In one way or another, I spend quite a bit of time hanging out with men who work in full time ministry. Over time I’ve noticed that the same themes keep on coming up in our discussions. A friend suggested it might be good blog fodder. So here are a handful of observations. What do you think?
1. The house of cards is balancing precariously. Be afraid.
Men in ministry are desperately afraid. Afraid that the minister in the next suburb will steal your congregation, afraid that your people won’t like you, afraid that the other ministers in your denomination will think you are incompetent, compromised, heretical or ungodly. Things may look like they are holding things together, but it is all so precarious if could collapse at any moment. And you will have failed.
2. The house of cards is balancing precariously. Watch out.
Men in ministry have a tendency towards paranoia. People are out to get you. You have a small (and shrinking) group of people that you trust and everyone outside that group is treated with suspicion. Especially other men in ministry. The fact that they don’t do things in exactly the same way as you means that they don’t like your way. They think you are wrong (or worse, incompetent. Or maybe even heterodox.) Many of them will knock your house of cards over if they get the chance.
3. The house of cards is balancing precariously. Don’t strengthen your neighbour’s house.
Because you are so afraid that your own house will tumble, your ability to praise your neighbour’s construction skills are seriously depleted. You feel that to affirm the work of the minister in the next church will upset some delicately balanced system and cause your own work to fall (also true of co-workers.) Praising your underlings (who you don't perceive as a threat) or those in non-competing ministries is possible, but praising your peers... almost impossible.
4. What you want more that almost anything else is to be told you are doing a good job. With specifics. And you want your peers to do it. (But they won’t, because they are afraid that it will somehow knock their own house over (see #3).)
5. Ministers are emotionally muted around their collegues. There is shame in admitting weakness. Shame in struggling with doubts, shame in struggling with anger or sexual temptation, shame in admitting incompetence. So you don’t share anything much at all. This creates a weird self-protective dynamic. You both have PhDs in NT, surely you've got interesting stuff to talk about! No. It seems not.
6. Indentity issues are big. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who defines themselves more by what they do than ministers. Your whole self perception is wrapped up in your job. Fail at it and you’ve lost everything. You think that your friends wouldn’t like you any more if you were no longer the hot shot preacher you think they think you are. And if you’re a second generation minister there’s another bag of issues to sort through. If your dad is someone with whom you fundamentally agree, then how do you assert your independence from him?