Rev. Jennifer Watley Maxell
The Breakthrough Fellowship, Pastor and Co-Founder,
and MM Cohort Member, Atlanta 3
As clergy we spend so much time focused on membership. Whether it’s the size of our church membership, the organizational culture of a non-profit we run, or fulfilling the needs of key stakeholders in our congregations; we spend a lot of time focused on others and the ways in which they belong. What we as leaders don’t often think about is our own sense of belonging. For many of us, our role places us in the unique position of being the ultimate insider and the ultimate outsider. We are required to be the center of organizational life, while maintaining a level of relational distance. Sometimes this dynamic can leave us feeling isolated from the very people we are called to serve.
In her book “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” Brene Brown writes, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us… true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance.”
Maya Angelou put it this way, “You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
When I think about the unique type of belonging we are called to do in light of these two thoughts, I am reminded of the example of Jesus who came into the world to experience and belong to humanity and to bring humanity into a new relationship with God. This new relationship is based on us belonging to God and being free from fear, condemnation, judgment and sin. We belong by simply being who we were created to be. As leaders we spend so much time trying to appease members, satisfy committees and fit in with the expectations of others, when the ultimate measure of belonging has already been secured for us. Our challenge is to find the courage to simply BE every place—and no place at all.