Recently I was sent a link to a piece written in a blog by a writer who at one time was a minister but has since left to pursue another career. The author seeks to highlight in a caring way, many of the challenges that face those of us who are involved in ministry today. Some of what he mentions may not apply to everyone. Those involved in ministry cannot easily be homogisised in one particular kind of grouping.
However i think he is right when he warns about the unrealistic expectations that only too often seem to be attached to the post of pastor or dare I say it paid church worker. These expectations come from both the employed and those who are dooing the employing.
Before going further I need to make the point that while the ministry has indeed a unique set of circumstances, many other professions are also engaging with increasing work loads due to the downsizing that is happening in all our industries. This is causing an increased sense of low self esteem as workers find themselves working longer hours often for less money as contracts are being signed off for smaller amounts. So it is important that ministers do not see themselves as the only people under pressure. It may be that what seems to be missing is a certain amount of grace and understanding when it comes to the Church employment scene. Especially when a minister has opened his whole life up and laid it down in service.
What I found myself most concerned about was the amount of pastors who had left comments on the blog thanking the writer for his honesty in expressing openly what they felt but were unable to articulate in case they were misunderstood as unspiritual or uncaring about their calling. I was also sadden to read commnets by others who seemed to have little sympathy for their fellow colleagues who were struggling.
While the author was no doubt referring to the church scene in the U.S.A and many of the comments looked to me to be from Americans the blog had a certain ring of truth that could equally apply to the Church here in the UK.
Last year while Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland I became aware of a number of hard working ministers who feel overwhelmed at times by the task they have been called to share in by the Church. In reading the blog and meeting with ministers it would seem that a substantial number feel the cost of ministry not only exhausting but are further concerned about the effects it is having on their family life.
One thing I'm certain about is that ministry and service in the church was never intended to be so stressful and demanding that we feel the whole burden and mission of the church falling on our shoulders. It is too easy to allow the expectations of others to become the rod with which we beat ourselves. All of us in the Church, ministers, staff and congregation need to have a care for each other. Those of us in ministry need to be aware of the congregation who feel they are getting beaten up every week by demands from within the leadership of the church that is unrealistic and manipulative.
I'm concerned about the fellowships that make demands about attendance at church meetings and frown on those who might place a family commitment above a church commitment.
More and more of us need to remember that the Church belongs to Christ.It is Christ who calls, builds and sustains his people.
we Christians can be
doubters one minute
and believers the next?
At the heart of all this doubting
is a fear we might be wrong
we might be seen to have lived a lie.
we must seem to be very unreliable friends!
We agree with you one minute;
we even make promises;
but we can change very quickly:
we're such a fickle bunch.
Yet you don't give up on us;
you never seem to stop believing in us;
you make me feel ashamed;
you must have such courage to love,
to look vulnerable
to embrace our doubt and still call us friends.
I can't talk for others
but I can talk for myself.
help me to keep believing:
keep me faithful in all i say and do.
Forgive me when I cause others to doubt;
forgive me when I have hurt you
by my attitude
by my actions
by my lack of compassion for others
by my lack of trust.
Today, standing in the light,
I address you as Lord,
and even in my darkest moments of doubt
I still need to know you are my friend.