To Those of Us in Ministry…

IMG_4821Do you know why you do what you do?

Hold on.

Don’t give me the “church approved” answer.



Do you know why you do what you do?

If you are a person who works at a church or in some sort of para-church organization, this is written for you…  If you were to take God out of your answer, and had to explain for yourself to yourself why you chose the career path that you did, could you do it?  There are reasons why I am asking this question in this way, so please follow with me.

And, please know up front, that I am writing this to myself as well.

Are you able to articulate why your job resonates with you, why it speaks to you, how it compliments your best gifts and possibly even mirrors your own dysfunctions?

Statistically speaking, people in ministry often tend to be some of the most narcissistic individuals.  Perhaps this is because we all walk around thinking that we speak for God and that people look to us as role models or, dare I say, prophets.  According to which statistic you read, clergy show up within the top 10 or any combination of the top 10 fill the job description of a pastor today (CEO, lecturer, politician, manager, etc.).

I think that it is fair to say that every one of us have mixed motivations for why we do what we do.  This is in regards to the small and the large choices of our lives.

However, it is a humbling thing to know and to own that some of the best things we have done with our lives was for the wrong reasons.  It is a difficult truth, but at least it is an honest one.

As I have come to know myself over the years, I know that I don’t care too much about being popular.  On the other hand, I know that I enjoy teaching, and that there is rarely something I enjoy more than to get people thinking for themselves in dynamic and surprising ways.  The Socratic method is incredibly fun for me.  Ultimately, I can say that I chose this profession because I have the opportunity to teach and challenge the Church.  I love to teach and to challenge.  My job allows me to study, to learn, and then to come back to the community and share the deep lessons of the best of Church history.  Being a “pastor” in this sense, lines up well with my personality and it is good and healthy for me to know this about myself.

That being said, I believe it is enormously important for those of us as community leaders to know ourselves well.  If we are going to be encouraging and admonishing others toward holistic health, we must lead the way and not merely point the way.

So, allow me to ask those of us in ministry a few very pointed questions…

  1. What is the one part of your job that you would hate to have taken away from you?
  2. Can you articulate why that part of your job resonates so deeply with your own personal needs?  What does that teach you about yourself?
  3. Are you honestly in this profession for the affirmation of people?
  4. If you work with youth, were you rejected by your teenage peers and now you spend your current ministry still trying to win over teenagers?
  5. Or, are you in this profession to prove something to yourself?  To the ghost of a parental figure who told you you weren’t good enough?
  6. Can you admit to yourself what your favorite sin is?
  7. Do you know why your favorite sin is your favorite sin?
  8. Yes or no, do you hold a healthy (and Ignatian) detachment to your job?

In many ways, I believe the driving questions of the Enneagram’s typology can help here as well…

  1. Do you have a need to be perfect?
  2. Do you have a need to be needed?
  3. Do you have a need to succeed or be seen as successful?
  4. Do you have a need to be special?
  5. Do you have a need to observe/study?
  6. Do you have a need for stability/security?
  7. Do you need to avoid pain or discomfort?
  8. Do you need to challenge everything?
  9. Do you need to avoid conflict at all costs?

Write down your answers to the above questions, and then mull over your notes for a couple days.  It may take some serious emotional or psychological energy, but I am certain that it will pay off hundredfold.

You see, I will never hold it against someone for leaving the Church because of massive moral failure of one of its leaders.  I understand wanting to walk away from the Church for such a reason.  To see someone preach health and virtue yet not do it themselves is a difficult thing to watch play out.  In fact, it is downright tragic for all involved.

But I believe this is preventable.

Massive disillusionment with the Church can be avoided when its leaders (again, myself included) have chosen to be brutally honest with themselves and to stop rushing to using God-lingo to masquerade our true motives.  In a very real sense, religion is one of the safest place to hide from God and ourselves.  Unfortunately, Christian spirituality can be hijacked from its transformational purpose…

Case in point, when Protestants say, “I don’t need to confess to a priest, I confess to Jesus alone.”

Yeah, but your “Jesus”  may just be your own justifying ego in your head.  It may benefit you, your soul, your family and your community to confess something to a tangible person who can hold you responsible and culpable for your decisions.  If you disagree with this, then you really need to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together as soon as possible.

The Christian faith believes deeply that God was most revealed in suffering, in vulnerability, in love.  Christians hold to this as foundational and non-negotiable.  How unfortunate that many of us Church leaders are unaware of own suffering, we don’t know how to embrace vulnerability and love ourselves truthfully.  We know very much about God but we know very little about ourselves, and as a result we rarely have transformed people teaching the faith to the next generation.

And we all know that healed people heal people the best.  We learned this from Henri Nouwen, who taught us that our wounds can teach us more about ourselves and God than possibly anything else in our lives…

So, if you work in a ministry…  Take the time and due diligence to get to know yourself.  Get to know your wounds that subtly guide all of your decision making (whether you want to admit it or not).  I fully confess that my own life’s wounds have shaped and changed how I make choices and respond to situations, but I digress.  I recently heard a profoundly wise woman say, “To work on your own self-awareness is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone else.”  This may seem odd, but without using God-talk or Christian lingo, can you articulate why you chose the profession you did?  To know this answer not only aids the health of the community you serve, but it helps your family’s health, and even your own.



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