Recently I had a conversation with one of the faithful EBA Community members who we’ve not heard from in some time. I phoned him out of the blue to ask a few questions about his perspective on the state of the church in the US. His response was both helpful and telling.
He shared with me that he’d been with EBA for a number of years, but had dropped out of sight when he moved from a thriving church setting to one that was, well, let’s just say less than thriving. For some time now, he’d withdrawn from the Community because most of the talk there is either about successful churches or about pastors working hard to turn their churches around so that these congregations succeed in discipling their neighborhoods, their community, their world.
“Sometimes,” he said, “we need an emergency room for those who have been wounded and need to heal.”
Couple that with another conversation I had with a pastor of a successful mega church who’s positioning the congregation to become a teaching church for the many, many rural churches in the area. “The feeling of isolation is growing in the church and that’s not just with me…it’s a killer and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.”
Woundedness and isolation are twin realities in the ministry. They tell me that once upon a time clergy were seen and treated as respected professionals in the community. I’ll have to trust those who say so because I’ve never experienced that kind of public sentiment. Instead, I’ve seen the clergy being attacked by the very people they seek to serve. I’ve seen clergy marriages crumble because of the tremendous pressure this calling puts on the family. I’ve witnessed the continuing rise of clergy sexual misconduct across North America because of loneliness and isolation. And I’ve seen the studies that report 80 percent of those graduating from seminary and Bible schools who enter professional ministry will leave the ministry within five years of graduation.
In other words, we need an Emergency Room.
But I checked the phone books in every major metropolis in North America and surprise, surprise, there’s not a single Clergy Trauma Center. So, until there is, here’s the MASH version of emergency triage.
- Call Your Barnabas. I don’t know who your Barnabas is, but you should know who yours is. S/he is not likely your bishop, your district superintendent, regional minister, association missionary, or your senior pastor. It probably shouldn’t be someone in your pews (sure, there are exceptions…the retired minister who never served this congregation, etc.). And as hard as the judicatories have tried to engender mentoring relationships with elder pastors in the area, let’s face it, they’re probably not it either. Your Barnabas is someone you’ve developed a practical spiritual relationship with. Someone you can trust to be honest…really honest with. Your Barnabas should be the one holding you accountable by asking you the tough question, “So, how’s your walk with Jesus.” It might be someone you pay to be your confidant, though I hope you have a friend you don’t have to write a check to or get insurance approval for in order to see them.
- Live in the Reality. There’s an old axiom that says, “That which you resist, persists.” In other words, if you fight it, pretend it isn’t happening, or treat the symptoms but not the disease, it could take you a long, long, long, long (okay, you get the point) time to get better. If you’re miserable with the flu, take a Tylenol and go to bed with your blankey and Teddy Bear. Rest is not a four letter word. If you’ve been wounded, get real with it. Recognize it, treat it, and spend some time recuperating. Ignoring the cancer within isn’t going to do you or anyone else any good.
- Fail Forward. To borrow a thought from John Maxwell, if you’ve fallen down whether it’s your fault or a conspiracy that caught you unawares, get back up. Not immediately (see #2), but ultimately you’re only a failure if you get knocked down and decide to just stay there. And, while you’re down there on the ground, pick something up. Develop a new spiritual habit. Read a good book. Make some new plans. Find a new church. But while you’re living in the reality and spending time recuperating, do something worthwhile so that when you get back on your feet, you’re the better for it.
- Live for Today. Finally, the truth is you can’t do a thing about yesterday. Indeed, if you’ll get philosophical with me, yesterday doesn’t even exist. And either does tomorrow. Only now exists and you get to choose how to live in this now. You can carry the past around with you like Bob Marley’s chains. No one will blame you. That’s what most people do because it’s the only way they know how to live. But you don’t have to. You get to decide who you are right now. You get to decide what you’re going to do right now. You have real choices. Yes, there are consequences with every choice we make, but if your yesterday is determining how you act and feel today, then you might want to spend some time revisiting the theology behind such words as grace, mercy, and atonement because your yesterday no longer exists. You really are free to choose.
When all is said and done, it’s better to live healthy and to be careful when handling life so you don’t suffer from self-inflicted wounds. But accidents happen. People get attacked. Hearts get broken. Lives get wounded. And when that happens, a trip to the emergency room may be in store for you.
And if you have no one else to reach out to, you’ve got my email address. The docktor is in.