Episode Three: The First Discussion
#10 -- My Journey Out: Mom's Visit

My Journey Out -- Sidebar: Ruminations on Ministry

I actually don't blog many of my thoughts on ministry. Tim does that a lot, but I generally don't. I'm not sure why I haven't; I just haven't.

Being a minister is such a strange thing. The only other real job I can compare it to was being an academic philosopher where my duties were studying, writing, and teaching. I loved that job and was pretty good at teaching intro level classes. I'm not a great researcher or philosohical writer. I'm not an original or creative philosophical thinker. I did my job, enjoyed it, but it was just that, a job. Life was other things.

But ministry is different. It flows from your religious faith, so it is an elemental part of who you are. It is a calling and not simply a profession. That means a couple of things. The compulsion and drive to do it is different. You are not merely fulfilling an interest or getting a paycheck. Also, if you are called for it, then you are granted some measure of spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit to fulfill that task. That's what we understand theologically, but it is a scary concept to actually consider in practice. Yet I can also feel it at times, not all the time, but sometimes, when what you need to do in the moment just seems to flow without thinking or planning. Ministry is also different in that it calls for you to give some of yourself away in order to carry out the ministry. This can be dangerous, because you never know for certain how much of yourself to give away. Nor can all people be trusted to receive parts of yourself; you are opened up and can be damaged.

I have not yet developed the ability to easily defend against or bounce back from those moments when vulnerability is taken advantage of. My Dad was afraid this would be a problem for me, and he was right. It is one reason why I spent a decade planning to do something else. I had seen ministers beaten up and broken by the job. In my late teen years I finally really saw the workings of churches and was appalled. That played a big role in my deciding to do something else.

One time David B. and I were attacked for something where neither of us felt we had done anything wrong. We cared deeply for and respected the person we had upset. But as is often the case in church, someone else really made the issue of it. David and I disagreed about how to handle the situation, and part of that was because there are differences of role for pastor and associate pastor. He did the whole mea culpa thing. I was worried that he did this. I warned him that I was afraid he would reveal a weakness that would be exploited later. I never apologized to anyone, but instead went on about my work (though with far less joy and enthusiasm). A few months later I was invited for dinner in the home of the person who was originally offended, and the two of us worked together on projects in my remaining months in that position. David ended up having a difficult time there after that incident. He often was challenged again and again. I saw him sink into melancholy, and he lost the joy of his calling to that place.

I love spending time with my ministry colleagues from around the country. When ministers get together they let their hair down and have a good time. They open up to each other about their struggles and their joys. They help each other. Almost every good and great minister I know well is regularly on the verge of quitting. Many that I know keep their heads "close to the oven," to quote one of them. And these are people of every personality type and every sort of different style, theology, talent, etc. Plus I have plenty of friends who have thrown the towel in. Some of those have horrible stories of what they experienced at the hands of church people. Others just got burned out or gave up.

Not many ministers talk openly about these things outside of their small groups who get together for times of restoration. Blogging has probably made it more common to discuss it, especially with a blog like Gordon Atkinson's.

I think the Book of Jeremiah speaks to this. Jeremiah really didn't want to be a prophet. But the fire in his bones compelled him to. Often he was angry at God for his calling.

I've never had the intensity of emotion that Jeremiah reveals, but I understand what's going on there. I love what I do, much of the time. But sometimes it hurts. Everytime I come close to quitting something keeps me going. Sometimes it is because I discover a new joy or love for my work. But sometimes it is because I am compelled by the calling of the Holy Spirit.

Comments

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Tim Sean

I don't have a great deal of time to respond, we are leaving town tommorow to help with a youth camp and I need to get packing. But yes, I do reflect on it some, aspiring as much as I can to do a Tim version of RealLivePreacher (he is so good for those who have not frequented his blog. Scott has it linked). But what you say about the Holy Spirit resonates so much. She was calling me since I was a wee lad, maybe ten years old. Much of it out of my pain and hurt but called as a wounded healer none-the-less. It is a privledge, one I too often take for granted. I'm trying to do less of that these days. God might take it away from me (though he doesn't seem to take it away from many who should be sprinted out of the ministry). Ha! We're all in the same boat.

Till next time. --Tim

Beth

The ability or gift of empathy is one that certainly is a double-edged sword. In order to minister to others in any capacity (be that church, community, school, workplace) one must expect to hurt. Hurting for and because of others is something the Jesus not only experienced, but told us to expect. The call to ministry is not for the weak hearted. You must be able to chafe and grind against fellow believers and withstand the human inclination to accuse each other as right or wrong. "Never judge a man without having walked two moons in his moccasins" rings true. You are right; to call yourself "pastor" means that you do have to give up parts of yourself. To make known vulnerabilities and confessions, but this is no sign of weakness. The exercise of empathy is one that follows Jesus' teaching. Choosing to validate a fellow Christian's feelings/convictions, because you honor that the road that they have traveled may be different than where you have come from, is not the same as agreeing with them.

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