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Chances are, your minster won’t tell you what I’m about to.  In no particular order, eventually, I want to share some insights with you into the inner world of being in ministry.  

Before I get started, let me say, I’ve been preaching for over 25 years and I love the church and I enjoy the role I have in ministering.  I can’t think of anything more rewarding than ministry. The road I’m on has been bumpy at times, smooth and extremely blessed at other times.  I have no axe to grind here, but I do want raise your awareness on some areas we usually remain silent on.

Why do I want to articulate this?  Congregations all across the nation are faltering, but one key component to a healthy church is stable leadership.  The longer most preachers remain in a congregation, the greater their influence in the community can be. I simply want to help out here, and help you know what goes on in the mind of the minister so that maybe you can understand us a little better, and maybe something good can come from these points.  

This is not a rant, I’m not angry, and I do not think negatively of the church. I simply hope to help you minister to your minster more effectively than perhaps you have in the past.

“But, aren’t we all ministers, aren’t we a priesthood of believers?”  If this is really your first question, I hope you’ll keep reading. When I write “minister” I’m referring to someone who has dedicated their time and energy to full-time church work and occupationally they earn their bread from ministering in a local congregation.

Here are some insights into the mind of the minister for your consideration:

We are more introverted than you assume.  It’s hard to imagine how a life of study and hours of reading wouldn’t attract introverted individuals.  Yet, many members are surprised when we confess our introverted leanings — but since there’s a stigma attached to being introverted, we mainly keep quiet about it.  We aren’t shy. It’s not that we don’t love people, and we aren’t hermits, it’s just that an overexposure to people leaves us sapped and drains our emotions and our ability to be creative.  We are recharged and energized when experience the blessings of solitude. We relish the time we have to study quietly. I wish I could’ve been like Marvin Phillips, but that’s not how I’m built and more than likely, neither is your minister.  

Often, we feel alienated and misunderstood.  When we went to Bible college and Seminary, we were surrounded with “like minded” people who deeply shared our passion and our goals.  Serving in a congregation, we are surrounded by people who have full time obligations like raising kids, working jobs, and commitments that stretch beyond the church.  We don’t always make the transition into the local church without carrying this tension of being between two worlds as well as we should, and sometimes this keeps us from forming deeper personal relationships with you.  

We frequently worry about how ministry impacts our family.  There’s a memorable song from another generation that goes something like, “The only one who could ever reach me, was the son of a preacher man…” Worry about the stresses and strains of vocational ministry and its impact on your home go far beyond being concerned “will our children rebel?”  The “fish bowl” analogy is real but it pales to the notion that the church expects far more from the minister’s family than it does most of the rest of her families. What we’d like to say is, “You ‘hired’ me, not my family,” but we don’t want to rock the boat too much. We need help guarding our family at home more than we let on.  

We aren’t experts, but we have special skills you should utilize.  It can be awkward having a room full of volunteers deciding your next pay raise, but it’s extremely frustrating when your ideas are neglected on a whim because someone doesn’t like to change.  Forget that you’ve had a few courses on the subject and the time to study it out, and the good fortune to meet with other church leaders who’ve implemented the idea. Hear us out, we only want what’s best for the Kingdom.

We have real financial needs.  Sadly, the average preacher spends more time in school than in the pulpit.  The last statistic I read concerning this said preachers quit ministry before their fourth year.  Yet, many of us rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to get the training we need to serve.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the saying, “We keep’m poor to keep’m humble,” but still many ministers languish with lower than usual salaries.  Ministers would like to be ample providers for their families too. No, we don’t go into ministry to get rich, but we don’t pursue the ministry to struggle either.

We are workaholics.  Unfortunately, we suffer from burnout long before anyone notices.  We need, not want, but need sabbaticals. When the average person goes home from work, they leave their responsibilities at the office.  Not us. We are on call 24/7, we “work” most holidays, and even when we are not in person-present serving, our minds never shut down. Every four or five years, beyond our vacation time, bless us with a month or two off to recuperate, the dividends that would pay are immeasurable.  

There’s probably more I could add, but please think on this: Your minister needs to be ministered as much as anyone else in the congregation.  We are constantly trying to feed the flock, and sometimes we end up malnutritioned ourselves. No one wins when that happens. For the sake of the Kingdom, if you haven’t already I hope you’ll consider meeting the needs of those who minister to you and mutually blessing each other.  

One of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something!) was the time I decided to surprise my then-fiance-now-wife with a day trip to King’s Island for her birthday. We lived in Nashville at the time and King’s Island is almost exactly 300 miles away from Music City – a five and a half hour drive according to Google. We were in college, and it seemed like a great idea to my young, smitten self. Had we spent the night in Cincinnati, we might look back at this as one of Adam’s successful birthday surprises. Instead, we look back and wonder in awe at my stupidity.

The trip there was full of excitement and anticipation. While we enjoyed our day together at Kings Island as a young couple in love, it was hard to ignore the impending long car trip that we knew awaited us. We had left Nashville early that morning, and we knew it was going to be a long, late night of driving after spending a full day at the amusement park. We hoped to leave earlier than we did because we were having so much fun – well, and because we were young and dumb.

When it came time to head back home, we stopped for a quick dinner, and headed south. The first few hours of the trip passed pretty quickly, but as the late summer sunset gave way to the darkness of twilight we got tired. Really tired. I feel like in those times when I am fighting back sleep behind the wheel of a car, I have a pretty good sense of what it must have been like for Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemane. Once sleepiness and fatigue begin to afflict your body its power is overwhelming.

Somehow, God saw to our safe return home in the wee hours of the morning, though we had at least two sleepy, dozed-off swerves into the shoulder. That ride home was the most tired I have ever been. I have come to realize, however, that there are different kinds of tired.

About a year and a half ago, I realized that I was really tired – but it was a different kind of tired. I was entering my fifteenth year of full-time ministry. I had been fortunate to serve that entire time at the same congregation – the same congregation where I still serve. It’s a small church and we’ve been through a lot together. As the only minister on staff, I dabble in every corner of ministry. I have come to love the diversity of my responsibilities, but I have also come to realize that the breadth of ministry was taking a toll on me. Fifteen years of ministry had made me tired. Tired more deeply than I was that night we drove back from Cincinnati. More tired than the word “tired” conveys. My body was tired. My spirit was tired. My soul and emotions were tired. I was more than tired – I was weary. I was a weary pastor. I am a weary pastor.

It wasn’t that I was feeling called to a new ministry. It wasn’t that our church was having major problems or falling apart. We could use more people. We need more money. There is conflict within the church. But these problems exist everywhere, and overall we were in a healthy place. I didn’t want to run away, and the church didn’t want me to run away – but I needed a break. I was beginning to experience the collective drain that is life in ministry. The incessant pouring out of myself into other people, the constantly being there for others, the devotion to preaching and teaching the Gospel from deep inside my bones, the pursuit of authenticity and empathy, and the increasingly difficult juggling of family life all were building an affront on my spirit . Paul might have said, “Don’t get tired of doing what is good” (Gal. 6:9), but I was on my way. I needed rest. My soul needed nourished. Our family had a nice vacation last summer, and it was refreshing, but only to a point. It helped cured the tired, but I still felt weary.

At the beginning of last year I began to explore the idea of taking a sabbatical. In our tradition the whole concept of sabbath is largely ignored, and the practice of a pastoral sabbatical is rare. So is a minister sticking around for 15 years. A weary pastor is not an effective one, and I believed a sabbatical would provide the refreshment that I needed to rejuvenate my soul and rekindle my passion for my current ministry.

Since around 2000, the Lilly Endowment has offered churches and their pastors what is known as the Pastoral Renewal Grant. The grant is for up to $50,000 to be shared between the pastor and the congregation. The beauty of the grant is that each applicant is encouraged to pray, dream, and create a custom and unique sabbatical experience. Approximately 150 grants are awarded to churches throughout the United States each year (many more are offered to churches in Indiana since Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis oversees the grants).

Early in 2018, I began the application process for our congregation to receive the grant for 2019. I found the application process itself to be life-giving and refreshing as I began to dream and pray and tend to my neglected soul. I worked hard on the application and met with a 2018 award winner who happened to live in Columbus too. He was generous to help and provide advice. I was convinced that whether I received the grant or not, the application process turned out to be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. I refused to get my hopes up too much as to stave off disappointment and focused on the positive experience that applying had been. The distraction of this opportunity was beginning to give this weary pastor some refreshment.

It was with a trembling heart that I pulled out a large envelope from Christian Theological Seminary out of our church’s mailbox in early September. I tried to keep my excitement at bay, but I immediately convinced myself that a consolation envelope would have been much smaller. Patiently, I decided I would wait until our family was around the dinner table that night to open the package that determined our fate together. Around our dining room table that night, we learned that we had been selected to receive a $50,000 grant, and that our family would be spending ten weeks in the summer of 2019 in Europe on a spiritual pilgrimage. My weariness was already beginning to fade.

One of the things that Joel (the local minister who received the grant last year) told me about his sabbatical experience was that it opened up so many doors and put countless things in action that he could have never foreseen. My relationship with Joel was an obvious one, but in the months since receiving the good news, I have met new people and we have had new experiences as a result of this grant. One of the things I really hope to do is to make more and more people aware of the Lilly grant opportunity, and also bring attention to the weary pastors across the country – particularly those in the Churches of Christ. I know of only one other minister in the Churches of Christ to have received this Lily grant. I know there are many of us who work in small and often thankless churches. We keep our noses to the grind and stay busy about our ministry. Our networks are small, we are seldom asked to speak at conferences, and we go relatively unnoticed. Those of us serving at churches with less than 100 members don’t find ourselves on the front of many brochures, and yet there are more of us serving these churches than large ones, and our challenges are different than what often get addressed.

I have started a blog to document the experience of applying for the grant but also for addressing the heart of the weary pastor. Whether I received the grant or not, I was going to have to do something to address my weary soul. I know there are many others out there in my shoes, and I hope these blog postings can be a blessing to you. As exhausting and tiring as driving back from an amusement park can make you feel, years and years of ministry take their toll on us in a more penetrating way. May your weary soul find rest.


I suggest five (yes, count them, five) modes of visible unity that give expression to the underlying unity of the Spirit among believers. These practices not only exhibit the unity of the Spirit but are also means by which the Spirit dynamically works among believers for unity. The Spirit acts through them to manifest the unity the Spirit has already achieved. At the same time these practices are also transformative as they not only move us into a deeper experience and recognition of that unity but they also transform us as exhibits of that unity.

  1. Confession – we confess Jesus is Lord by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Paul provides the ground of this point: “No one is able to say “Jesus is Lord” except by (in) the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Contextually, this stands in contrast with those who say “Jesus is cursed” or who serve idols. This is an orienting confession. It is a centered-set confession, that is, we confess Jesus at the center of our faith journey. It is a directional confession, that is, we have turned our face toward Jesus and we walk toward him. But none of this is possible except by the work of the Spirit. The confession arises out of the Spirit’s work, operates within the life of the Spirit, and lives because we have all drunk of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

This confession is made from within a story, which is essentially what is called the Apostles’s Creed or the developing Regula Fidei (Rule of Faith) of the early church. It gives shape to the confession of the Lordship of Jesus and locates believers in the flow of the history of God’s people. We confess the Father as creator, Jesus as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit as the communion of believers.

Theologically, we acknowledge this, whoever confesses “Jesus is Lord” does so “in (or by) the Spirit.” We recognize the work of the Spirit in the confession itself. Whenever we hear Jesus confessed, or the Triune faith articulated, we confess that the Spirit is at work. We may embrace the unity of believers through this confession that is the result of the Spirit’s enabling presence.

  1. Transformation – we are sanctified by the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).

We all know Jesus’s saying “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16). Sanctification belongs to the Holy Spirit who indwells, empowers, and gifts us for new life in Christ.

Theologically, transformation is the goal of God’s agenda. Transformation is an effect of communion. Through mutual indwelling, we are transformed by the presence of the Spirit in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit, then, is evidence of our union with God. The fruit of the Spirit is the life of the Spirit already present in us. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared sanctification or mutually experienced transformation that is the result of the enabling presence of the Spirit.

  1. Liturgy – we worship in the Spirit (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3).

The foundation of liturgy—not necessarily the foundation of liturgical forms—is the work of the Spirit. Our liturgical acts—not necessarily our liturgical forms—are deeply rooted in the work of the Spirit. Assembly, as communal praise and worship, is mediated by the Spirit. We worship the Father through the Son in the Spirit. Assembly, as an eschatological, transforming and sacramental encounter with God, happens in the Spirit; it is a pneumatic event. This is what gives significance and meaning to Assembly, and it is also the root of the unity we experience through Assembly as the whole church—throughout time and space—are gathered before the throne of the Father in the Spirit.

Liturgy might not appear to be a very fruitful approach to thinking about the unity of the Spirit since “worship” has often divided communities. The point will turn on whether or not we are able to discern the role of the Spirit in liturgy that transcends specific forms. If we take seriously the point—made in the Gospel of John—that the Spirit vivifies all life, sacrament, and worship in such a way that the reality is rooted in the work of the Spirit rather than in the specific form, then we can move beyond binding the Spirit to that form. There are no fixed forms that bind the Spirit. Rather there are gracious gifts—even specific forms—through which the Spirit offers communion and grace (e.g., sacraments). We may have preferred forms or even think some forms more biblical or more theologically coherent, but the forms are not boundaries for the Spirit.

To recognize that the Spirit is the means by whom we commune with and experience God, that this means is not dependent upon perfectionistic obedience to specified forms, and that the Spirit is not limited by forms, enables us to affirm the presence of the Spirit among those communities who do not share the forms that we think are most biblical. We may embrace the unity of believers (worshippers) through our eschatological and sacramental encounter with God in assembly by the enabling presence of the Spirit.

  1. Practicing the Kingdom of God – we minister in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19).

Spirit Christology is particularly important in the Gospel of Luke. The Spirit anoints Jesus, leads him into the wilderness, and empowers him for ministry in Luke 3-4. This is the ministry of the kingdom of God in which Jesus practices the kingdom of God by heralding the good news of the kingdom, exercising authority over the principalities and powers, and healing brokenness. Jesus is sent, and he sends a people.

This is the missional ministry into which believers are called. This praxis is an expression of the life of the Spirit within the community, and the community of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, continues the teaching and doing of Jesus, that is, they continue to practice the kingdom of God.

When believers practice the kingdom of God, the Spirit is present. Where the Spirit is present, Jesus is present. This manifests the unity of the Spirit through praxis. It is a missional unity. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared ministry (shared participation in the good news of the kingdom of God) by the enabling presence of the Spirit.

  1. Spiritual Formation Practices – we pray in the Spirit (Jude 20).

In Luke’s Gospel the kingdom of God comes in response to prayer by the ministry of the Spirit. This connects points four and five, but it also calls us deeper into the experience of prayer itself.

The unity of believers through the presence of the Spirit in prayer is a common theme in the history of spirituality. Throughout that history we see evidence of the presence of the Spirit in communal and individual experiences. This is where an acquaintance, if not a full immersion in, the history of spirituality might open doors for conversations about unity.

Theologically, we recognize that the practice of prayer (as well as other disciplines) is rooted in the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is present to listen and speak in these moments. When a community practices them together, or each member of a community practices them in their own walk with God, the Spirit works to unite through shared experiences and shared communion. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared experience and communion in prayer by the enabling presence of the Spirit.

Conclusion

The present experience of visible unity, however, is progressive (though not always evident). The present is not a “perfect” manifestation of the eschatological telos. Consequently, we pursue unity, just as we pursue sanctification. The church is constantly undergoing a process of communal sanctification parallel to the process of individual sanctification. It should not surprise us that the church is not united in experience since we all acknowledge our own progressive sanctification.

At the same time, however, we are not left with nothing. Though we have not yet experienced the fullness of our unity with God and with each other—and we will not until the eschaton, we do—even now—experience that future when we give space to the presence of the Spirit. We are already united, and we progressively experience that reality the more the Spirit sanctifies our communities and our lives. The present practice of visible unity though marred by brokenness is healed by mercy; it is hindered by human brokenness but empowered by the gifts the Spirit offers to the church, which include the five gifts listed above.

Through the practice of these gifts, the Spirit mediates an already-but-not-yet experience of that unity. Together, we confess Jesus is Lord; together, we seek transformation; together, we participate in the eschatological assembly; together, we practice the kingdom of God; and together, we pray in the Spirit. Yes, you counted correctly. The number is five.

[For a fuller reading of this perspective within the context of Stone-Campbell history, click here.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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