Thursday, May 25, 2023

How I Survived Ministry: Endurance and Lasting Good

Just last year, while in the process of fully retiring from active ministry, my Spiritual Director at the time asked, "Looking back, you did what God wanted you to do, didn't you?" The question has lingered. How do you measure the genuineness of one's calling. Really, it's always a good question to ask, whether in active ministry or not. 

Have I done what God wanted me to do? I approach it with some wonder, uncertainty, and honestly, resignation. God only knows.

It's important to discern if I am accomplishing my purpose and to affirm why I am on this earth. But that comes down to the concrete acts of faith not limited to ordained ministry. As I began ministry, I was driven to be a success, to be accomplished, an achiever. It was about my ministry, my calling, my gifts. I was spent by the short term, the measurable, and the check-list of pastoral tasks.* 

As important as the validity and credibility of one's ministry is, the high of achieving each success wears off in a matter of days. The cycle of addiction is run by the inner drug store. The next success must be bigger and better. The adrenalin highs and lows was exhausting and corrosive of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resilience.

Sustainability and endurance needs to be explored in every facet of the ordination process, as well after ordination, especially in the first ten years of full-time ministry. What will make churches grow and flourish is not disconnected from the parish context and history, lay ministry partners, my gifts and those closest to me- my family.

If I only lived from the high of the next achievement, how could I expect anyone in the parish not to follow a path to burn-out and purposelessness. How could I expect to leave something of continuing value?

What I'm Learning

Sustainability in life-long ministry requires endurance and resilience, even though I'm pulled into the vortex of proving my value in the short term. 

  1. Important as small successes are, when I live and die by them, the season of brown-out is sure to follow. 
  2. Regularly, consider usefulness and purpose in ministry as an inoculation against burn-out.
  3. Let time-management be guided not by estimated hours or tasks, but flow of energy- when full presence may drop. 
  4. Consider in reflection: What long-term good will my work serve? 
  5. How can I find mutual support with others?  Who are the people in my support system?  
*See The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2016), pp. 331-335 for the exhaustive (and exhausting) job description for a Clergy-Pastor. 

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