Have you ever wanted to just hide away and not go to church? That's how I felt on Saturday evening. The thought of getting up early in the morning and speaking to dozens of people, of worshipping God even (yes, it was a low moment) and of feeling the responsibility of needing to be stood next to my husband in the front row all weighed heavily on me.
I just needed a break.
I'm sure I'm not alone in this – and I know it is right to take time out at times.
But one of the burdens of leadership is living by example. And just hiding under my duvet when I don't feel 100 per cent is not setting a good example. So I shot up a quick prayer asking that God would refresh me and I was immediately reminded of the Sunday before.
On that day, I was suffering from such severe back pain that I hadn't slept all night. I was playing the main instrument in the worship team and we had a visiting speaker from Nigeria, who we were hosting a lunch for after the service. On that particular Sunday the whole of me was screaming "It isn't fair! Why should I have to carry on? Why can't someone else do it?"
Whether or not I should have carried on is not the point of me telling this. I did, having asked my husband to shoot off a quick message to a guitarist to see if he could come and play alongside me.
So many people prayed for me that morning, and I managed to get through the service buoyed by their prayers – and a lot of painkillers! It was a fascinating meeting, hearing all about the work the pastor's church is doing in Nigeria, and I wouldn't want to have missed it.
At the end of the service, a dear friend came up to me and asked if there was anything she could do to help me. I had a huge pile of ironing that was on my mind; I hadn't been able to do it the night before because of my back. Without me telling her that, she suddenly asked: "Do you have some ironing I could take and do for you?" My response: floods of tears, as the pent up stress started to be released.
I was also doublebooked over that lunchtime, as my daughter had an event she couldn't miss. So I couldn't do my usual "hostess thing" – something that was also causing me a certain level of stress (yes I have an overabundance of Martha tendencies). I went home, all our guests arrived, I got their lunch ready (with the help of friends) and then left with my daughter.
On my arrival back home, I discovered a spotless kitchen, with all leftover food boxed up neatly and everything tidied away. It was such a blessing; I was blown away (and my "aren't I a martyr" balloon was firmly pricked and deflated – thank goodness).
I know that maybe I shouldn't have done everything I did that day, but in my time of pain and need friends showed me how much they care by stepping in and doing all the things I couldn't.
As I was reminded of that particular Sunday, my grumpy Saturday night heart was suddenly filled with gratitude and, the next morning, I was happy to join my church family and worship God alongside them. I was grateful that God chose to use me to bring words and direction during the meeting (if I'd been Him I would have left me out of the equation that day).
I was also hugely challenged by the brilliant preach my husband gave on about "the now and the not yet" of the Kingdom of God. Having challenged others during the sung worship time that there were things they were not trusting God for I realised that I needed to respond at the end of the preach myself.
There I stood, in my dilemma of needing to be available to pray for people and wanting prayer myself. But again I felt a nudge from God, so I took those few steps forward first, before anyone else did. While it made me vulnerable, I also feel that it is important that people see their leaders responding to the Word rather than always seeming so together that they are just on the ministry team praying for others.
We are all human and, whether they show you or not, your leaders will have moments when they struggle; moments when they wish they could just go and crawl away and hide under a rock. But, by the grace of God, and through the love and friendship of others, they carry on. Just as we are all called to persevere in our faith – and in our churches.
I recognise that church can be a place where we get hurt, as well as blessed. It is made up of imperfect people after all. And I have felt my share of that hurt – more so since our leadership responsibilities have increased. But I want to leave you with a quote from Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church, which I read recently in Krish Kandiah's book Paradoxology. It really does celebrate the best of what church can be, and I pray that our own local churches reveal their beauty more and more:
"There is nothing like the local church when it's working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness. Still to this day the potential of the church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organization on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close."
Quote originally from Bill Hybels' Courageous Leadership (Zondervan)