Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reminding myself

I usually have a ceremonial act of cleansing that i do at the beginning of each year. I clean my office which is a relative term because I’m one of those pile filers - “it’s in that pile over there...” So anyway, in an attempt to see my desk, I was going through those stacks of paper that “I am going to get to later” and chucking out the ones that aren’t going to get gotten to, or it’s too late to get to, or I was never really going to get to it but it looked important to somebody. I was also transferring some piles to folders and notebooks for future use (which is a lie i will never look at them again).

On occasion I mentor people who are exploring taking the step into ministry as an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church (since that is the “tribe” I find myself in) I was looking over some notes I had taken while meeting with one of those candidates. The notes reminded me of a conversation we had about boundaries. It was a good reminder for me.

For those of us who serve as Pastors it’s easy to be eaten alive by the occupation of it. It’s an occupation that is entirely different form any other. When I go home at night, unlike a bank teller, I’m still the pastor. I would never go to my bank teller’s home at 7pm and say could you deposit these checks for me?... (of course unless I said “I know its late but....” or “ I know it’s your day off but...) But Pastors have answering machines full of messages waiting for them at home, three nights a week of administrative meetings, etc...
Secondly, when your are a Pastor it’s deeply connected to who you are, not only for myself but for those people for whom you are a Pastor. If a plumber fixes your pipes incorrectly you don’t assume he is a bad person. When a Pastor falls short of someone's expectations, he/she is not a “good christian” or they are a “false teacher” or some other deeply personal judgment on the state of their soul. An extension of this is that many of us in ordained ministry fall into the trap of assuming that if this church doesn’t fly or thrive it’s our fault, or if someone spiritual life is in shambles, it’s our fault. If the finance campaign wasn’t successful and the congregation still only gives and average of 2% of their income to God’s work in the world, it’s our fault, or if some one leaves because “they aren’t being fed” ... say it with me... it’s our fault! Finally. there is always something that can take your time. There is always the sermon to work on, there is always the small groups that need formation,. There is always the new miraculous book that needs read, there is always someone that needs a visit or a call....

With all those things, finding boundaries so that Mark doesn’t disappear and Pastor Mark becomes my only identity, becomes difficult. I have (like many of you) a long list of people whom I know whose lives and families were destroyed because they were never able to set those boundaries well - or at all. For me that included co-officiating the funeral of a colleague and friend after a suicide)

I tell those people I am mentoring (my “mentees” as I call them) to know that this call to ministry can eat you alive. That almost everyone you come in contact with will encourage you to give every moment and ounce of effort to it, either out right, or subtly by their actions.

This was written on the bottom of the page of notes I was reviewing - “Don’t let God’s call to ministry be about you... it’s about God, If it depends on you, it’s not a call but a character flaw”

Now i’m not sure I totally buy that. even though I wrote it, but I do know that the hole we can dig for our selves in the name of ministry can be hard to get out of. I’m amazed at how often those of us in ministry can find this very call sapping the joy and life that we are called to be ambassadors for.

I hope as this new year rolls around that you all find joy in the journey of your faith, and that God opens whole new avenues to experience life in abundance. Happy New year!