Churches need to learn how to appreciate and take care of their minister
You can’t spend more than three decades in ministry, as I did, without witnessing the best and the worst in people. Sadly, it’s usually the worst examples that linger the longest in your mind because some wounds never fully heal.
One of the bad experiences I had in ministry (just one, there were many others) resulted from being told repeatedly by a senior member of the church leadership that I wasn’t visiting the congregation enough. A common complaint you might think, and you may suspect that it was justified.
However, the advice (let’s call it that) was always accompanied by the same sympathetic phrase, “I don’t know how they can expect you to be in two places at once.”
Perhaps I’m just idealistic but I believe that everyone called to ministry wants to give their life to the work of the Kingdom, and believing that you can make a difference for God is a great motivation – even if it means 6 day weeks and 12 hour days as standard.
Guilt, on the other hand, isn’t a great motivation. Guilt can be a terrible thing. So, feeling guilty, I would try and find more time to visit more often, although I was already out visiting every week anyway. But the complaint kept coming through the same senior member of the leadership with the same apparent sympathy: “I don’t know how they can expect you to be in two places at once.” I kept trying to find more time to visit more.
But I had a problem because I was already personally responsible for:
preaching twice every Sunday
doing all the pastoral visitation
running the (unchurched) children’s work every week
running the local school SU group every week
running the (unchurched) youth group every week
taking school assemblies
running the church men’s group
running every Alpha Course we ever did plus other outreach events.
I wanted to do as much as I could because there was literally no-one else willing or able to do these things. But the visiting was all that really mattered and so the complaint kept coming.
Since I was feeling I was already having to neglect my marriage, my family and my health in order to meet the demands of the church, I finally decided that I couldn’t just keep trying to do more than I was already doing, so I made the issue an item for the next church meeting. We would have to decide as a church what I was going to give up in order to have time to visit more often.
It was then I discovered that the senior member of the leadership (“I don’t know how they can expect you to be in two places at once”) was actually one of the complainers and happy to speak for them (a small group of about six people), bringing their complaint to me with faux sympathy. Furthermore, it became known to me (by God’s intervention) that in order to give some weight to their case against me, which was now going to go public at the church meeting, this senior member of the leadership had, behind my back, volunteered to speak on behalf of one further church member who couldn’t be at the church meeting, to bring their personal complaint about the visiting. I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back.
Fortunately the church meeting voted in support of all that I was doing and the few but vocal complainers were left outnumbered.
Unrealistic expectations are commonplace in the ministry and persist throughout the length of a ministry. It can be draining and damaging. So if I knew at the start of my ministry what I knew at the end of it, would I still have done it? Would I still have entered the ministry?
Yes! I would do it all again in a heartbeat, because for all the negatives it is still the greatest privilege and the greatest calling in the world. But churches need to learn how to appreciate and take care of their minister.
The writer of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
The aim of Manse Life is to raise the profile of what personal life is like for a minister, and ground it in reality. We are doing this because ministry life is unique. There are incredible joys, amazing privileges, and inspiring times. These are all brilliant. There is also heartache; fear, frustration, loss, relocation to name a few and there is often no recourse for these feelings. By providing an outlet for people to write constructively about their personal experiences at home and church and share these in a positive environment we believe will bring hope and a sense of perspective. It will help people feel less isolated, to find common ground, to reflect, provoke thought, spur faith, share ideas and best practice, and to raise a smile.
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