Friday, February 17, 2012

The Case for Healing Systems

We don't need another word about taking a day off! Most of the stuff I read about clergy health has to do with getting ministers to make a personal change. For every ten articles read on the subject, you will possibly find one that attempts some larger analysis of the problem.

The question of justice, of first doing no harm, asks, why is the health and wholeness of clergy falling at a rate faster than the health of parishioners? Very few are asking it- fewer are addressing it.

While there are exceptions, many pieces patronizingly conclude the obvious, with a sort of Good Housekeeping checklist for better health: better diet and exercise and rest. But that's all you get if the problem of clergy burn-out is only about certain individuals being careless about their health.

In some harsher, more extreme pieces, the culprits lie with clergy themselves: our idolatry, false teaching, and lack of true repentance is what gets us burned out. Elsewhere, clergy drop outs are explained by invalidating a previous call since what they said about you when you were ordained ("young and/or gifted") is no longer true.

The more we can reduce everything to a few maladjusted individuals having a problem, the more we can explain the problem away and no real structural changes or safeguards are needed. Of course more sabbath, real mentoring relationships, and regular spiritual direction are helpful for personal health and recovery! But with the institutional gold standard of success being higher and higher and higher numbers, we only become a healthier fuel for the furnace.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Absurdity of Ministry Models

Richard Lischer's wonderful memoir, Open Secrets, reminded me of an oft repeated phrase from divinity school days. Being a "quivering mass of availability" was an epithet used for those of the Rogerian bent. Carl Rogers, the founder of the Rational-Emotive School of Psychotherapy, was the Socratic figure of the Twentieth Century.

In contrast to the Rogerian method of listening to and validating others, we were warned not be rudderless and passive in our pastoral leadership. It was the 80's and the new model, "pastoral assertiveness," was in. But the assertive leader, I later learned, assumed that one is available first to God and to oneself, in order to be fully present to others. As one wise clinician in pastoral care said, "The quality of any pastoral intervention depends on the quality of your inner self."

Like a vortex of false promises, the tempting lie is to try to please others or ourselves by copying some ideal. It makes us susceptible to being led away from our true self. We might become less aware of everyone in our life, even to God and ourselves. We easily wander off our true path- what we are gifted to do- in ministry to others.

Assuming we can conform to the image of what people consider to be successful, we may not be better off at all. Maybe the best "model" is none at all, because the people we serve are not abstractions --and neither are we! Why search for the ideal in what is ultimately false in you and thereby encourage others to do the same?

Our identity itself is a mystery, known and loved most exhaustively by God alone. (Psalm 139, I Corinthians 13). Our true self, our most alive and God -infused life is not about finding the ideal model or scheme in ministry, but rather, being connected to the life- giving Holy and Loving Spirit. This connection is the head water and the source of all ministry.

Oldies but Goodies