Sunday, January 07, 2007

am I a freak?

Ok, so this is going to be one of those entries where I waffle incessantly because I'm too emotionally involved with the subject. Sorry. Bear with me in my strangeness....

I frequently wonder about working for the church in a 'minister' type way. For one reason or another, the issue has come to the front of my mind again this week. Whenever that happens, I try to act on my thoughts in some small way. That seems a good way of testing whether or not they are sensible.

It's difficult to know what action to take this time, though. I am having mental wrestles with the whole issue of being a 'minister' (I shall use that as a generic term for priest, vicar, minister, whatever). My problems fall into three categories: 1. My motives. 2. The job. 3. The church(es).

Let's deal briefly and inadequately with these problems.

1. I am impatient, arrogant, insecure and self-obsessed (no better or worse than the average person, probably) and am afraid of letting these qualities lead me into 'the ministry'. I know that minister-type jobs falsely appear the quickest way to get people to listen to what I have to say and to make myself feel significant as a Christian. I tend to think I am terribly wise and important and want people to understand that - I would enjoy the status and respect that being a minister provides. I hate feeling unnoticed and unloved and it is easy to believe that being a minister would change all of that. I like to be the centre of attention. I want to be heard. I think I can do things better than other church leaders that I see in action.

All of these temptations are much more subtle than I can express here, where they sound obvious. But I have seen too many vicars etc who are in their jobs for the wrong reasons.

2. I do not get the whole concept of becoming a vicar/minister whatever. Why is this kind of work granted the worthy title of a 'calling' instead of being a job, like any other? Why is there such a distinction between clergy and 'lay' people at all? Why don't churches just employ people to lead them who have the right skill set, instead of this bizarre scenario where individuals feel 'called' by God and then training colleges/dioceses interview them and decide whether that calling is valid, completely independently of the situation in which they're actually going to work? Why is housing provided and controlled by the churches? Why are ministers expected to work crazy hours? Why are people who are ministers in large churches not trained in management, finance, PR etc? Why is it somehow ok for a minister to spend his time as he sees fit, pursuing the things that strike him as interesting or 'of God', while not actually being accountable to any manager or balance sheet? Doesn't the whole set-up encourage the kind of corruption that all of us are natually prone to as human beings? (Glory-seeking, laziness, irresponsility, workaholism....) And congregations suffer too, either abusing their leaders or fobbing off all responsiblity for the church on them because of the minister's strangely elevated role amongst them.

3. I can see no way of getting into the ministry without affiliating myself with one denomination over and above others. I was brought up Baptist, and think their ideology/theology makes more sense than any other I've come across. But I work for, have attended and also love Anglican churches. Their theology seems rather like a set of excuses that explain the way they happen to be.....but they seem better at actually getting things done well and at being proactive than any other denomination. Far too simply, one denomination has better ideals....the other has better results. I don't think one is superior to the other. And I don't want to have to explain to the 'recruitment' people why I want to be a vicar or a Baptist minister as opposed to working for another denomination. But I know that's a requirement of the recruitment process. And I know that part of the training you are given in any denomination is training to think 'our denomination is the best'.

I understand that a churchgoer has to be part of a particular denomination because that's how things work....but I can't see myself deciding that any church is 'the best'.

Despite all of this, I feel some kind of calling. I long to help people to get to know God and I don't seem to be able to get away from the idea of being some kind of church 'leader'....I just don't know quite where to go from here.

I am also afraid of the impact this kind of career would have on my husband, my future children and my reputation. It's all too complicated.

I'm going to have a beer.


Phil said...

Hey Anna,

I can't tell you how good it is to read your blog - I finally arrived in LA a week ago and am grasping hard to any connection to my old life that I can find. Scott has gone to San Diego to teach, and public transport here is worse than abysmal, so I'm pretty much locked up in the flat for two days with nothing to do - hence the induction to blogging.

You will be a superb teacher and leader in whatever manner you finally decide on, precisely because you do question everything. And because you're wiser than you know.

Lucy said...

Anna, you are so honest about yourself!

I am sure the very fact that you are asking all these questions means you are avoiding falling into many of the traps of ministry that you mention.

Does your desire for ministry fall into your current job in any way or are you thinking about longer into the future?

You should send this into a Christian Newspaper for discussion!


Andy said...


Good post! I think everything you've said is true - and also, almost everything that you don't think would make you a good leader, because you are aware of it, are precisely the kind of qualities that probably will. Bad leaders, I'll bet, are either those without the skill to be good leaders (and I think you do have the skill) - or are good leaders, but not aware of their limitations. You'd be tops, I reckon.

I keep getting massively frustrated at the direction that areas of the Church are going in and I desperately want to do something about it - but then, I don't really feel a "calling" (well not in the paid ministry sense anyway).

And yet, when I weigh up my qualities, I seem to tick most of the boxes for "leadership". It's annoying, also, that certain opportunities are only given to people in leadership positions. For instance, to preach, you nearly always need to be in some sort of leadership position. It's very rare (in my experience) that someone is allowed to preach purely on their ability to communicate the Bible...

My take, I think, is just to lead anyway - come up with ideas, get a group of people together and try and make things happen. It's frustrating sometimes with the lack of support, but at least this way I feel like I can contribute some stuff!

Steve Tilley said...

Amen to above comments. Fantastic to read someone who can balance the arrogance required to want to be a leader with the vulnerability to question her own motives.

Few thoughts...

The Bible teaches the priesthood of all believers. If you are called to 'full-time' ministry you need to be set aside from the need to earn your living to be a Christian full-time. So you get a stipend which is meant to compensate you for not earning a salary. It is meant to be just enough to live on.

There are much better checks and balances on minister's behaviour these days but you can add extra ones. I try to see two people, one who mentors me with my work and one with my spiritual life, regularly. I try to be honest, open, vulnerable with and accountable to my church leaders.

The problem of a selection conference is always balancing the 'I belive I am called, tell me if I'm right' with 'I'm sure I'm called and want to serve.'

Your post would make a fabulous article in the Church Times or Church of England Newspaper (Church Times pays better). They might encourage anonymity.

For all the theological difficulties you may have, anglican ministry has much more security than Baptist. Baptist ministers seem to me to be forever looking over their shoulders at the elders/deacons who can end their employment.

Happy exploring.

AnnaP said...

This is all helpful. Thanks.

Lucy and Phil, it was better to hear from you than you would ever guess!

Current job happened, I'm sure, because I'm drawn to the church. But it's not really a preparation for 'ministry' - except it lets me meet people and talk to them about the issue. If I dare risk it! Also allows me to see the Anglican church, globally, warts and all.

Andy, I also get irritated at the fact preaching is mainly the realm of the ordained. But, another part of me thinks that preaching should be like that. Words are SO important and influential. The public role of preaching also can be very glamorous and get you a lot of recognition for it. I think there are probably good reasons for asking a person to take pastoral responsibility for a congregation in some way before putting them 'up front' to preach. Generally speaking, that is. Not always.

St, thanks also. Picking out the things I might question from what you say....
personally think a vicar's salary is ok! Would prefer it to be a bit more and find my own house, though.....but that's not very realistic today.

Also, what you say about the security of being in leadership in the Anglican church kind of illustrates what I meant in the post. I see, with my pragmatist hat on, that job security is a desirable thing. But I wonder whether the kind of protection the Anglican system provides also acts as a barrier between vicar and congregation. Is making yourself vulnerable to the church you serve a worse thing than keeping yourself removed from it? (Hope that doesn't sound too pious!). Baptist ministers are more vulnerable, certainly. But is it easier for them to genuinely serve their congregation, rather than their own interests? Anyway, not doubt this should be discussed in person some time!

Don't think I dare go for publishing.....feel embarrassed about even putting all this on my blog!

Andy said...


Yeah I see where you are coming from on the ordained leader preaching thing but (playing devil's advocate here) I still find it a bit backwards to assume that someone who is a good pastor is automatically a good public communicator - and, indeed, vice versa.

I'm not saying they shouldn't be trained in theology (I think that's crucial) - but I just wonder why preaching is often automatically the job of the 'leader'.

I know a great deal of pastor/leaders who are excellent at their jobs, but lousy preachers - and I just wonder if we aren't missing a trick with people who clearly know their bible and are gifted (literally) communicators, but never 'released' in that role because they have no desire for formal leadership.


AnnaP said...

I defo agree that preaching is not something every ordained person is good at. (And that few people are good at it without training.) Why ministers tend to end up doing it regardless of whether they're any good, I don't know. Perhaps it's to give them a bit of time to speak without being interrupted by the pesky church community that is so bothersome for the rest of the week?! ; )

I do know that one of my hesitations about going into leadership is because I'm not sure that what I don't really want to do is simply preach. Or, at least, be heard. And I just can't decide if my motives for that are ok.....

Rich Burley said...

What a great post - no you're not a freak, just more honest and more articulate than most of us. I started to comment on the preaching discussion, but it ended up turning into a post of my own. Here's my take on you're very interesting paragraph 2 though, for what it's worth.

Of course you're right about the whole 'ordained' thing. The attitude of the clergy you've known is a world away from the ideals we aspire to, although you'll find a much healthier perception among the students at my college, and the liberal anglo-catholic one across town, actually. Lots of us have hang-ups about the perception of 'specialness' involved - I hope that doesn't turn into arrogance later on.

Most parish clergy have little or no time to pursue 'interesting' red herring projects, although at the moment diocesan 'ministries' seem like a convenient escape route for people who can't be arsed to do the job they were called to any more. Much of the C of E's structure is antiquated and irrelevant, and only exists because no one has had the bollocks to change anything properly in the past.

Still, when the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it's only then that it can begin to grow again. That's my hope. And there's definitely wisdom in history - you can accuse many modern churches of selling-out to secular management practices in an attempt to be relevant to the culture. What should it gain a church to gain corporate branding and a communications policy if it should forfeit its soul?

Part of the problem with the ordination set-up mirrors part of the problem with the church in general. It's set up in such a way that only people (or at least mainly people) of a certain ilk ever really consider going into it. I think Paddy would make an amazing vicar, but I can't see him putting up with all the crap which goes with it.

It's late, I'm tired, and I'm sure this post genuinely reflects the arrogance you rightly say is endemic in the church. But you don't always have to be your sunday best when you blog, do you?

Jonathan Potts said...

"Most parish clergy have little or no time to pursue 'interesting' red herring projects"

like ...

Vision and Values?

"What should it gain a church to gain corporate branding and a communications policy if it should forfeit its soul?"

Indeed. And surely the "soul" of ordained ministry is the pastoring of the flock. How often do we see that forfeited for "grand projects"?