Toxic Ministry

Ministry is dangerous to one’s holistic (or “wholistic”) well-being. For those outside of the ministry, this may seem strange. Is not the language of pastors, missionaries and others in Christianity laced with “Praise God” and “Hallelujah!” and so forth? Is not the stories told by these people full of statements of victory?Toxic 2.jpg

But that is a symptom of the problem.

  1. People in ministry commonly don’t feel that they can be REAL with those not in ministry. There are reasons for this. For those on TV, revenue appears to be generated by being UNREAL… driven by three P’s:  Personality-driven, Prosperity-driven, Popularity-driven. TV doesn’t seem to smile on real people. In the church, churches hire clergy to solve problems, not have problems. Being real can adversely affect one’s livelihood.
  2. People in ministry commonly don’t feel that they can be REAL with those who ARE in ministry. If they are in a hierarchical system, sharing personal struggles may get one’s problems shared with the wrong people. In non-hierarchical systems, there is often a rabid individuality that leaves ministers with limited avenues to share burdens.
  3. There is often a competitive edge to ministry. Many connect success (in people, money, buildings, or other metrics) to ministerial competence or even spirituality. A church that is not thriving is often seen by others (to say nothing of the minister him/herself) as caused by the clergy. A failure of ministry is often seen as the minister being a failure. Pastors and missionaries often compete with each other (tacitly often, but sometimes explicitly) for members, opportunities, and resources. It is hard to share burdens with others who one views as “the competition’
  4. People’s view of those in ministry hamper healthy relationships. Regardless of the wisdom of the metaphor “priesthood of all believers,” most Christians think of the church as having tiers:  different castes: senior pastors or missionaries are commonly seen as the top tier. As such, socialization with “lower tiers” is discouraged or awkward. Of course, pastors and missionaries often perpetuate this by maintaining the (Biblically questionable) belief in a minister or missionary call that is qualitatively different than the call of other Christians. It is also encouraged by ministers themselves, allowing the perpetuation of the belief that the prayer of a member of the clergy is more powerful than that of others. Ministers are often lonely and alienated within their own church.

Missionaries have the added alienation of working in a different culture or country (a “stranger in a strange land”). Additionally, the removal of a healthy safety net of cultural norms and taboos means that missionaries may find that temptations they had back home now can be yielded to without obvious and immediate consequences.

So what can be done? I am sure others have a better list, but here are a few obvious ones.

  • The church needs a far better ecclesiology. Clergy are not ‘super-Christians’ who operate from glory to glory. They are not qualitatively different than the laity. They are members of a team (God’s team as identified in a church or ministry structure) who have been specially trained for specific roles, who have chosen to commit to those roles, and have been called by the church or mission agency to act in those roles. But they are people. As Ezekiel 34 notes, Religious leaders may be shepherds, but they are also fellow sheep.
  • Ministers need accountability partners… both inside the church or ministry, and outside. The partners need to be mature and trustworthy so that those in ministry can share deeply of their pain and struggles. (I have known so many in ministry who put on the fake mask of “Blessed Victory” only to take it off when talking to me personally of their Pain.
  • Counselors need counselors. A pastor or missionary acts as a counselor for those he or she is responsible for. A minister is not an emotional sponge of unlimited capacity. They can share in the burdens of others… but they need to be able to share their own burdens with another as well.
  • Ministers need mentors. A minister should not only help others grow, but should work with another who helps him or her grow.Sometimes one needs several mentors: perhaps one for ministry, one or spiritual development, one for family or personal health.
  • Ministers need socialization. A minister needs friends. Inside the church they need friends. Outside the church they need friends. Outside the denomination they need friends. Inside the profession they need friends. Outside the profession they need friends. And yes… often outside the faith they need friends. A minister needs a supportive family… even if they don’t have people they are directly related to, they need a supportive family.

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