'I love ministry. I hate my job'.
Maybe it’s time to reconsider what the job is.
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.
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.
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.
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)?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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