As we enter the Lenten Season for the next few weeks, The Ministry Collaborative staff will be inviting you into conversation with us on topics that we’ve seen bubbling under the surface of our work and experience as ministry leaders. Our goal is to use this time of spiritual repentance, sacrifice, risk taking and reflection to talk about issues we tend to avoid. With that in mind, can we please talk about…The Crisis of Ministry Vocation?
Let’s be honest: As difficult as the last 12 months has been, many ministry leaders were already fading fast before this season began. There has been a crisis of ministry vocation that the multiple pandemics we are managing has only exacerbated. In our many conversations with those of you in our network, we have witnessed:
- Leaders who are stressed beyond healthy and/or manageable levels
- Depression and despair around vocational identity and viability
- A lack of purpose and sense of fulfillment in ministry
- Unprecedented frustration and hostility from denominational authority and the culture at large
- Feeling stuck personally and vocationally leading us to search for an escape hatch
More than any other time, many of us are experiencing the double bind of not being cross trained to do anything else and the real sense of futility in even trying. If we’re honest, this is a conversation many of us have in our heads regularly even if we lead “successful” ministries. We don’t feel this stress and strain simply because the church is in a rapid state of decline or because of the added burden of leading during a pandemic, but also because vocational ministry has changed radically, while our models of ministry have remained stagnant. Many of us are serving and leading in denominations whose expectations have multiplied exponentially over time, while our preparation and compensation has diminished.
Not only that, as Christendom has given way to culture, everything about who we are and how we function in the world has become more nuanced and complex. We are feeling the pain and disillusionment that comes with the realization that we have tied ourselves and the well-being of our families to what has now become a dying brand. To be clear, this is a systemic issue, the dirty little secret that continues to haunt us even as we gorge on the intake of knowledge and data searching for revival. The reality is we are the most educated and experienced ministry leaders many of our contexts have ever had (with the student loan debt to prove it), yet we are also experiencing decline, and what feels like failure at an alarming rate. However, I would argue that we aren’t failing, so much as the system is broken. We are tired from personally bearing the brunt of and being held accountable to vocational models that are outdated and inadequate for where we are now. We are tired of the monotonous, relentless groundhog day-ness of renewal and revival when our souls and systems long for resurrection.
When I think about outdated and insufficient systems of leadership in scripture, I think about Saul, a king who failed before he even got started. Rather than being a new model of leadership, Saul’s reign was a tweak on the old worldly judges system. What we see in Saul is more like a hero… a judge with a little warrior added who fulfilled the people’s desire and expectations of a champion/king when what they really needed was a savior. Instead of asking broader questions like, whether their leadership expectations and system of governance were tenable, they sought a hero who could save them in the person of a leader who could make the system they already had work. Similarly, we as clergy have been positioned as the same type of hero/leaders sent to revive churches and community’s placed on life support long before our arrival. Systemically we’ve invested ourselves in training clergy to make the system work without asking the broader questions about the viability of our leadership expectations and systems of governance. We’ve been trying to retrofit outdated models and systems with lessening degrees of success. Like the aging buildings many of us struggle to maintain, we’ve been patching and tinkering to get things to work realizing with each “fix” efficacy and functionality dwindle, as the inevitable need for replacement grows. The pressure to breathe life into dead systems and models of ministry and save the church is proving to be beyond our capacity and like the Israelites, we must admit that we don’t need more kings, pastors, administrators or even heroes, we need the Savior.
As clergy we are exhausted of being glorified maintenance people because we were called, created, ordained and many times trained to be innovators, creators, and builders in collaboration with Jesus Christ in the world. Individually and systemically, we are in need of a radical paradigm shift from the current hierarchal models of denominationalism and ministry to collaborative models. In this moment revival is, to put it succinctly…dead; resurrection is what we should be after.
During this Lenten season can we talk about our need to let systems die and stop trying to revive them?
Can we talk about the need for the humility to be transparent with one another and the courage to tell the truth honestly and vulnerably?
Can we talk about our need to repent of our desire for control, influence and power?
Can we talk about our fears and our unwillingness to sacrifice our positions of authority, property and egos to the work that God is doing through Jesus Christ in the world beyond where we are now?
Can we talk about the need for a radical systemic re-centering of Jesus and the Gospel instead of the self/church centric ecclesial models that are no longer relevant?
We don’t simply need more educated pastors, more faithful members, more plugged-in denominational governance. We don’t need more bishops, presbytery’s, elders, kings or heroes; we need Jesus and the Gospel as our center.
Tina Turner put it this way:
Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can’t make the same mistake this time
We are the children
The last generation (the last generation)
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we
Are ever gonna change, change
Living under the fear
‘Til nothing else remains
We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome