What Makes a Minister Quiet

The Simpson family waves at the I get quiet on this blog when there is a lot going on in my personal life. That’s certainly true right now. Two teenagers make for sleepless nights and a constant buzz of conflict under the surface of everything. After all, it’s their job to push parents and authority away. I get preoccupied and I’m never sure how much I can say here. After all, this is a public place and the rules of ministry apply.

But what are the rules of ministry? I know I learned that anything that might cause my congregants to feel like they needed to minister to me is dangerous–if not outright forbidden. But I’ve learned from colleagues that their moments of weakness–whether illness or stress-related–have sometimes become opportunities for the congregation to reach out to each other and to the minister in ways that strengthened both. So what do you think? What level of personal sharing is appropriate from a minister to the congregation?

I learned too that I cannot tell anyone’s story publicly without their permission. I believe that with my whole heart and so I cannot tell you the specifics of what is happening because–well, it’s not my story to tell. It affects me, but it’s not my story. Then again, I’ve learned the dangers of too much confidentiality in churches. When no one feels free to tell the minister–or anyone else–that they know someone is struggling and could use a kind word, churches aren’t able to do what they are meant to do. One of the most powerful things a religious community can do is hold someone as they go through a hard time. Not fix it, not say “everything will be all right,” but just be there, accompanying one another. How much is confidentiality a hindrance to that? How is respecting people’s privacy different than expectations of confidentiality?

The longer I’m in ministry, the more complex my answers to these questions get. I know I don’t help my heartfelt campaign agains perfectionism in our churches if I run around trying to pretend that everything is always okay with me and my house. I know too, that I don’t want people to think that I’m trying to say I can’t do my job. I can. I just might be quiet, preoccupied, and low energy. I may even be sad and not have my usual chipper, “Everything will be wonderful!” attitude. It has nothing to do with the church and everything to do with me being a real human being.

Reading what I’ve written I worry that I’ve already said too much. It’s so easy to revert to being Superman. Or the Lone Ranger. The truth is I hate it when I can’t do my very best in every single thing I do. A therapist once told me that my biggest coping mechanism is “hyper-competence.” The more stressed I am the more I want to be perfectly competent, brilliant, and extraordinary. I get really mad at myself when I’m not. I hate looking weak and interpret any mistake or lack in myself to weakness. I know a lot of ministers who share this propensity. As Cynthia said over at her blog, “Come on, y’all, everybody’s kids can not be doing THAT well.”

So what’s a minister to do? I get quiet. I have a hard time writing here because I’m not very good at pretense. I don’t know what to say when I can’t say exactly what I’m thinking and feeling. I look and look for “safe” topics and discard them all one by one. Nothing’s safe enough because I might just blurt out the truth: I’m having a hard time right now and I don’t know how to handle that or what I can say. I don’t need to be taken care of, but I may need some understanding, some patience, and a kind word or two.

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6 thoughts on “What Makes a Minister Quiet

  1. Maybe you can’t share those things here, RevSean, but hopefully you can share these things offline or privately with people who will support you!? I keep thinking of that scene in Mary Poppins, when Burt asks Jane and Michael whose shoulder can their father cry on? And Jane says, “Poor Father!” I imagine with ministers there’s some of that going on – where you’re expected to be the rock, rising up out of the ocean, all solitary and unmoved. But that’s not realistic, or human.

  2. Oh, I like HS’s connection to Mary Poppins …

    I hope that you have a friend who can give you a long, hard hug.

    I had a humbling experience in being forced to allow people to help me, and accept their comfort. And from what I’ve been told, there were many learning experiences for others, in my difficult situation.

    I’m not a minister yet. But I guess I’d say that allowing people to see that someone they admire, a spiritual authority, still has to deal with rough stuff, still has to struggle, would be highly valuable. When I see the spiritual leader who is always serene, always in control … it appears that they’ve already ascended. I learn more from the ones who are open about the fact that life is hard and they have to *work* at finding their center.

    Cyber-hug being sent your way.

  3. As a candidate for ministry I’m still figuring out all the rules and boundaries, so it’s somewhat reassuring to know that even an experienced minister still struggles with these issues. And – as the mom of 2 young adults and 1 still-at-home teen, all of whom excelled at their adolescent jobs – I understand. Peace be with you.

  4. Sorry to hear about the hard times.
    If things get really really bad say the holy name a million times and see what happens. This will not change a sad cruel world, but many have found it to be a wonderful – comfort ? – comfort is not the right word, don’t know what to say.
    I know some teachers say this works even if you say “Coca Cola”, but if I am going to invest that much time why not use a name or phrase that connects to important values.
    Best wishes for you and your valuable work.

  5. I’m with HS, Sean; you may not be able to talk about it here, but please find a place where it IS safe to talk about it. Those of us who know you love you — I hope you know that. But you can’t ever know who reads this blog (and that might include the other people in your immediate life whose stories are part of yours). So discretion is the better part…

    Let’s talk the next time we’re in the same room…

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