Monday, April 19, 2010

Why it’s weird: Stepping out of paid ministry but not your ministry context

Because people know I trained at a theological college, and one that generally prepares people for local church ministry, the question, “What church are you at?” usually implies an answer that presumes I am working there. It takes a few extra steps of conversation to explain that I was working there, but my position evaporated because of funding.

Which leads on to the fact that we’re still here. And it’s a little weird. For example, it was a little weird to have a farewell during a service but then to be there the next week. I now have an understanding and appreciation for why people in ministry often move church contexts when they leave a role within a particular church.

So, I’m trying to reflect a little on why it’s weird, for us in particular, not for all such situations. For example, in some cases it’s because there is still expectation to perform the same ministry work one did before, which is a very unfair burden. That’s not really the case for us.

I think there are a number of factors. Firstly, I was in a formal role with certain functions, but now that role has ceased, I have to renegotiate what functions I perform: what are my pastoral responsibilites within the church?

Then there is the question of relational investment. There’s some expectation that we’ll leave, and rightly so, either to take up some work somewhere else, or mid-term ultimately to go overseas. That sense of imminent leaving forestalls some long-term emotional committment to relationships with people here, on both sides.

A third factor, and one I think has much broader reaching implications, is how we think about ministry and paid ministry in particular. I take it that paid ministry exists for the following kind of logic: it makes sense to set aside some people to devote themselves to training in the scriptures, and being freed from other work obligations, to devote themselves to gospel work. If we value that as a church community, then we’ll set aside money to make that happen. It’s not generally appropriate to expect people who make their living from ministry to do it for free – that’s a callous way of abusing another person’s graciousness (though if they want and offer to do things freely, that’s entirely fine!). So, when that money ceases, it necessarily has an impact on a person’s freedom from other entanglements for gospel ministry, and makes some kind of statement about the communities valuation of that person’s work.

I’m not particularly trying to raise any grievance here, or lodge a complaint, or anything like that (which I know may be the implication some draw from the above). I just want to articulate that when we relate money and ministry, and then money ceases to be provided, it has a personal impact on the previously paid minister, and this flows on into relationships. I’m still trying to sort through that impact for myself, but it’s not to be discounted.

So there are a few factors, and what they all amount to is a set of new uncertainties in established relationships, and perhaps an adjustment period if long-term settlement was our goal, but since it’s not, those uncertainties are not likely to get resolved in the short-term. I think that’s why it’s a little weird.

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