Reason #1 for Wanting to Stay in Parish Ministry: Congregations Are Stronger (and Desire Health More) Than We Realize

Today, I’m going to do something I don’t think I’ll do on any other day of the summer.  I’m going to share a second blog entry for a given day.


Because in conversation with a reader today, I realized I wouldn’t be good for me to list all of my reasons for wanting to leave at once before getting to my reasons for staying.  To take that approach might cause some readers to check out before getting to my reasons for staying.  And that would be too bad – because my Reasons for Wanting to Stay clearly won out! 😊

It would also create the incorrect impression that I am bitter, jaded, and on the cusp of leaving parish ministry soon.  I am not.  In so many ways, I have never felt more excited and energized by the prospect of returning to parish ministry at the end of my sabbatical.

So in order to balance things out, today I will begin the series of My Reasons for Wanting to Stay.  Since I have already shared 4 Reasons for Wanting to Leave, I’ll now share 4 Reasons for wanting to stay.  Once I’ve balanced things out, then I will alternate between reasons for leaving and staying moving forward.

I know that for those of my readers who are “S”s (or Sensory folks) on the Myers-Briggs, my evolving approach might be frustrating.  For that I am sorry.  I am grateful to all those who hang in there and continue to engage my writing …

So here is my Reason #1 for Wanting to Stay …

I was born and raised in a local United Methodist Church that was VERY troubled.  Differences of opinions were rarely talked through; instead, they usually resulted in church splits.  Power was certainly not shared; it was hoarded by a few at the top.  I could go on and on by listing the challenges that existed in my home church – but I think you get the idea.

What I took away from those formative experiences was that church was not a place you could talk and work things through.  Church was a breeding place for passive aggressiveness; and those who were willing to be the most manipulative often won.

Then I went to seminary.  The education I received in the classrooms was great.  There was only one problem.  In several of the courses, there was a subtext that suggested the material we were learning could NOT be used openly in the local churches we would serve.  The ideas were too radical.  People weren’t ready for them.  If we were going to succeed, we would either have to fight for our truth (and, by implication, run out the troublemakers); or we would have to water down the things we had learned to a level people could accept.

So by the time I graduated, I was a little cynical about parish ministry.

The good news is that I found my assumptions were largely WRONG!  People in so many of our local churches are STARVING for healthy, open, and communicative leadership.  They, too, are tired of the games that have been played for too long in the life of their churches.  They want leaders who can love them in healthy (and not enabling) ways and call them to be their best self!

Is this process easy?

Absolutely not!  That has been especially true in the ministry sites I’ve served.  Many of them have had long histories where bringing things out into the open did not always end well.  That’s why when I first started naming things, their first thoughts were, “Uh oh.  He’s unhappy with us and will reject us.  He’s on the way out!”

Nothing could be further from the truth, however.  As a person called to ordained ministry, I believe there is no greater act of love – and investment – than speaking one’s truth in the spirit of love.  For in the moments of vulnerability that follow on both sides, it allows the pastor and congregation to bond in ways that is special and all-too-rare these days.

The fact that I feel safe enough to write so openly in my blog is a testament to the fact that many congregations (especially the ones I have served) are capable of so much more than some expect.  We pastors just have to do our work, challenge our negative assumptions, take a risk and speak our truth, and then trust the Holy Spirit will use our vulnerability to take both congregation and pastor to powerful new places.  That process is one of the most beautiful processes a human being can participate in.  Healing, health, and wholeness CAN be achieved – individually and collectively! – if we speak and receive our truths in the spirit of love. And is it My Reason #1 for My Wanting to Stay.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 55-year-old who currently lives in Los Angeles, CA but will soon be moving to New Jersey. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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