I’m Concerned…

cup.jpgWhen I was growing up in a church, I never wanted to become a minister.  They all seemed to wear black suits and speak in a stained-glass voice.  That seemed so foreign to what was going on in my little world as a boy.  Besides that, what did these people do all day?  (I can remember wondering that.)  One thing for sure, they seemed to always be "nice."  Somehow I couldn’t imagine the stained-glass voice being a child and getting into trouble — at least not the way I seemed to get into trouble.

Now — years later — that is what I am.  Without the black suit for sure and hopefully without the stained-glass voice.

I’ve known a lot of people in ministry.  Most of these are good people who love God and want to serve him in their particular ministry.  Many have spent years in some form of training.  Seminary.  Graduate school.  Bible college.  Their libraries are filled with good books that relate to most every aspect of ministry, Scripture, and the history of those who have attempted to live out their lives as communities of faith. 

Yet, a number of these people are discouraged — very discouraged. There are probably many reasons for this. 

(Before going any farther, I want to acknowledge what many of you know all too well.  Some of these people have abused this calling.  They have treated people in ways that do not reflect the spirit or ethic of Jesus.  I realize there are some who have put self-interest ahead of their calling.  And yes, I am very concerned about immoral behavior.  While all of that is very real, I want to move in another direction in this post.)

So why might some be discouraged?  Here are a few big ones:

1.  Unrealistic expectations by people.  Some of these are unbelievable.  

2.  A sense of isolation and loneliness.  This can be even more intense when one is in a new place and away from family.  

3.  The expectation that one is to always be "nice."  (Yes, I do realize that some may have no problem with this one at all.  In fact, the problem may be on the other end.)  Yet, loving the body of Christ is not the same thing as being "nice."

4.  Money.  Yes, I read some of the same stories you do.  I read about some very visible television evangelists who are making a great deal of money.   Not so with many, many ministers — especially those in smaller churches.

Now obviously, many other callings and/or professions can have their own discouragements.  I don’t want to imply they don’t.  Nevertheless, in this post, I want to focus on ministers and their families.  The above four may just be part of the territory.  At the same time, I think it is important to at least acknowledge the struggle that many of these people face.   

In March, I will be speaking to a number of these people and would like to speak words of encouragement.  What do you think?  What would you say?  What might be important for these people to hear?   

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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24 thoughts on “I’m Concerned…

  1. somewhat related to your second point is this: Who does a minister confess to?Fear of confessing sin or even just weakness or stuggling because of internal pressure or leadership pressure to lead by a strong example. and not discourage the church by saying too much about your personal imperfections.Every christian struggles with pride in confessing/repenting but ministers can may have to choose between their ministry or their soul (obviously not a real choice).  Fear of being "fired" or losing influence in serving others leads to a lot of personal problems that go unnoticed and unchecked. 

  2. Hello Brian,You may a very good and important point.  Ideally, ministers will find friendships–perhaps even with an older, trusted minister who be a true friend in the best sense of that word.Yet, unfortunately, many ministers do not have even that.   

  3. You asked for suggestions of what to tell other ministers. One point that was important to me was: you are not the savior of or for your congregation. It is easy to get the Messiah complex and is it encouraged by some groups. I think those are not healthy congregations to work for.

  4. Jim: One thing that has given me a much needed perspective on ministry is to develop more of a kingdom mentality than a congregational mentality. There are some people that just need to be in another congregation! To help our people think more of building the kingdom rather than a specific congregation eliminates some degree of competition and jealousy. For what it’s worth . . .Once you pull this all together, I hope you’ll publish it for those of us who cannot be there. 

  5. I really like Greg’s words.  To think and act from the bigger picture of "kingdom" rather than mere "congregation" encourages a congregation to be less selfish and more like salt and light.  Evertt Huffard taught me about that important distinction.  It clicked and made a positive difference in my work as a preacher.
    Regarding expectations, I think that a lot of times the preacher’s own expectations are higher than anyone else’s.  Yes, there are some examples to the contrary.  This is where a connection to elders made a huge difference for me.  I wouldn’t want to preach where elders didn’t go visiting with me, rarely or never taught classes or preached sermons, rarely or never studied with non-Christians.  When you do those things together, a bond and mutual respect gets established.  You (preachers and elders) also develop the reputation and momentum of a winning team.  Other men have the capacity to go and preach in the wilderness.  But not many.  I’ve known so many great elder couples through the years.  The presence of Christ in them made all the difference for me.

  6. Those of us in ministry understand this all too well.  The isolation can be deadly and dreadful.  Male depression is one of the least explored subjects among Christian men.  It is even less explored among ministers.  Last year I confronted my own depression….first with God and on a personal basis…then with my wife…then a close friend..then my family doctor…..then my congregation….Each step took me to a deeper sense of healing.  I also might add that I have a number of friends who blog or have web sites like yours who always provide access to good and nurturing thoughts and ideas.  This too helps. 

  7. Jim,Cool thoughts. I would only add that some discouragement happens because of mis-matching. In the Churches of Christ in particular we suffer from the disease of anti-creedalism. I say disease, maybe delusion would be better. There is no such thing as non-creedal Christianity. It’s only a matter of whether the creed is written or unwritten.I believe that ministers need to be more forthright with what they believe and lay that out before churches more clearly than many do today. That goes double for churches, who should already be advertising to the whole world in great detail exactly what their convictions are.I’m not in favor of creeds as cure-alls. Creedal churches have discouraged ministers as well, but the worst times of discouragement in creedal churches have historically come when member-congregations held to an older creed while seminary-trained preachers were beginning to reject it.I guess all I’m getting at is that this is a real issue, but is something that has an easy (well, at least straightforward) fix.Enjoy your thoughts Jim, as always.-tob

  8. The longer I’m in ministry the more I see the need to belong to circles outside of the church.  For many of us, our friends, coworkers, brothers and sisters in Christ, sheperds, and every other relationship is confined to the walls of the church.  Ministers often find themselves away from family and friends in beginning a new ministry, and often never overcome that.  We all need to allow soemthing else to take a priority over church and ministry work sometimes – I guess, we’re even allowed to have hobbies! 

  9. AdamAbsolutely!  That has helped me so much.  In particular it has helped me to have friends in our community outside the church.  These friendships remind me that I was a guy long before I became a minister.

  10. Toby,Thanks for what you said.  I think you make a good point about the lack of a match between church and minister.  This can be a real source of frustration not only when there is a theological mis-match but even a mis-match of style (a very laid back minister has somehow landed in a very formal church or vice versa).

  11. Gary,Thanks for talking about your depression.  I went through something similar about 15 years ago.  Awful!  I didn’t see it coming (our church was in the middle of war….That didn’t help).  A friend of mine who was getting tapes of sermon messages called me one day.  (He lives in Atlanta)  He said, "What is wrong with you?  Your preaching sounds so hesitant and unsure?  I had no idea.Anyway, you are exactly right.  It does need to be talked about more. 

  12. Johnny,What an important comment you made!  So true.  We have not been called to be church saviors, messiahs, etc.  While that can be such an incredible burden, it also feeds the ego.Thanks

  13. Greg,Very good!  Somehow, the idea of building the kingdom may have a way of tempering some of the self-importance which seems to often pervade the spirit of many church leaders.

  14. Hi Frank,I like what you said.  The idea of building people and working with others instead of being a "lone ranger" minister. 

  15. I’d love to hear someone speak to the money issue. My husband and I live with great financial burden as a result of serving the church (and other ministry orgs), and there seems to be this general sense that that is okay. I’m just not always sure how to think about this, and I end up feeling selfish, etc. when I feel like we should be cared for better, like I’m not willing ot make the sacrifices that a minister should make. Anyway, we’re inner-city, so I realize our context is unique, but from what I know enough other pastors deal with this issue as well.

  16. I am very thankful for the ministers in my life.  It is true that some of them spoke in "stained glass voices", but through those voices came Truth and an excitment for the Lord.  Many were a great example to me – not showing me how to be perfect, rather, through their own sinful life and struggles, they showed me how to seek the Lord for His grace and mercy.  For that, they were wonderful examples!
    God bless those who minister to us!

  17. Mark,What a blessing you describe!  To have a memory of ministers who spoke truth with an excitement for the Lord.  I also like what you said regarding these same people not being perfect but modeling how to seek God’s grace and mercy in the midst of their own sins and struggle.Thanks for this comment Mark.  You remind us all of some very critical components of ministry. 

  18. Erika,The money issue is a big one for some many ministry families.  Not only must many families deal with receiving low wages but there is often not a process or forum where this can even be discussed.I suspect that selfishness is not the issue with you, Erika, or you and your husband probably would have not gone to south central L.A.It must be very difficult to be under a financial strain such as this and then be given the impression by others that all of this is ok. I hope to say more about this later.  Thanks so much for expressing this frustration.