One of the issues that can exist for pastors is the blurring of the delicate line between faith in God and loyalty to the church. We hear the story often at Chrysalis Counseling for Clergy. A person experiences the grace of God in a profound way, they have a sense of calling to serve God, and they find a way to live out that calling in the church. In one sense this is the beauty of communities of Christ that nurture the gifts of people and empower them to serve.
But what happens when a person’s experience of the church is a difficult one? What happens when a pastor and a congregation are at odds? What happens when a pastor experiences burnout, physical, or mental health issues, in their ministry? Sometimes the experience of ministry makes clergy question their own faith in God. In these moments clergy may equate faith in God with “successful” ministry. Conversely, they may consider the difficulties of ministry as a failure, or lack of faith. In these moments clergy sometimes create a cause/effect relationship between ministry and faith. This is when we at Chrysalis start hearing phrases like, “I just need to pray harder… I need to be more faithful…I can’t forgive myself…”.
Perhaps a healthier understanding of this tension would be to remember that ministry is an expression of our faith in God. Ministry is the vocation in which we live out our faith, but ministry in and of itself is not our faith. Instead, our faith is in God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God will never fail us. God’s love is steadfast and unfaltering. Ministry has ups and downs. Ministry has peaks and valleys. Because ministry it is inherently tied up with people it is an experiment in the tension of sin and grace. People can fail us and we can fail people. God’s love never fails.
Perhaps this is why it is helpful for clergy and ministry leaders to make frequent analysis of their own spiritual life and practices. A list of devotional and formative practices that inspire and ground clergy is too numerous to compile here. However, clergy tend to know—whether they admit it or not—if they are really paying attention to the spiritual life.
At Chrysalis Counseling for Clergy we are here to walk alongside clergy in supportive ways. If you are struggling with a scenario like the one described above we can help:
- Differentiate between faith and ministry
- Plot out constructive life/ministry balance
- Help identify spiritual practices
We are here to help.Learn More
What happens when our call feels like a burden? The stories that we just read in Advent all feature God calling people to participate in the mystery of Christ’s birth. Each of them says “yes” in some way or another. Similarly, ministry leaders at some point responded to a call from God for Christian service. While the Advent stories of Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the shepherds, and Magi, are each marked with joy, hope, love, and peace, sometimes the call upon our lives as ministry leaders can feel like something else; a burden.
Where did Advent and Christmas leave you emotionally? At the end of a season when pastors are called to “do” so much, how do we reclaim our call when we might feel burdened? On some level most of us probably already know the answers to that kind of question. We know through our training that prayer and spiritual disciplines ground us. We know that reaching out to trusted friends and colleagues helps. We know that taking time to exercise, eat right, and balance our work and personal life, makes a difference.
Nonetheless, sometimes doing those things is too much. When that happens, and when ministry becomes a burden too great to carry, what do we do? First, it is important to understand that you are not alone. Biblical giants like David and Elijah found themselves burdened to the point of being disheartened and down for the count. We also know that in our modern world clergy feel overwhelmed more often than not. Consider also that after Mary was visited by the angel with news almost impossible to believe she journeyed to see Elizabeth. You are not alone.
Second, it is important to know that there are resources that can help. You’re here, at the Chrysalis Counseling for Clergy website. We offer tele-mental health, covenant groups, and renewal retreats. In the short term, contact us if you need a mental health professional to speak with, want to engage in a supportive community, or just need some time away for renewal.
Third, take this as a word of encouragement: even if it is difficult—do something that gives you life, reminds you of your call to ministry, or just excites you about ministry. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It doesn’t have to change the world. Just do one thing that makes a positive impact on you.
Finally, let us know how we can walk alongside you.Learn More