Friday, June 8, 2012

The Ministry and the Church

I don't normally write posts about the ministry and its challenges.  I tend to think that they can come through to many people as whiny and complaining.  I do my job, after all, because I love it and wouldn't want to give a false impression.  However, the fact is, most folks who are not ministers think they have a pretty good grasp of what the job entails...and they are usually pretty much wrong. 

I feel safe saying "most" folks because most people do not go to a church, synagogue, or mosque enough to have any real grasp of religious professionals.  They are working off contemporary media, hazy memories of childhood (maybe), weddings and funerals, personal biases, and the occasional work of a writer or "expert" who knows less about the clergy than they think.  There is also the fact that they made a choice not to belong to a faith community.  Often the reasons for that non-participation--consciously or not--are mixed into the understanding of both the job and clergy personally.  Minsters are irrelevant and/or judgemental.  They are somehow "backward".  They are boring.  They only work once a week.

 Folks who do frequent houses of worship still struggle with the same information, but at least they know a few clergy people (and their families) and see them on a regular basis.  This solves some of the problem.  Active members have a much better grasp of our general humanity.  They see holes in the stereotypes that--even if they still apply those to other ministers--they know do not apply to their minister.  This is a variation of what one sees in politics.  "All people in Congress are crooks...except the one that represents me."

Still, so much of the work that a minister does is unseen.  Or, at least, it isn't seen by a large number of people on a regular basis.  That is why congregations still attempt to quantify the unquantifiable.  After all, most people do, in fact, have jobs that can be broken down into component parts.  There are deadlines and products in the working world.  In houses of worship this cultural work-norm is reflected in discussions about "hours" and "units" as if they have some relevance to the organic ebb and flow of a congregation that is at the mercy of the cycles of our culture and of individual lives. 

What we religious professionals hope for, of course, is trust.  We try to do our job to the best of our ability and we hope that people understand that.  The fact that we are never quite sure that they do is the cause of a tremendous amount of stress.

So I am linking a couple of blog posts from others that I thought were quite accurate and interesting.  The first of these is from "Dirty Sexy Ministry" entitled What Priests Want You to Know.  This blog is written by two Episcopal priests--both women--who have a solid inside perspective on the job and a better way of putting things than I have.  Their "10 Things" are true--all of them--and are worth a read if you want to get a sense of what the ministry feels like to ministers.  The comments are also interesting if you have the time....

The other post--expanding on "Priests"--is at "News From the Underground" and is called 6 Things You Should Know Before Going to Seminary.  It's a little bit about seminary, but is mostly (again) about the life and realities of being a minister.  In particular, there are some observations about the future of the church and how churches function.

I finally want to note that I like these articles partly because of what they don't say.  They recognize that--regardless of occupation--everyone works hard at what they do.  They are not making claims for any particular virtue in that respect.  However, the ministry is different.  It is misunderstood.  This is a way to help explain.

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