To The Beautiful People in Professional Ministry Being Treated Like Shit

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. 

Dear Friend,

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?

Deciding Who Will Be Your Inner Voice

As many of you know, I was raised in a conservative Christian household. I'm the youngest of 7 in a blended family and the only biological child that my parents share (picture the Brady Bunch but then they accidentally procreated - hollah!) My dad had a 20 year military career that ended in retirement before I was born (he went to the Naval Academy and everything), which I think greatly suited his perfectionist, procedural, cerebral mind. So you can imagine, the type of parenting I was exposed to being the youngest of a military, perfectionist, conservative, religious man. He was also 46 when I was born, so by the time I came around, he was also kind of "too old" to be raising another child, especially one so spirited. 

Sometimes I try to remember what kind of child I was. Chatty to the level of irritating, no doubt. Obedient most of the time, yes. Spirited, yes. But I also think I was pretty easily pleased with things (I didn't even know we didn't have money when I was little. I was very content and my parents were smart enough to not air their dirty laundry financially with their young children - well done). I knew when things weren't right and as I got older, learned to fight those things on my terms. When you're raised by a perfectionist, who loves you dearly, but is not expressive so it's hard to read, you reach a crossroads at some point. Am I going to make decisions based on trying to meet this person's (impossible) expectations or am I going to make decisions based on my own? I met this moment in 8th grade. I don't believe there was a specific impetus for my paradigm shift. It could have been another report card moment gone wrong (why isn't this A- an A type bullshit) but I'm not really sure. It just suddenly dawned on me that I was never going to be able to meet his expectations, not really. 

So the practical side of me clicked on and said, fuck that, what do I feel about say, my report card? I believed an A- was good enough for me. Time to move on. And I did. Yes, self-affirmation skills were a focus even in my adult therapy experiences in recent years. There isn't one moment where all the baggage disappears. But, in that light-dawning moment in 8th grade, my allegiances shifted from my father to myself. (Come to find out years later that he actually thinks I'm awesome...who knew?) The point is, when I realized that I got to decide if I was pleased with myself, satisfied with my performance, or looking to make changes based on what I thought, I became a full, real, separate person from my parents. The people pleasing thing knocks on my door periodically, no doubt. Many of the things I've written in my original blog posts (see reflect that. But living by your own standards is such a critical piece of human development. 

This post was prompted by reading an article recently about raising "strong-willed children" and how that's actually kind of a great type of human to raise and maybe we shouldn't be trying to get them to obey so much. I view my childhood self as pretty obedient. But scrolling through my memories, as I grew up into junior high and high school, I started questioning my dad. Respectfully, but basically saying, this decision you made isn't right. It's irrational that you make a point of never changing your mind, that you're incapable of apology. It's fun to trace those lines back. I think that's where my clumsy advocacy stems from. It was always deeply emotional for me to go up against my dad. (I got to experience that again recently when I needed to tell him "I'm a grown-ass woman" when he called to outline the merits of a potential Trump presidency to me knowing that I'm a political progressive). I've learned to hold my own, to stand my ground, to draw my line in the sand. You have to ask for my consent to have these conversations. You get to listen to my ideas if you want me to listen to yours. And you know what? He respects me for it. We had a pretty sweet, albeit impromptu, meeting of the minds I ended up enjoying. But most importantly, regardless of his response, what really matters to me is that I respect myself for it too. I guess it pays to grow up.