I have a lot of friends in professional ministry. I, of course, used to be in professional ministry both paid and unpaid (spouse). And after a traumatic, unwarranted firing from the ministry, we left ministry for our spiritual and emotional well-being. It's been 5 years and there has been a ton of personal growth. That being said, I am often triggered by the stories of my dear friends who remain in professional ministry. The problem with the eldership model in the churches of Christ is that many of our churches on the west coast are small. We have no oversight outside of the local church (something we take pride in) which means that often elderships have no accountability and total control. Sometimes this power falls into the hands of 2-3 men, one of whom is often bordering on senility because for some reason, we don't know when to boot out the old guys. The elder with the biggest swagger is always wealthy. It's rude. But it's true. So I would like to write an open letter to my dear friends in ministry, who give everything they have to the church in often unhealthy, secretly abusive leadership models.
I see you. I see you putting yourself out there. I see you initiating relationship when you'd rather be in bed watching TV. I see you planning events and hoping people come. I see you getting pulled aside at church to listen to someone who doesn't really know you or care about you as a person criticizing the work you do prayerfully and with the utmost care. I see you nodding while tamping down anger and resentment. I see you being unable to defend yourself because that would be considered threatening. I see you trying to decide if you should cater to the bullies or follow your leader gut that's telling you to go in the direction you've been going. I see your exhaustion. I see you tire of pushing so hard. Pushing yourself to keep going. Dragging the dead horse behind you that is everyone's resistance to change. I see you compromising. I see you questioning yourself - your abilities, your calling, your very worth. I see you stagnating in your faith because it's become a function of your work. I see you towing lines of theology you'd love to leave behind but you can't for risk of losing your income. I see you wondering if anyone around you really loves you. You - the person, not the role. I see you proving your worth with activity, calendars, ministry updates. I see you hustling - greeting new people, trying to be friendly all the time. I see you missing your family, missing bedtime routines, missing sex because you're just too tired at the end of the day. I see you wishing you had the energy to be more present in your neighborhood. There's just nothing left when you get home from church. I see you longing for rest, like poor people long for winning the lottery.
I'm here to say - you are gifted. You are loved. You matter. Not because of how you perform, what you can accomplish, the numbers you can bring in - you matter because. You matter. If you laid down all this today, you would still matter. Your value does not come from your abilities, your performance, your care of others. You matter. Your soul deserves care. Not just from you, not just from God, but from the people around you. Your body deserves care. You are allowed to sleep, eat, relax and breathe. You are allowed to spend time on things that aren't perceived as spiritual. You are allowed to act your age. If you are young, be young. Don't carry the world on your shoulders like it's up to you to save it. It's not. You can't. What you're doing matters and if you intend to stay in it, you may need some therapy. And if you need to leave to shore up your faith, your psyche, your family - you should. You are worthy of emotional health. You are worthy of being poured into not just out of. Do not cast the pearls of your soul before the swines who feel no remorse for stamping it out. Do not let anyone speak into your soul, question your worthiness, make you feel ashamed of who you are. You are beautiful. You are precious. You do not need to live in shame. Do not pay back a debt of shame by giving service to people who don't appreciate it. Do not serve out of some sort of penance. You are loved. You stand in grace. So stand up. Don't let anyone tell you who you are.
No one's perfect. I get it. Sure, you probably need to work on some stuff. But no one takes the kind of shit people in ministry do. You might not even realize it because you're so entrenched in it right now. Be brave. Don't allow your imperfections to give them a pass. They have imperfections too and you'd never throw it at them like they do with you. Claim your dignity. And be honest with yourself - you'll always be an employee first in the church. So if you are taking more shit than an employee should be taking, know that the ideas of "family" don't really apply to you. That's terrible, but it's honest. So make your peace with that and set your boundaries. Don't delude yourself to thinking you're not expendable.
I see you. Do you see yourself?