As many of my readers know, I fell head over heels in love with ministry in my youth. It gave me a way to use my talents, honor God and give to the community in a way that fueled me. It compelled me to wake up and hop out of bed every morning. It defined me, in a lot of ways. I was addicted to helping others. It sounds weird and maybe unhealthy to you or maybe really cute and inspiring. It was all of those things. I meant everything I said and did in those days but I also had a real pride issue and an inability to receive what I was doling out. I also was not tuned into my voice and therefore, gave too much power to other people in my life. I lived out of a place that was without healthy boundaries.
I had a weird experience last weekend where I got to unpack our firing from professional ministry trauma a little bit more with someone who had an inside perspective. I have had many talks with people from all sides of that trauma over the years and it has been mostly helpful, though always triggering. This particular conversation centered around my ministry abilities and how that may have affected our firing. What was shared was somehow both infuriating and validating. I will not share the specifics of what was shared, but I do want to share how that information further helped me process how I feel about myself in ministry.
Ministry, in some ways, has felt like the beloved pet who got rabies and became very threatening and unstable not unlike Old Yeller. And so for everyone's sake, you put down the beloved pet and you grieved the loss both of what was and what might have been. But here's the thing, what was a burning fire within me has not been fully snuffed out. I'm not going to lie to you; that scares the shit out of me. How much easier would it be if I could stamp out that little flickering light and walk away? Given a choice, that would be the easier option. And I have in no way fanned that flame. What I do have is a shit-ton of church baggage, confusion about what it means as this new person I've become to use my gifts and also to hold space for healthy boundaries and my pain, and a genuine resistance to risk. Church is a very scary place for me. Miraculously, my new church (I've been there over 2 years but I hesitate to put down roots) is very safe, though moments of triggering come up from time to time. Mostly, when anything is ever asked of me. I'm like a guy who can't commit though he's with a marrying-type of girl. I know what I have there is special but my propensity to run is definitely present. I want everything on my terms. And that's not living in community. I am totally proficient at building community outside of church now, which is an incredible byproduct of our traumatic firing. I didn't know who I was outside of church before and I now I have the opposite problem. How do I use my gifts in a church setting without risking further damage to my soul and fueling the fire that is my ego, the anti-thesis of who I want to be in the world? I DON'T KNOW.
And yet, that little flame keeps burning. An easy way around the official church stuff is to recognize that there is a lot of good I do in my personal life and relationships and if you're looking to label things, you could call that ministry. I don't like to because it feels cheap to me, but you could. Calling something in my personal life "ministry" now feels like I'm using that opportunity, need, relationship as a project. That it's not equal relationship, but some sort of gift I'm bestowing upon the receiver. I don't like it and I find the implications of that insulting to the people I've come to know and love. I don't like the above/below dynamic of ministry. I know there are many humble people in ministry, but I was of the mind that I had something to give others and that that was my purpose. To give. The problem with that is that it stems from a dirty place that I have something others don't. And that can turn into thinking I'm better than other people. Here's the thing - none of that is true. Giving has no value if you cannot recognize that at any point, the tables can and will turn and you will need people to give to you. I do not having anything more than anyone else. Yes, we all have different experiences, talents and personalities. And I do live out of a place that there is work to be done in life by me specifically that would benefit the world. But I also believe that's true of every, single human. Also, I don't own Jesus and I don't dispense him at will. I think he's awesome but I also think there are many people in the world doing good things, living loving lives who do not claim him. And I'm ok with that now. In some ways, their motives are more pure because they're not motivated by heaven. Their reward is doing good because they are compelled to do good. That should and has always been more than enough. And I am definitely not better than anyone else. I'm not more deserving, more kind or more gifted. I am not "other", "special", "set apart" or "different." Yes, I know we're all special in our own ways and I don't say these things to degrade myself. What I mean is, if any of these ideas cause me to think I am better than someone who doesn't believe or live in the way I do, I have lost everything. There is no value in work motivated by pride.
I know what you're thinking - why does it matter what you call it? Ministry? Living your values? Being a decent person? It doesn't matter. Not really. But I'm like a dog with a bone; I can't seem to pry that damn idea from my mind. Ministry is like the harpoon that scarred me irrevocably. I survived the injury, but the imprint it made on me won't release me to deny its potential. Who knows where this processing will lead me. I am confident that the flame will not go out and there is a reason for that. Thanks for walking with me as I experience this crazy thing unfold.