An Open Letter to the Church:
The metanarrative of scripture tells us of a God who sees and hears, is involved in human history through relationship, works for love in the world even when humans fail to love, and will not be defined to a place or by a people (I am who I am). All through our sacred text, we see God drawing near to humanity coming to a HUGE EXCLAMATION POINT at the moment of Jesus’ birth, the word of God made flesh to dwell among us. God’s seeing and hearing God’s people reached a whole new level in Jesus the Christ and we are invited into a way of incarnating Christ daily.
First, I want you to hear that you, dear church, matter. You are my love, my heart, my hope. More importantly you are a part of God’s creation and all of God’s creation bears the divine DNA as God’s Beloved. Many of you are grounded in these words so that you are offering your best self to the people inside your circle and to the world. God sees and hears your love and your gratitude. But, many of you have not accepted these words in your heart. You are not loving yourself, so how could you love your neighbor? Sometimes this neighbor is someone very different from you, an outsider in religion, sexuality, gender, or culture. Sometimes, this person is living under your own roof, an insider.
A person who is inside your circle that you are responsible for caring for and loving is your minister. In Henri Nouwen’s writings, He offers an invitation to the church to care for their minister. He says that not only does God give a people to the pastor as a gift, but that God sends a minister to the people as a gift. This is a shared ministry, so how have you done in caring for the gift God sent you? I am afraid that many of you, dear church, have not seen your minister as a gift of God sent to you. You have not even looked for the gift. You have not heard your minister’s passions, talents, vision as a gift from God. Recently, there is a push to uncover all this ugliness that has been hiding in the church. Here is a link to a video that highlights the ugliness that women ministers have experienced.
From my view, this is not only a Methodist problem or a women’s issue….this ugly spirit is pervasive. I believe that bringing our failings into the light offers us an opportunity to look at what we have done, ask forgiveness, and choose a different path. If we don’t have to see it or hear it, then we might not ever change.
So how have you loved your minster? Maybe you have ways that you can be proud of and maybe you need to bring to light ways that you have failed. Here is what I have seen and heard. You have rejected a leader because they have a vagina in favor of those that have a penis. Or rejected a woman who God created with more drive and grit than the softness you expected of a woman. You have gossiped in the parking lot about assumptions you have made about the vision of your pastor. You have used your words to spout hate when you said, “That was a great sermon, but you are a shitty pastor.” Ouch! You have murmured that you hope your minister falls and dies when he is up on a ladder helping the team who cares for the church building. WTF?! You have ruined the ministry of a pastor by slandering their name and even though he was proven innocent, the damage to their reputation is done. You have claimed to own the life and vision of your minister negating their calling. You have stood by and said nothing when others espouse violence and hatred towards one of God’s Beloved. How many minister’s families fall apart? How many ministers turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress? How many hearts are broken by the church? How many ministers leave the church never to set foot in another church community?
We ask a lot of our ministers and put most of the responsibility for the health of our communities in their hands. Countless retreats, classes, and seminars speak to ministers about doing the inner work that they must do to keep themselves healthy and connected to God’s love. But how many retreats, classes, and seminars are offered to people in the pews to educate them about the life of a pastor or about how they should care for their ministers? The minister must take care of themselves, but you, dear church, are at least 50% of the problem. The path we are on is unsustainable and you are invited to change the system.
First, I extend an invitation to you to do the inner work of PRACTICING kindness and compassion towards yourself. It is imperative that you address the root of the problem within you just as the minster works to heal their own wounded parts. This takes time, practice and intentionality. If you don’t know where to begin, contact me. I have a wealth of tools in my toolbelt to offer you for your own exploration.
Once you begin to address the root of the problem within you, you will begin to Notice when you begin to feel the shift of compassion for yourself and how that begins to change the relationships around you. Then, APOLOGIZE to whoever comes to your mind that you have wronged extending this even to your minister. MAKE A CHANGE. Compassion calls us to action. Crazy simple things like setting appointments more often to encourage and build up your minister than you do to offer “constructive feedback.” Check the intent of your heart before you open your mouth: Do I desire to see them flourish and my words will offer them an opportunity towards that end? Or do I desire to criticize and tear them down?
It is no wonder that ministers are leaving vocational ministry to pursue ministry as teachers, yoga teachers, counselors, support staff for major corporations, writers, musicians, and community organizers. The church’s critical spirit drove them out into other professions to find a better way to live out their calling. Now, to some extent, I see that God’s promise of extending blessing to the world continues through ministers leaving the church and in spite of our embarrassing behaviors.
This is not solely the responsibility of the minster. You are responsible for their care. We all fail, but we don’t lay down and give up. You are invited daily to start fresh, to begin anew, to offer apology and receive forgiveness. If you follow Jesus, this is His Way. Join me in rediscovering the way.