'I love ministry. I hate my job'.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider what the job is.

It’s been shared over 2500 times (as of this writing). I’ve already read 5 other blog posts this week responding to it.

To say it’s hit a nerve with clergy - and other ministers - is an understatement!

Presbyterian ministry Rev. Alexander Lang dropped a truth bomb right into the middle of my vocation with a blog post simply titled: Departure: Why I left Church.

He hit the major pain points of the struggling institutional church and those of us who serve it. Clobbered them, really.

And he dropped his mic on the way out of ministry altogether, as more and more of us are doing.

Personally, I felt every bit of what he said. From my years of serving congregations, I understand the joy of sharing the love of God and witnessing with a community of people. The privilege of being part of people’s most important moments of life.

But there’s also being on call 24/7, constant fear of disappointing others, endless expectations. Political divisions and factions. Small groups of people who seem determined to undermine and attack our leadership.

Besides being educated and trained in ministry Lang listed seven roles that congregational clergy are expected to fill as well: Professional Speaker, CEO, Counselor, Fundraiser, Human Resources Director, Master of Ceremonies, Pillar of Virtue.

It all feels like too much.

So I have to wonder: maybe it IS too much!

I started my own ministry - Free Range Priest - in 2016 because of exactly the kinds of experiences Lang describes in his blog. I felt overwhelmed with the job, and I started noticing that more and more clergy were struggling with very similar issues.

It started to become very clear to me that they were not isolated, and they were not personal (though they sure can feel that way!). It wasn't simply a matter of having better boundaries or taking sabbath or trying harder. My goodness, most of us in ministry are trying really hard!

Instead, this kind of stress and pressure is a sign of systematic change and institutional decline, played out in congregations across the church. Declining membership and resources means there’s so much more work to be done (with less) to keep the church functioning like it did in decades past.

I started my ministry with one idea: ‘there’s got to be a better way.’

I really started to wonder if congregational ministry has to look like being the CEO of a non-profit and the spiritual leader of a community.

Or is there another way to do and be church that is healthier for everyone, and more effective for sharing Good News in the digital age?

I believe there is.

Rabbi Edwin Friedman said, ‘‘burnout doesn’t come from working too hard. Burnout comes from doing other peoples' work.’

What if the beginning of real ministry transformation is simply to do the work that we are called to as clergy (and lay ministers, too)?

And let someone else be CEO.

Or find ways to gather for worship, prayer, and faith practice that don’t depend on the same institutional, organizational model.

What if the biggest change - simple, but not easy - was that clergy were not in charge of congregations?

I’ve always found it curious - and unhealthy - that priests and pastors are both in charge of and beholden to a congregation. That we’re the boss, but must also answer to the people under our care. That we must raise money for our own salaries, making budget difficulties very personal. That we are in many ways dependent on the very people it is our job to take care of.

This feels like a recipe for disappointment, conflict, burnout and misbehavior, and we don’t have to look very far to see that increasingly, it is.

It also feels like it isn’t what we signed up for.

As an excited seminarian and young priest I wanted nothing more than to spend time in prayer, worship, theological study, being spiritually present with others, and gathering community around the faith. I am hardly alone in this.

It was a huge shock to discover that the other half of the job - the 'CEO' part Lang describes so well - sucked so much energy out of me that it left less and less time and energy for the very work I was called to do.

I'm hardly alone in this, either.

Which is why I think it’s time we stop doing it.

And why I did stop, when I became a Free Range Priest. I still serve a congregation - alongside my own entrepreneurial creative ministry.

Using the medical model, I use the term ‘faith practitioner’ to describe what I do: I’m a Biblical interpreter, a worship leader, a prayer partner, a bearer of God’s love, a witness to the Resurrection, a distributor of hope, and one who points hungry people towards bread (physical and spiritual).

But I’m not’ in charge’. I don’t attend meetings, I don’t represent the congregation, I don’t make big decisions for them. I don’t even have a key!

Even after the seven wonderful years serving with them, I have NO idea what their budget is. It’s none of my business.

What if we leave half the job at the door?

It might mean we get paid less.

Though it also means we could conceivably serve more than one congregation at once without being overwhelmed. Which is far more realistically affordable for congregations these days.

It might mean that congregations run in different ways.

They may have to look for sources of funding (like subscriptions), and they may have to have fewer programs and many fewer meetings. They may have to ‘right size’ to how they actually function today, not how they remember they were at their most thriving.

But it may also mean that lay ministry really thrives.

For instance, what if the clergy person was not on call 24/7? What if, instead, they trained and supported lay pastoral care ministers who shared the mission of caring for the whole congregation?

What if a lot of the work clergy typically do today - including ministry work - was shared in a model very similar to the healthcare model: different types of professionals work together in different roles for the same good.

These are ideas that I’ve lived into in my service as a Free Range Priest, and I’m sure they are only a few of very many ways we can - and should - reimagine ministry in the church today.

When our colleagues like Rev. Lang share such heartfelt struggles with serving the vocation - and the God, and the people - they love, we have to pay attention to what this is saying about ministry in general.

When it hits home so hard for so many others, we have to face the truth:

It's time to make some real changes. For the sake of the future of church.

It’s really time to reconsider what the essence of ministry is: bearing the sacraments, Scripture, and traditions of the Christian faith into the world. Sharing more Good News with more people.

And be willing to walk forward - together - in ways that support our most important work. And willing to let go of so much else.

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Thanks for being here. Sharing the Good News of the love of God is the most important job there is. We're finding ways to do it better.

Fr. Cathie Caimano

Episcopal clergy, Ministry Innovator, eternal optimist, Free Range Priest.

19136 Juanita Lane, Cornelius, NC 28031
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Cathie Caimano - 'Fr. Cathie'

I provide practical advice and innovative ideas for ministry so you can create the Future of Church without having to figure everything out all by yourself. Reimagine congregational, entrepreneurial, small church, part-time or denominational ministry. Share more Good News. Get more ministry JOY.

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