[For more content on all things MK/TCK, see this list of related articles or listen to them on the Pondering Purple podcast.]
You may have heard of FOMO—Fear of Missing Out.
But if you’re anything like me, you could be living in the grip of FIMO.
FIMO is characterized by a fixation on productivity and exacerbated by a flawed accounting of the work actually being accomplished.
It’s a syndrome that has pushed me to keep working in the evenings and over weekends recently—because when I look back at my week, I sometimes wonder if I’ve actually logged enough hours to warrant the donations that feed this ministry. So I add more hours where I can. As often as I can.
I suffer from FIMO: Fear of Insufficient Ministry Output.
Perhaps you do too?
Here’s the problem I’ve identified: we tend to measure our ministry output in finished products and final performances—not in the hours and days of work it takes to get us there. It’s like counting loaves of bread we’ve baked, but not the process it took to make them. That’s probably because we assume that people around us are using the same metrics—looking at what we produce, not at what it takes to get to the end product.
This simplistic way of assessing ourselves is not an accurate measure of utility. It is a dangerous perspective that leads to feelings of inadequacy, self-recrimination, and—in an effort to counter both—burnout.
If Fear of Insufficient Ministry Outcomes is chronic in your life and even beginning to have a detrimental impact on your health (mental, physical, spiritual), please hear me: your wellness is important enough to seriously consider whether your self-evaluation might be faulty. It doesn’t have to affect other people for you to pay attention to it. Even if it impacts only you, FIMO is still worth examining—because you’re worth protecting.
Your ministry isn’t “just”:
- The talk you give
- The article you post
- The session you lead
- The conference you keynote
- The sermon you preach
- The food you deliver
- The Bibles you print
- The event you host
If we measure our effectiveness by the number of loaves we produce and don’t include the process it took to get there (the planning, expertise, effort, and execution), we’re putting ourselves at risk of a damaging self-assessment and continuous disappointment with ourselves.
Yes, we must be good stewards of our time in the work we do.
Yes, our work output must align with organizational and logical expectations.
AND we must measure it realistically, lest FIMO stifle our thriving.
Ministry hours are not calculated in just the finished products and final performances of what we do. (Though a watching world might imply that they are.) The fight against Fear of Insufficient Ministry Output requires that we consider the entire “baking” process as we assess our work output.
All of the following must also be counted as active ministry and hours in our weeks:
- The brainstorming about future projects
- The research on topics you need to explore
- The conversations with people who are questioning their faith
- The emails you compose offering insight and guidance
- The editing process for an article you’re writing
- The Zooms and phone calls to plan for future engagements
- The multiple drafts in preparation for webinars
- The one-of-kind inventions that support your one-of-a-kind work
- The coffee & conversation with a new ministry partner
- The work you put in developing and maintaining a website
- The Youtubing that teaches you how to edit sound and video
- The planning and fine-tuning of travel arrangements
- The crowdsourcing and surveying that contribute to your understanding
- The writing and layout’ing of brochures and newsletters
- The organizing and cleaning that keep community spaces welcoming
- The reading/learning that keep you abreast of current concerns
- The drives and plane rides that get you to your destinations
I know that what I’ve been baking in the kitchen of my ministry is good, important, and worthy. But I’ve been assessing it all wrong, and the strain caused by ignoring the process and counting only the loaves is sometimes overwhelming.
So this is my love letter to fellow ministry workers whose self-assessment needle always points to “not enough.”
Count it all—not just the finished product and final performance. Remind yourself (daily, if necessary) that your workload is more than what others see. And give yourself grace for all the unseen you juggle so you can carve out space for the life outside of work you also need to have in order to flourish.
FIMO doesn’t want you to hear this, but I’ll state it anyway:
We are so much more than the output others observe and measure, and it is up to us to align our expectations with our loving God’s, to set healthy boundaries for our own wellness and our ministry’s, and, when we reach them, to declare it “Enough.”
[A related article on Disordered Work Ethics among MKs and missionaries is HERE.]
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Good post. Yes FIMO can be a problem. Priority can help us realize where our ministry value is, not the hours we put into it. Putting in less hours does not mean it is insufficient.
Such a good reminder! Thank you Michèle! I would also add the endless figuring out of administrative processes that allow you to keep doing your ministry to that list, especially if you live cross-culturally (although there can be some crazy paperwork even if you minister in your passport country)! 😌
Great read (as usual!) and definitely something I’ve struggled with as an artsy type in ministry. I think you forgot a couple of the most important things on the “Your ministry isn’t just:….” list — how many discipling relationships do I maintain regularly and how many people have come to Christ because of my ministry. These are metrics that even many missions use and can feel like a pressure point to someone who is not in direct evangelistic, discipling, soul-winning kind of ministry. Thankfully, our mission is beginning to address this (one tactic is talking about the Engel scale and realizing that there is much more to conversion than the moment of decision). Thankfully also, many supporters also understand this (though not all, unfortunately). I’ve found it helps to have a few people around you (whether mission leaders, or mentors, or coaches, or close family/friends) who will help you evaluate objectively the work you do, the time it takes, the “worth” of any given kind of work (because let’s face it, we all occasionally get wrapped up in something that consumes our energy that isn’t really worth doing) and where you can be best using your God-given gifs.
These are excellent points, Bev! Thank you for contributing these lessons learned from so many years in the trenches!