“I was trained that this is a lifetime calling. I feel blessed that it’s worked out for me.”
Note: Cliff Lyda is my brother in Christ and my friend. And for the past three years, he and I have partnered in facilitating the 23rd group of New Pastors in our Synod. The following wisdom was shared last night with the twelve not-so-new-anymore pastors who gathered for our sixth and final retreat. Cliff retires from professional ministry in May after 42 years of service. These words are Cliff’s, as noted by me (Jan.)
We all know that there are challenges in the life of ministry. But here are five struggles that might inform your ministry, especially if you are years or decades away from retirement yourselves:
- There will be a lifelong struggle with ego. Our egos are inflated if for no other reason than because “we speak for God.” But it’s more complicated than that: Too much ego and you’ll be in trouble. Not enough ego and you’ll be in trouble. You can’t be too self- assured and – at the same time – you can’t be a doormat. Ego management is a very serious issue if you want to be successful in ministry.
- Too many accommodations will damage your personality. Ministry means making constant accommodations: We accommodate ourselves to the culture of the church. We accommodate ourselves to the expectations of the people to whom we minister. We accommodate ourselves to “what a minister is supposed to look like, act like” etc. We accommodate ourselves to everything from where we take our vacations to the kind of car we want to drive. (i.e. They can’t be too extravagant or people will talk.) We say yes when we wish we’d said no. Over time, this constant accommodation will damage our personalities and leave us angry, resentful, and vulnerable, unless we take care of ourselves.
- There will be many “Blows to the Head.” Think what happens when football players get blows to the head. Blows to the head in ministry are all the things that happen to us: friends leave the church for different reasons. They might still like us but they don’t like the denomination anymore. Or they simply want to leave the church and they need to create a reason so that it will make sense. (i.e. They are angry with us.) Of course we take it personally. It hurts. There are other kinds of blows to the head: Attempts to undermine us. People who tell you one thing and do another. People who take swings at us. And all these experiences will impact our ministry enormously. It’s like a concussion. (For days, I’m in a daze.) We went into the ministry believing that everything and everyone would be nice and good, but – actually – if we don’t learn to become spiritually and politically savvy, we won’t last long.
- We will develop scar tissue. I did my first church funeral in 1980. I don’t know what the number is, but I’ve lost a lot of people. Don’t think those scars don’t layer. Ours is a relational profession and relationships end. People move. They die. Over time the number of losses will affect you and too much scar tissue hardens us. Dealing creatively with loss – your own loss – is essential.
- No one warned me that I would become “a heretic” over time. We are meant to progress in our faith and so orthodoxies will get shattered. We might find that we become better with pagans than with church people. No longer is God in a box because our faith becomes broader.
Final note from Jan: Many of our new pastors will not last 42 years for a wide variety of reasons. But all of us can benefit from the wisdom of one who has done ministry well. Thanks Cliff.
Authentic and teachable pastors are like gold.