Dear Young United Methodist Ministers,
Last night I was sitting around with my oldest friend on the planet–the person I have known since I was born, which was, incidentally, when he was four months old–and my brother and being there in a room full of United Methodist Ministers’ kids, it occurred to me that you guys could use some advice.
So listen up.
Look at your family right now. See them? This will not survive your ministry. Maybe your spouse will leave you. Maybe you’ll take up with the church treasurer. Maybe your kids will deal drugs or get pregnant or become Wiccans–whatever it is, they’re going to be pissed. You might become addicted to booze or sex or drugs. Some things are going to happen that means that this brave little party embarking with you on your crusade is not going to pull through it.
The good news is that it’s okay. A lot of marriages fail. A lot of kids don’t turn out like their parents hoped. Everyone clings too tightly to things that are bad for them in order to feel like they can make it through. You are no different, not more special than anyone else in the world. You cannot escape the shitty things in life. Your vocation does not protect you.
You, however, can take some steps to protect your loved ones. Here’s the most important thing you can do. Choose your family. Put your family first. If it’s a choice between getting your hospital rounds done today instead of tomorrow and going to your wife’s softball game, go to the game. If you really should write your sermon today and not tomorrow, but your kids need someone to go on the school field trip, put your sermon off. If one of your parishioners is going to the hospital, but your kid had a bad day at school, your parishioner and her family can wait until tomorrow to see you.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You have to be there for your church. You have to put them first. “You might be the only face of Jesus some folks ever see.”
Go ahead, say that again to yourself. I know how good it makes you feel: “You might be the only face of Jesus some folks ever see.”
Now, buster, listen up. If you, United Methodist Minister, believe that to be true about yourself, you are either egomaniacal and should quit the ministry now, before you set up some kind of cult and do some real damage to people OR you are a shitty, shitty minister.
It is not your job to be the only face of Jesus some folks ever see. It is your job to help the people in your congregation be Jesus’ face and arms and feet and heart in the world. If Parishioner Joe is thinking about hitting the bottle again and Parishioner Ed knows it but doesn’t feel it’s his job to help–because he thinks it’s only the Pastor’s job to help–then you are failing at your job.
Do you get what I’m saying? If it’s just you doing all the work, you are not doing your job. You’re supposed to be training and motivating the folks you face every Sunday to help–to help each other, to help their communities, to do the hard things for each other they’ve been afraid to do until now.
Choose your family first. When your parishioners call you about your kids–and they will, because, frankly, we ARE sneaking out during the service and sitting on the roof of the church smoking pot, or sneaking out to the lake to make out with the druggies, or fucking whoever we can just to spite you–it’s a test. It’s a way of seeing what’s more important to you, your family or the church. Choose your family.
That doesn’t mean that you should let us off the hook. But it does mean that you should realize that everyone is checking to see where your loyalties lay and some folks are checking to see how far they can push you, how much control over everyone you care about you are willing to cede to your parishioners. If you choose your parishioners over your family at this crucial moment, if you show everyone that you will fix things how the complainers want just because they have the balls to suggest how you should run your life, your life will be a living hell from here on out. And so will your kids lives be.
You may read back over that paragraph and be unsure who I’m recommending you give into–your parishioners or your kids. I’m recommending that you be a parent to your children. In order to be a good parent to your children, you don’t let outside people dictate the how and why of your interactions with your kids or your spouse.
The funny thing is that, if you don’t follow my advice, if you always put your church first and do whatever it is you think is necessary to keep your district superintendent happy and your parishioners fulfilled, you’re going to succeed. You’re going to get bigger churches and have nicer houses.
But dear United Methodist Minister, what does it profit a man that he should gain the whole world but lose his soul?