Is There a Secret to Ministry?

Church leadership’s biggest secret is that it is more about us than it is about others. When we bring our truest and fullest selves to congregational life, we are more likely to be effective in ministry and less likely to burn out. We can find new sources of energy, and we can find our way forward more easily in ministry. We can find ourselves better able to withstand the pressures for conformity, we can take risks in ways we didn’t think possible before. None of this is easy. But it is easier to be yourself than to pretend to be someone else for years. People sense authenticity: they know real when they see it, and they also know fake when they see it, at least over time. They can sniff out pretending, and it is exhausting to pretend, anyway.

The secret to ministry is self: having one, growing one, calling forth self in others: true self in the way Merton talks about it. This involves patience, humor, prayer, grace, having a life. Service without overfunctioning. Setting boundaries without withdrawing. Perseverance in the face of challenge. Openheartedness without giving yourself away.
David Whyte in Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity (highly recommended), puts it this way: “To wake the giant inside ourselves, we have to be faithful to our own eccentric nature, and bring it out into conversation with the world.” (p. 51) That is our gift, bringing our unique perspective and contribution, rather than trying to be like everyone else, whether those others are family, colleagues or parishioners.

3 replies on “Is There a Secret to Ministry?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    We probably all could count that handful of leaders we know who are their own real self, apparently naturally. I do think we can all make progress in this direction, and function out of that self more of the time.

  • IGalindo

    A very intriguing question, “Is there a secret to ministry?” Vague enough to allow for some playfulness.

    Clergy are prone to role expectations, and too many seem too ready and willing to buy into image-related role expectations that create burdensome image and pseudo-self functioning. Perhaps that explains the fondness among so many of “leadership style,” a pseudo-self stance that fails to grasp the concept that leadership is about one’s functioning, not one’s “style.”

    I think I can count on one hand the number of clergy I know personally who are their own “real self,” genuinely and function with integrity (they are who they are, and what you see is what you get). But I suspect that’s not true only of clergy leaders.


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