Twisting and turning in ministry

Posted May 22, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Lawrence Peers


labyrinthThe Pastoral Excellence Network (PEN) is part of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary. The Center and PEN are dedicated to sustaining clergy through “the long arc of ministry.”

Indeed, this is our work.

And, sometimes an arc seems like such a tidy, predictable, orderly image. Sometimes ministry does feels predictable.  But more often we don’t know exactly how it will unfold as we walk through the lifetime labyrinth of ministry.

The early years

The first years of working in the church have their own twists and turns. Those years are a testing ground in which there is a creative tension between the ideals and the reality of ministry. Hopefully, along the way there are guides, mentors, responsive and forgiving lay leaders, and clergy peer groups that help us keep one foot in front of the other so that we can find a direction and a trajectory for our emerging path.

The mid-career years

Our ministry continues to be honed through our experiences, our triumphs, and our challenges in various settings. If we are fortunate, we find companions along the way who can cheer us on, talk us off the metaphorical cliff, and help us determine course corrections that we may need now and then. Clergy peer groups remind us that we are not alone, that there are others who resonate with our experiences, and some who can testify to the journey.

When I have shared Israel Galindo’s perspective on the years of ministry with clergy, those clergy often resonate with his articulation of the mid-career years of “hitting your stride,” “the year of discontent,” “the latency year,” “ministry redirection,” and “recharge or burnout.” None of this is a predicable arc. The ups and the downs of ministry have the capacity to cultivate in us a resilience and a faith that is not easily achieved.

The culminating chapter of ministry

For some years now, I have led a clergy retreat on “Finishing Strong, Ending Well: Crafting the Culminating Chapters of Ministry,” and I will do so again this summer. I knew when I first offered this retreat that it would be hard for clergy to admit that they have two to ten years left of active, full-time ministry left.

So I asked those who showed up, “What seminar did you tell your congregational leadership you were attending this week?”

The best response was, “I said I was attending a seminar on eschatology … on last things.”

“Oh, and I’m sure they didn’t ask any further questions,” I replied.

The culminating chapter is about redesigning your ministry so that you give what you know is your best to give. It is beginning to imagine one’s life as a whole.

But this chapter is not just about us. It is about paving the way for the clergy person who follows us in a setting. It is about helping the congregation have a good ending to a ministry. It is about modeling ministry for others who can also be inspired by our intentionality and faithfulness.

When we’re in it

So, there is an arc of ministry. And, ministry when we are actually in it often feels like a labyrinth—with known and unknown twists and turns that over time bring forth the fruits of our calling. Through it all may our souls be strengthened by the words of this song:

We are going,
Heavens knows where we are going,
But we know within.
And we’ll get there,
Heaven knows how we will get there.
But we know we will.
It will be hard we know,
And the road may be muddy and rough,
But we’ll get there,
Heaven knows how we will get there,
But we know we will.

You might like to listen to the Wellington Community Choir sing this song, “Woyaya,” in Nelson Cathedral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9FQTy7FVbA.

Lawrence Peers is the director of learning of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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