Thursday, August 05, 2010

Closing Thoughts on Church Ministry

For the last few days I got to spend time with my sweet, oh-so-funny sister.

What a blast.  I always cherish our time together.

This has been one of the most precious summers as we have literally soaked up our friends and family...held them close, breathed them in...spent time laughing, crying and living with each other.  If we stay in Haiti long-term, I pray every summer is just like this one.

Moving to Haiti marks the end of a huge chapter of our lives.  For 13 years we've been involved, in one way or another in leadership at a church.  As with everything else, I've spent time this summer thinking over so many things...saying good-bye to church ministry is one of them.

I was thinking the other day about how different my life would have been over the past several years if something drastic had not happened a few years ago. 

Ya see, a few years ago Aaron and I were both on staff at a very large church.  That church started two new churches and when it did we went with one of the new churches.  Aaron has been leading worship for New Life up until he left for Haiti.

While on staff at that larger church I had bought into this super weird lie (probably no one's fault but my own...not wanting to blame anyone, just saying this stupidity on my part happened while we were at the larger church). The reason may have been that I was young and immature.  Who knows.

The lie went something like this:

You are in leadership, so that makes you very different.  You can't really let people know you or be honest about your failures.  Oh you can be honest about failures publicly, but only AFTER you are no longer dealing with those problems any longer or if those failures make you really seem super holy in some weird passive-aggressive way.  If you have "victory" in an area of struggle...share that, but if not then keep your problems to yourself or only share them with other staff members.

I'm not exactly sure where that came from or more importantly why I believed it, but my dumb. Maybe I am the only person who has ever dealt with this.  Who knows.  I will be the first to admit I can fall into "dysfunction" faster than most people.

No matter where it came from, that train of thought led to lots of unhealthy ways of thinking and behaviors.  It led me to believe that I could not have any close friends, because that didn't look good.  It might make others in the church jealous.  It made me think I was not a real person.  It made me want to take breaks from the people at church because they were a job to me instead of dear friends.  It made me want to go on vacation from the people in our church body because I wanted to get away from our job...our vocation.  The church was a career, not my family.  No one knew the real me.  I thought I had to seek out close friendships among other staff wives or among minister's wives from other churches.

I'm seriously rolling my eyes just remembering this craziness.

Thankfully, through a series of fortunate events, God began to heal me and reteach me.  Total freedom ensued.

I was struck by the Jesus of the Bible...the Jesus that was so loved by his closest disciples that they were willing to die horrible deaths to defend what they had seen and learned from Him.  Jesus redefined family.  He said anyone who does the will of His father was like his mother...his sister...his brother.  His disciples loved a person...a friend...not as a public figure.  They saw him weep.  They saw Him get angry.  They loved being with Him.  They did not live in fear of Jesus.  They were themselves with Jesus, almost to the point of embarrassment. 

Slowly I began to ache for real, genuine relationships where I could be myself.  Where people could see how I was struggling...present tense struggling, not past tense struggled.

People in the church became my family.  We grew in close relationships with others.  Instead of wanting to hide away on our "day off" or turn our phones off, when people from church called, we answered because those people weren't people anymore.  They were our friends.  We didn't want time away from them.  We went on vacations together.  We hung out constantly.  Yes, we still reached out and met new people...and I pray we were just as genuine with them as anyone else.  But most importantly we no longer felt guilty about having close friends who knew us, loved us..all of us...the good, the bad and the downright shameful and embarrassing parts of us.

When I'd catch wind that people were jealous of a relationship I had with someone else, it didn't even bother me anymore.  It still doesn't.  I refused to allow anyone to put me in that yucky, prideful place I had allowed myself to be in years earlier.  That place was gross and unhealthy.  It was also unhealthy for everyone else around me.  No one and no snide remark was going to push me back into that nasty spot where I thought I had to be...the girl with the frozen smile, waving, being friendly, knowing no one and no one really knowing me.

If your pastor's wife has a close friend, please don't be upset that she does.  If your worship leader's wife has a bff, good for her.  They are people too.  Just like you.  They aren't any cooler than anyone else.  I promise.
They are just as needy, just as sinful, just as human as every other woman in your church.  A pastor's wife or a worship leader's wife or an elder's wife or any other staff wife isn't a female Jesus.  She's a person. She's human.  She can't invest in every single person that passes through the church foyer.  It's impossible. It's silly for her to think she can and it's just as silly for people to expect her to do that.

If your pastor's wife looks like she's sitting on a parade float, for the love...grab her, sit her down and tell her you're going to be her friend.  Kidnap her and don't let her go until you convince her that there's nothing really special about her.  Nothing that makes her have to live her life far away from the love of people and close friends. No title is worth that.

I hope you know me well enough to know that I'm not advocating for cliques or holy huddles.  Jesus despised exclusive groups that practiced favoritism.  However, I do think staff wives can go too far and be so afraid of cliques that they have no true real connections with others.  They can be alone in a giant sea of people.  Leadership becomes synonymous with isolation.  Somehow Jesus pulled off leadership and still had close community.

All that to say....

We've learned in over 13 years of ministry and 14 years of marriage that relationships are most important.  Although it hurts desperately, I am most thankful for the way God has literally woven our souls together with so many precious people in our lives.  We feel the sting as we're saying good-bye, but only because we've already invested deeply into these relationships.  A few years ago, we could have left this town and people would have been a little sad...but all they would be grieving would be the loss of our position.  Not the loss of us as people.  People they know.  People they love.  People who have known and loved them.  Praise God for His rich mercy for teaching us how to love and how to be loved.  Real.  Honest.  Genuine. Love.

If the Lord ever puts us back into church ministry, I will never ever go back to being the lady on the float.  No way.  People want to be her, but people don't love her and from way up there on that decorated float, it's awfully hard for her to love other people.


Anonymous said...

LOL "Holy Huddle"

shauna maness said...

this is so great heather....with great humility and gentleness... praying for you guys... LOVE, LOVE!

mandi said...

Once at a church function a woman offered me a loaf of white bread to take home. I politely said no thanks. She then told me that as a 'staff wife' she would think that I would be grateful for anything that was offered to me. Ouch.
My road on 'staff' has been a long one. My dad is a minister. So I've always been "on staff" in one way or another. My whole life. And yes, that can do weird things to your mindset. I think a lot of it can be the false assumptions people place on you. After being hurt (deeply wounded) it really is hard to lose that protective shell and just be. But you're right. It is necessary. What I have found is that it is just as necessary for myself as it is for those that are watching. To demistify the staff member myth. That myth that says we are better, holier, more organized, shinier, and less in need of friends and meaningful relationships. I have to say though, it is better than it was when I was a child. To hear the stories of what my dad went through...ugg.

Thanks for this post, Heather. I'm going to be thinking on these things and praying them over. Searching my own heart and stuff like that!

Megan Fletcher said...

great honest post Heather. Thanks. I think Joel and I tried to debunk that myth as we served on staff, particularly once we were married and serving full-time. I think I perpetuated it in my position when I was single and younger. I "had" to separate myself somehow from those I was serving (I wasn't much older). It ended up leading me to a season of anxiety (physically ill, taking meds, seeing drs to try and figure it out). Once I threw off that mantle, it was amazing to find such freedom! I think that's why we were so intentional about being "real" the next place God took us. I think I still struggled with feeling guilty for having a few special relationships. Reading your post made me question it again. But, now that we're serving in a different place, in a different way, this has given me new encouragement to pursue those intimate relationships and not feel bad about it. Thanks again Heather!

texasmcvays said...

Amen! What a blessing to have folks to confess your sins to pray with and to play with! I'm sorry I didn't realize this but I promise to pull folks straight off the float!!!

Amy said...

Like this letter a lot, Heather. This is very, very true.

Anonymous said...



Biblical Christianity said...

Written like someone who trusts Jesus for her holiness rather than herr own goodness! How refreshing!