There are good days and there are bad days in the ministry. You’ve had them, whether you’re volunteer or paid. Some days make you question your calling. We want vitality and to feel “successful,” but…
I’m wondering: do men have different struggles in the ministry than women? Tell me what you think. As a guy, I’ll list struggles I’ve seen in the ministry, struggles I think men especially have. Let me know if you’ve seen others. Also, let me know if you think this list is about the same for men and women.
The biggest struggle I’ve seen in male church workers has been addiction to busyness. Eugene Peterson wrote, “The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to [minister] should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker.”1
How does that sit with you?
He continues, “Hilary of Tours diagnosed our pastoral busyness as ir- religiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.”2
Again, how does that sit?
My sense is that something in the male ego makes us want to compare our worth against others in the tribe. Maybe it’s a grabbing for dominance. Or, maybe we’ve never learned how inept showing off is. In high school shop class, we compare ourselves by how large a fire you can set before the shop teacher notices. In western adult life, we measure by how full your calendar is.
Peterson continues with the reasons for busyness he sees:
“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself – and to all who will notice – that I am important. [Or] … I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day’s work because I am too slipshod to write it myself.” 3
“How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?”4
This leads to the second worse struggle I’ve seen: the neglect of your family. The addiction to busyness, maybe the rush of being someone’s hero, has you flying here and there with your cell phone strapped to your hip. Dinners are interrupted by rushing to the next meeting. And heaven’s sake, if your wife calls you “DCE” or “Pastor,” instead of the name your mother gave you, I bet she’s not far from googling “divorce, how to.”
Now, before too many egos get violent with a keyboard, I want to acknowledge that the investment of time is a true and unique sacrifice in this calling. We get calls at “bad” times and feel like we have to do the tasks of “CEO” to “Intern” all in the same day. I know this; I’m there too. But let’s remember the call to the Christian life is to LIVE. And life needs balance and rhythm. Your life, after all, is your only true teaching tool. (Remember: God designed the sabbath and year of Jubilee.)
What is a “Real Man?”
Now there’s also a struggle on male traits our culture celebrates. There’s not enough time here, so it’s enough to say that “masculine” in our culture often looks nothing like Jesus. Do yourself and your people a favor: Read Jesus. Then, go and do likewise.
Second Chair Ministers
For second chair leaders, especially men in the DCE role: It’s amusing how many times I as a DCE have been asked, “When are you going to go into the ministry?”
I smile, and say, “Oh, the seminary?”
“Yes, the ministry.”
(I continue smiling.)
This struggle is related to the first one, the one about busyness — but this one isn’t about busyness, it’s about feeling worthwhile. (And some pastors have told me, “Heavens no! Don’t do it! Feeling worthwhile only gets harder to come by the further you come this way!”)
But still — this is a big one for guys out there. You either feel like you’re not “worth as much” or like you might “outgrow youth ministry,” which is what “DCE” is reduced to for many.
These guys are left wondering what to do with this. Many head to the seminary. Some feel solid as DCEs all their lives. Then there are others who decide to do something else.
Maybe associate pastors feel the same — as in, “When are you going to get a church of your own?”
“Um… I do. I love my people, my church.”
“No, your church — you know, be the ‘man-in-charge.’”
The last struggle, and one I have felt, is feeling like you don’t have anyone to go to when you feel broken or feel spiritual acedia. Spiritual malaise and even the darkness of addictions feel like burdens you have to carry on your own, either because you’re supposed to be the shepherd, or because the shepherd is also your boss, or because you get caught up in thinking, “I have to be a perfect shepherd, and if I don’t keep shiny, I’ll loose all my collateral.”
Add to this the oft-male conundrum of lifting yourself up by your bootstraps, of manly determination…
And more: “80 percent of men are so emotionally impaired that not only are they unable to express their feelings, but they can’t even identify their feelings.” (Patrick Morley, 2011) Not only do men struggle to share their burdens, but when burdens reach a depth where emotion is required to process them, we have no idea what to do.
Can you think of solutions? What would make a difference and alleviate some of these burdens?
The clearest solution I can think of is for a minister to experience a disciple-making relationship, even something similar to what a few call their “father confessor.” To have someone invested in your life, not just a leadership mentor who focuses on work stuff, but someone who asks about life, about prayer and family and Sabbath — someone who desires your life to look like Jesus as much as anyone.
This is the best thing I can think of.
Would you add anything?
- Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 152–154). Kindle Edition. ↩
- ibid. (Kindle Locations 154–155). ↩
- ibid. (Kindle Locations 156–163). ↩
- ibid. (Kindle Locations 169–171). ↩