My theme for the month of June is Seeing. I see not in parts, but the whole picture and I invite you to reflect on how you see your role in the body of Christ. This week is a letter to ministers. Next week, I will address congregations. The third week, I will open the letter up to the wider spiritual community.
This song inspired my writing…
An Open Letter to Pastors:
A theme from many of Henri Nouwen’s books is that God sends ministers to a particular people situated in a particular place at a defined moment in time. God is not sending us because we have so much to offer them—which we do—but also because God has a gift for us to receive. Nouwen asks the pastor to view their church, their people, with eyes that look for the gift that their people knowingly or unknowingly extend to their pastor. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen writes, “It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.” Our openness to look for Christ in each person should set the tone for our life in ministry.
First, I want to say that as a child of God, you, dear pastor friends are loved. You are enough. You are treasured. I give thanks for your ministry to the body of Christ in whatever shape or form you feel called to minister. Your ministry matters. I see you in all your glory experiencing great success, using your gifts, talents and passions. I see you in your secret places in all your vulnerability, insecurity, addiction, doubt and fear. I see you because the incarnate Christ in me sees the incarnate Christ in you. The way of Jesus teaches me to see all of you and remind you that God sees you and says, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.”
But how do we cultivate this love affair with the divine? How do we stay connected to feeling the truth of our Belovedness? For Nouwen, it is through practice. You see our greatest treasure in the Christian faith is “Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Christian faith tradition is rooted in practicing loving ourselves SO THAT we can extend that same love to others. If our cup is full, then we extend love out of the overflow, but if our cup is empty, we give out of our need and people feel the difference in our energy. They may not have the words to express what they sense, but their actions will reflect this difference. Finding daily, weekly and monthly practices that remind us of our oneness with this Divine love. Finding daily, weekly and monthly practices that remind us of our shared suffering with humanity—our solidarity with all who suffer. If your current practices are not fanning this flame, reach out beyond what is known and comfortable. Seek support from other Christians, from people who devote themselves to practicing another faith tradition, and from support groups. The goal is not to be perfect, but to have practices that Nouwen writes about in his book Creative ministry that ground you in the understanding that God called you, in all your glory AND in your suffering, to this vocation. Richard Rohr was asked, “How long should I pray/meditate?” His answer, “As long as it takes to make that loving connection, to feel rooted in love.” Our calling requires intentionality so that we can model how our people should walk the way of Christ: Do the inner work AND Get involved in the outer work.
Once grounded in the truth of our Belovedness, as leaders in the Christian Faith tradition, we are called to have vision. In Nouwen’s book, With Open Hands, he calls leaders to awaken the revolutionary in each of us. He says the revolutionary is grounded n God’s love, has a vision, speaks truth and stays steady. The revolutionary is not swayed by criticism or bullying. The revolutionary is not afraid to criticize or be ostracized for his criticism. The revolutionary remains in God’s love and possesses an inner freedom. The revolutionary repels people who want to hold to safety and security. The revolutionary brings out their worst self because the spoken truth points out their lack of depth which leads to the physical, emotional or social death of the revolutionary.
My dear pastors, our sacred text says, “Where there is no vision/prophecy/revelation of divine guidance, my people perish/run wild/go against the best way.” Finding our Belovedness calls us to find our voice, to speak our truth, to set the vision even if it is not popular. If you as a minister have lost your voice, find fear of losing your job more powerful than the love of God, find yourself catering to the bickering and gossiping of your people, seek time away to ground yourself in God’s love and to find your voice again. If you cannot find your voice, step aside to make room for someone who loves the church enough to speak the truth. Ouch! Or know your calling to chaplain a dying institution, but don’t use this as a platform to be critical of ministers called to do a new thing! God does not love you less and there is an urgency to the work that must be done. Love does not let people stay stuck in their shit. Love gets down in the poop with them, calls it what it is (speaks the truth), and offers an invitation to hope: a hand, a nudge, a push, a rope, a slap in the face, a moment of awakening.
Just recently, I set an appointment with a friend who is a Tibetan Buddhist monk. I felt distraught with how tough life as a ministry family felt. I wondered if it would always feel this hard. Basically, I was wallowing in self-doubt, discouragement, anger, and the great desire to run away from my calling. She listened as a shared and then she said something that smacked me in the face. She offered me a moment of awakening. She spoke truth to me down in my poop pit. She simply said, “I seem to remember that you follow a man who was killed for his ministry, so it stands to reason that ministry is going to be hard.”
Pastor friends, life is going to be hard. Your hurt is real. Your emotions are valid. Embrace and accept your humanity, then change your poopie pants for clean big girl panties. Cling to your calling. Ground yourself in God’s love. Cultivate practices. Have a counselor, psychologist, therapist on call (LOL, but seriously). Phone a friend—a lifeline. Join a support group. Apologize for your mistakes, but not for who God created you to be. Listen to Lady Gaga, “Born this way,” all day if you need to. Present yourself in all your glorious imperfection. It takes a lot of work to offer your best self to your people, but we have seen the results of pastors who don’t and our churches have suffered. I don’t think any of us are proud of the results.
You are not alone, though. Most of our trainings focus on how the minister must be all these things and do all these things to stay healthy. We acknowledge that we have to do our part, but that is only addressing one side of the issue. The other side of the issue is the people in our churches. I feel that unless we offer the church an invitation to do the work so that they offer their best selves, then we are putting too much weight on the shoulders of the minister. We don’t talk about this very often, though, because the pastor is paid through the donations of those who sit in our pews. I don’t currently have a tithe-based ministry, so my voice is free to speak this truth.
Tune in next week, as I offer a raw invitation to The Church.