One of the most powerful things you can do is to take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 test and discover your strengths. These are what give you energy. Spend 80 percent of your time doing things in your areas of strength, and you will have the energy you need to be the person you were created to be.

  7. Find a coach. A coach won't tell you what to do, or regurgitate your past to discover why you keep walking around the same mountain. Instead, a coach will help you focus on being the person you were created to be, removing barriers, and creating flow and freedom in your life. With the help of a coach, you will be able to get past things that used to freeze you, and keep moving forward in strength. You can find Assemblies of God certified coaches at AGCoaching.org.

  8. Know your resources. There is only so much time in the day. Spend your time doing what you do best. You don't have to create everything. Someone out there has already created very useful tools in almost every area of ministry. Discover what the Assemblies of God has to offer, and access online resources. Then, you will be free to use your time and energy to create/minister in the areas of your primary giftings.

Most of all, remember who you are trying to please. At the end of the day, take some time and ask God what He says about your work, your performance, and your relationships. He is not a demanding task master, and He made a way for your failures. As Paul tells us, we boast in our weaknesses because they provide a place for God to show himself strong in us and through us.

Mistakes are part of life. God was fully aware of your humanity when He created you. You don't have to let your mistakes beat you up. Instead, you can walk in joy and peace, knowing that God has already paved a path for you. Just like Joseph, your path might be convoluted or curvy, but God has the big picture, and He will take even the most frustrating parts of life and make something wonderful out of them.