I wrote something to a friend this morning, and as I was writing I really was not aware of what was being written until it was done. When it was done, it was very corrective and instructive for me. That in itself was illustration of the point, and I need to write this down because I need to debunk an attitude that I often have about ministry. It's probably not uncommon, and it's something that people try to confront at least verbally at every turn. But confronting it in my heart is very different.
The church is never supposed to be a nice, safe place to snuggle up and be protected from the world. It's supposed to be an inviting place for the world to come in and find Jesus; and no matter how broken or wounded we are, we are still the body of Christ to them even as we ourselves are receiving his healing!
I realized that this is what is meant when we sing about Jesus being the River of Life. He flows from the Source (God) through us out to everyone we meet--when we are flowing properly. Sadly, my waterways are often blocked. I've built up dams in my life so that I hoard all the healing water and it isn't flowing out to anyone else! I even take the healing water that flows out of other people and hoard it up! That's not how it's supposed to work! "Freely you receive, so freely give."
My first reaction to what I had written was not positive. I thought of an incident that occurred at church several years ago. I was new to the church; and instead of welcoming me, the greeter began asking me a bunch of questions about blindness. I was very hurt and angry, and I responded by closing up emotionally and vowing never to return to the church. Fortunately, someone else came along during the course of the day who was an old acquaintance, and she spent a few minutes reacquainting herself with me and drawing me back out of my shell.
My mom thought that I should have treated the encounter with the first lady as a ministry opportunity. My reaction was to think, "I needed the ministry!" I wanted the church to be a place where I could be safe from all the badgering about blindness and my dog because people should be living out all that caring stuff that gets preached. But I don't always get what I want because really the church is a place full of wounded people just like me who want what they want, and many of them come in from the world and know very little about all that caring stuff yet. So when I wrote this morning about ministering in the midst of brokenness, I thought, "Oh great! That means I have to answer all those people's questions whether I want to or not!" And this is a particularly sensitive issue right now because lately everyone at church seems to want to talk to and about the dog and ignore me.
But this is not an appropriate response either. Giving little children what they want isn't appropriate all the time; but the fact that the parent is tired doesn't mean she gets to stop parenting. Sometimes ministry is like parenting. I'll have to set some boundaries with people. "I'll be happy to answer your questions at some point. Right now we're here to encourage each other and spur each other on toward good works. That's what I came here for. What do you look forward to in church today?" What a way to stir up people and set their minds on what's really going on! It's a very frightening prospect for me. I tend to think that maybe people might think I'm rude because I put off answering their questions. But maybe some might think I was nice because we got into a nice conversation and I was able to ask what I could pray with them about, and maybe it might lead to later conversations where they realize that someone remembers to pray for them. Talking about my dog usually does not lead to those later conversations, and neither of us walks away with a new friend even if the other person thinks he/she does. I have to get rid of my fear of what people think of me.
The difficulty in ministry, I think, is with always being in the public eye in some way or shape, not really having room to be wounded in front of people in the same way that the average person does... I don't know how to explain it well. When you're emotionally strong, knowledgeable about something, etc., people expect you to be strong. Some think of teachers or ministers as perfect. It's not true, but that's what people do. I think this is part of what kept me away from seminary for so long. I felt like I wasn't spiritually "mature" enough. But I wasn't talking about real maturity. I was talking about some kind of maturity that isn't real, some kind of maturity that makes a person immune to weeping at the alter because she messed up or can't hear God's voice. Those things are part of life! We never stop growing, even as teachers; and the most important aspect of life as a teacher is being teachable myself, being able to listen to what I just said or wrote and realize that it is as much or more for me as for the audience.