Remember That We Are Working in Sand


Each summer my family spends a week at the beach. And every year my daughters, their friends, and I build a sand castle. We’ve discovered that the problem with sand castles is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how tall or wide you make them, they are fragile. They are so terribly temporary. They are not built to last. A bit of rain, a barnstorming four-year-old, or heaven help you, high tide, and soon there will be just beach and no trace of the sweat of your brow.

People come and go; we have to cast vision over and over; we have to raise money again and again. It is important to understand that every aspect of our work requires renewed energy.

It is important for leaders in the church to understand that we are working in sand. I would prefer concrete. If we were working in concrete, decisions made at a meeting would set and be accepted by everyone. Congregations would not vacillate. Strong programs would remain strong. Meaningful ministries would not suffer from mission creep or the fluctuations that come with the ebb and flow of committed volunteers. Staff members who excel at their work would never take a job elsewhere. That would be great, but that is not the way ministry works.

We work in sand. People come and go; we have to cast vision over and over; we have to raise money again and again. It is important to understand that every aspect of our work requires renewed energy. If we think it is somehow permanent, we will not look as closely. We will make assumptions about the strength of relationships. We will not see the erosive force of weariness or the destructive force of dysfunctional people and the impact these can have on ministry.

The great part of realizing that we are working in sand is that we will not be surprised that we must find new energy to apply to the system to keep the church on track. Understanding the material we are working in helps leaders keep a positive attitude about their work; for they begin the day with the expectation that the work will have to be done and that the work of the leader is never quite finished, even if it can be quite repetitive.

As the prayer says, new every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. (“An Order for Morning Praise and Prayer,” The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 877) The joyful tenacity and persistence reflected in this prayer is the nature of God, and God has created the transient nature of humanity. All of us, it seems, are working in sand.

This article is adapted from High Yield: Seven Disciplines of the Fruitful Leader (Abingdon Press, 2014) by Tom Berlin and Lovett H. Weems, Jr.and used with the publisher’s permission.  This book and others in their Fruitful Ministry series are available through Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Tom Berlin

Tom Berlin is bishop of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. Previously, for over 25 years, he was senior pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia. He was written several books. Most recently, he coathored The Third Day: Living the Resurrection (Abingdon Press, 2023), available on Cokesbury and Amazon.

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Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.