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Orpheus Heyward, right, minister for the Renaissance Church of Christ and organizer of the Nehemiah Next Level Up Summit, was a gracious host. Erik Tryggestad, right, ran a sign-up booth for The Christian Chronicle during the event.
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Photo by Erik Tryggestad

If we die on a cross, there won’t be salvation for anybody

Knowing our limits is key in ministry — that's one valuable takeaway from the Nehemiah Next Level Up Summit

ATLANTA — “Wow! There are a lot of people here already!”

That’s what I said to myself as my Uber driver (after a wrong turn that planted us in the middle of the woods) dropped me off at the beautiful meeting place of the Renaissance Church of Christ.

The Nehemiah Next Level Up Summit wasn’t scheduled to begin for at least four hours, so I figured I had plenty of time to set up my table for The Christian Chronicle.


Related: Churches strive to reach ‘Next Level Up’ in 2023


But the parking lot was full of cars.

“And check that out! Somebody came to this thing in a stretch limo and parked right next to the door!” I thought to myself.

“Oh wait, that’s a hearse.”

Yep. I was crashing a funeral.

Thankfully, I had my suitcase with me, so I quickly changed and caught the tail end of the service for Mr. Columbus Norris, a longtime member of the Renaissance church. His family talked about his dedication to the Lord. He didn’t fear death. He was looking forward to being reunited with his wife, Vera, who passed away in 2014.

Oh, and he was good at square dancing. From his funeral program I learned that brother Norris earned a bachelor’s from the “University of Do Si Dos and Allemande Lefts” (a good school, but their football team, the Fightin’ Promenades, is terrible).

The diploma reads: "Be it known by square dancers everywhere and others of good will that Columbus Norris, having attended the College of Do Si Dos and Allemande Lefts and having completed the prescribed courses in Fun, Friendliness and Good Fellowship and perhaps having even learned a little bit, is hereby awarded the degree of Bachelor of Square Dancing and well merits the privileges, prerogatives and happiness accompanying (this degree)."

The diploma reads: “Be it known by square dancers everywhere and others of good will that Columbus Norris, having attended the College of Do Si Dos and Allemande Lefts and having completed the prescribed courses in Fun, Friendliness and Good Fellowship and perhaps having even learned a little bit, is hereby awarded the degree of Bachelor of Square Dancing and well merits the privileges, prerogatives and happiness accompanying (this degree).”

The summit started that night. One thing I didn’t get to highlight in my coverage of it was the emphasis on self-care for leaders. We burn ourselves out trying to force our churches and ministries to grow, but as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3, it’s God who gives the increase.

“Exhaustion is not a status symbol. It is an acknowledgement that you don’t have good self-care.”

“Exhaustion is not a status symbol,” Thomas Jackson said. “It is an acknowledgement that you don’t have good self-care.”

Jackson, a longtime minister for Churches of Christ and a professor, has doctorates in theology and clinical psychology. He uses both to train believers through his Plano, Texas-based Jackson Theological Institute.

“We live in a culture of deep scarcity,” Jackson said during his session, titled “Removing the Unnecessary: Living Life Uncluttered.” We’re never rich enough, never smart enough, not relevant enough (that one hit me pretty hard) so we feel shame. We cope by trying to concoct perfect images of ourselves on social media, “a platform for thousands of people to weigh in on something that has nothing to do with anyone but you.”

“When people can push a button that changes your emotions, that’s giving too much power to others,” says Thomas Jackson as he teaches a class.

“When people can push a button that changes your emotions, that’s giving too much power to others,” says Thomas Jackson as he teaches a class.

How do we fix that?

“Look inside,” Jackson said, “and learn to embrace vulnerability.”

His class flowed seamlessly into the next one by Cleavon Matthews, “Learning How to Disconnect Without Breaking Connection.”

Matthews, who has served as minister for the Northwest Church of Christ in Trotwood, Ohio, talked about the need for leaders to practice self-differentiation — making principled rather than emotionally driven decisions, tolerating pain for growth, remaining non-reactive in the face of reactivity.

“We don’t want to match their crazy,” as he put it.

Burnout results from “overuse of our listening and caring capacities,” Matthews said. It can lead to self-deprecation, “turning the sword inward, blaming ourselves for everything that has gone wrong in the ministry.” We need to find ways to detach.

Vincent Campbell teaches a class on “Key Ingredients to Powerful Leadership.”

Vincent Campbell teaches a class on “Key Ingredients to Powerful Leadership.”

That reminded me of a question asked by another, Vincent Campbell, in a class the day before: “When is the last time you took a trip with your spouse that didn’t involve ministry?”


Related: Keeping the Sabbath, taking a sabbatical


Matthews concluded, “You can pretend you’re a super preacher and have your cape on.” But you have to realize that you’re not Jesus, and “if you died on a cross, there wouldn’t be any salvation for anybody.”

I pray that, in 2023, I can apply what I learned. Here at the Chronicle we’re in the midst of a strategic plan to help us become more relevant to a younger audience that doesn’t view our fellowship in the same way our parents and grandparents did. It can be tough and frustrating. It’s easy to feel inadequate to the task.

But work, worry, stress, bearing burdens alone … none of that will help. Such pursuits may only hasten that stretch limo that one day will come for me.

Dr. Jeanie and Erik Tryggestad in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, during a 2017

Dr. Jeanie and Erik Tryggestad in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, during a 2017 medical mission trip with Health Talents International.

While I can, I want to take more trips with my wife that don’t involve either of our jobs. I want to spend lazy Saturdays with my daughters.

I want to take time to heal, to grow closer to my Redeemer.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll take up square dancing, too.

Orpheus Heyward, right, minister for the Renaissance Church of Christ and organizer of the Nehemiah Next Level Up Summit, was a gracious host. Erik Tryggestad, right, ran a sign-up booth for The Christian Chronicle during the event.

Orpheus Heyward, right, minister for the Renaissance Church of Christ and organizer of the Nehemiah Next Level Up Summit, was a gracious host. Erik Tryggestad, right, ran a sign-up booth for The Christian Chronicle during the event.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Filed under: burnout Insight Jackson Theological Institute Next Level Up Summit Opinion Renaissance Church of Christ Self-care Top Stories

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