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1 – Mini-Messiah – “You are not the Messiah; we have one, and He ain’t you.” The Lord “said” those words to me many years ago; He brought this point home to me when the phone rang one night. It was a “friend” with marriage problems. Lucia picked up the phone (a landline on the wall), and without answering it, she handed it to me.
She did this because she knew that whoever it was, I was going to help them. She knew I would take the call, change our plans for the evening, and respond to whatever the “crisis” was. Her simple gesture of picking up the phone and handing it to me without a word exchanged was enough to bring the Lord’s conviction.
I immediately knew I had a problem; it was the Mini-Messiah Complex (MMC). I also knew that if I did not repent, I would damage our marriage, possibly irreparably. That night, the Lord changed my view of soul care, helping others, and counseling. The verse that lept from the page was 1 Corinthians 3:6.
I owned that verse that night. Today, I tell folks who succumb to the MMC that they must take that verse and put a period (.) right after the words, “Apollos watered.” It would look like this, though the actual sentence has a comma between the words “Apollos” and “but.”
I planted, Apollos watered. But God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
If you love to help people but do not know your limitations or insecurities, you may shipwreck your life and relationships. God is sovereign, and He can take care of folks better than you can. Learning how to love others well while not being overcome by their suffering is one of the most vital tips you’ll ever learn. Jesus had peace in a chaotic world, and you can be like Him too. These other tips will give you practical ways that you can implement immediately in your life.
Learning What You Can Do and What God Can Do
2 – Don’t Accept Monkeys – Their burden is not yours. Their struggle is not a call for you to carry the weight of whatever is happening to them. Some folks can put pressure on you as they emotionally communicate their plight. While you never want to be unsympathetic, you must not let their problem become yours.
You can’t take their “monkey” and put it on your back. After a while, you’ll have a gang of “monkeys” weighing you down. There are two extremes for you to assess yourself on this point.
3 – It’s Your Calendar – A lady called, asking to meet with me because she found out her husband had committed adultery. We set-up the meeting two days later, not the day she called. Though we gave her care at the moment, I did not drop what I was doing to meet with them immediately.
She was upset that I would not meet that day, though she told me later that she understood. It took them about fifteen years to get to this horrible place in their marriage. Waiting two more days to meet was not going to make things worse. If you jump to action each time someone has a need, you will get tired of jumping, and potentially develop a bitter, cynical, and grumbling spirit.
4 – Value the Word, “No” – Tied to the previous point is your willingness to say “No” to people. This concept also ties to the “Mini-Messiah Complex.” It would do you well to read the four Gospels, particularly the words in red. And reflect on all the times Christ said, “No” to folks, or He implied a “no response” by His words or actions (John 11:5-6).
Fear of man causes mercy to run amuck. It’s the person who is afraid to say “No” because they don’t want others to be disappointed in them.
5 – Prioritize Relationships – Your relationship order is always (1) you, (2) spouse, (3) children, and (4) other relationships, which vary depending on your circumstances. You will have to categorize this second tier. The key idea is that your second tier does not infringe upon your most vital relationships.
6 – Attention v. Care – Some folks have to talk to you and won’t accept direction any other way. This problem happens in ministries where the lead person has a following more than ten people. You can only care for so many folks. After a while, there are diminishing returns when the quality of your care spreads beyond any human’s capacity to do soul care well.
If more than a handful of people are looking for your direction, you must develop a gameplan to provide them with your care, but it cannot involve your immediate attention. The most effective way that I do this is through our website, which also trains folks to care for others.
Just these three things enable me to provide care to thousands of people, but there is only a handful that interacts with me directly. But if the person insists on “face-time,” they will be disappointed. The question becomes, “Do you want my attention or my care? I can give you my care through the resources that I direct you to, but I cannot engage every person who wants to talk to me.”
We’ll never turn you away, by the grace of God, but you don’t determine how you will receive our care.
7 – Everything Is a Meeting – Every encounter that I have with someone is called a meeting. It does not matter what that engagement is. For example, a date with my wife, time with my children, watching a movie, counseling session, or attending church gatherings. I rarely tell anyone what I’m specifically doing because they don’t need to know. I call those things a meeting, which is true.
If I told someone hurting that I was taking my child out for a burger, they might become upset with me. Thus, we have meetings all the time, including cuddling with my daughter as we watch a movie together.
It’s not that I don’t love to help people. Helping others is my most profound passion, but I cannot be every person’s “answer man” or “Johnny on the spot” whenever there is a genuine need or something that is floating through their heads, so they run it by me.
8 – Don’t Add Dates – If you don’t know how to filter out the seriousness of a need or the crisis level, anyone can manage your life, and you will break down eventually. One of the ways that I work through this problem is I don’t add any dates on my calendar.
Part of the reason for this is that we have several calendars spinning in our orbit at the same time: family, work, church, school, and our children’s vocations. It would be unwise for us to have more than one person adding things into our calendar because I never know what Lucia has going on, what she’s waiting for from others requesting time, and so forth.
Wisdom says, “Rick, let one person run this universe.” And Lucia is highly-competent when it comes to running my life. The other upside is that it filters out the non-serious “time requesters.”
Inevitably, when someone sees me, like at a church meeting, they say something like, “Hey, Rick, let’s get together.” If I made that date right there on the spot, my calendar would fill up immediately. Thus, I tell them, “Sure, give Lucia a call or email, and she’ll make it happen.” Eighty-five to ninety percent of those requests don’t happen, which frees me to help those who need my care.
Many people live “at the moment” and are not thoughtful planners or strategists. Thus, their lives are all over the map. There are structure and spontaneity; you don’t want to be on either extreme, but these folks err on the side of impulse. Thus, they see me and want to meet. After they leave, they don’t remember “the ask,” and don’t follow through by making the meeting.
9 – Create Filters – After a while, as requests for help increase, you will have to create “filters” between you and those who want to talk to you. I do this in several ways.
My phone is on call-forwarding so nobody can directly call me. Typically when a person wants to talk to me, they want to tell me their story. Four of those stories in a day would shut down our ministry. I have two other folks “handling my calls.”
I don’t engage anyone on social media, particularly Facebook. I get instant messages all the time, where someone is asking me a question. It was such a huge distraction that I got off social media.
We put a “message bubble” at the bottom right of our website so a person can access us instantly. We also have free and private forums where a person can ask us anything.
My mantra is, “If your question is that important to you, then you will do what we ask to find help.” This one concept filters out scores of questions each month because the person asking will not take the time to ask in the places we provide.
I have never turned anyone away, but I do not permit other folks to determine how they will receive my care. To meet every person when, where, and how they want me to connect with them is unwise, poor stewardship of my time, and can cause irreparable damage to my most vital relationships.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).