Other Duties as Assigned.
It’s 4:12 a.m. on a Friday morning and I am tired. Painfully tired. I have to be at the office in four hours, and I am not done with Thursday yet.
I grew up in the denomination in which I’m ordained, the child of former ministers in the same denomination. I practically lived at the church, and I had a pretty solid understanding of what ministry looked like. I never had rose-colored glasses about what I was entering into, but I promise you that no one could have anticipated the way that my time in this church has gone just in the last year, most of which I can’t tell you because of confidentiality rules. Even the people whom I can tell have found it hard to believe.
The most traumatizing included the murder of a teenager and receiving personal threats on three occasions from people who did not like decisions I’d made. One of the nasty things about crisis and trauma is that they are indiscriminate – anyone, no matter their intelligence, education, upbringing, precautions, etc., can suddenly find themselves standing in the middle of a crisis and left with the aftermath of trauma. I’d read about it in school and had experienced some of it before, but as a minister, it is different.
As a minister, you’re supposed to have your stuff together.
As a minister, you’re supposed to be strong.
As a minister, you’re supposed to know and apply all the appropriate scripture verses.
As a minister, you’re supposed to be the one to whom people turn in crisis.
As a minister, I was lost.
As a minister, I was alone.
As a minister, I was afraid.
As a minister, I was anxious.
As the crazy kept coming, as the congregational drama kept escalating, as the problems seemed more and more insurmountable, I felt like a failure. I tried everything I could think of, everything that anyone suggested, to try to impart the gospel to people, and it felt like no one was listening. I felt like a modern-day Jeremiah. Every day felt like walking through a mine field, never knowing if I would suddenly be blown sideways by an explosion I didn’t see coming. There is a common stress-factor survey that helps people quantify their stress level, with different life events worth a certain amount of points. Anything over 200 is considered extremely high. The last time I took it, I scored nearly 500 points.
Over and over again, I’ve been asked by seemingly everyone why I do it. The answer still seems to baffle even me: because no matter how bad it has gotten- and I mean it has been bad at times- I have never doubt that God has me here for a reason. I hate being “clean-up crew.” It’s hard and ugly and more exhausting than I ever could have imagined. I have never had a day in which I’ve thought “that’s it; I’m done.”
There have been amazingly wonderful things, too: the privilege of officiating weddings for friends that I’ve known since seventh grade, getting to watch the kids in the church grow up, the little moments when I see how God is using me to change someone’s life, getting to preach, knowing that God’s using me to make a difference… those are just some of the times when His grace has made it possible to withstand the morass I’ve slogged through.
I like to think that I’m on the other side of that war now. Often, it feels like I’m standing in the midst of the wreckage, not sure where to start, but slowly, it’s happening: a few new families have said they want to “try out” my church, I get to be the one to pray with a seasonal employee’s family in the hospital, a woman who left the church months ago asks if I’d officiate the vow renewal service for her and her husband because she “just feels more at home with [me].”
There is a long way to go, and I’m sure that there are going to be many more events that weren’t in the brochure. I’m battle-scarred, but not dead yet, and so onward I go. One prayer after the other.