Monday, March 21, 2011

A safe place for us as ministers...

Hi, I’m Chris and I’m a Youth Pastor…

We often joke that YPA is a support group for youth pastors, but the more we build community and relationships, the more and more it is true.  YPA is a support group, and perhaps it is exactly what we as ministers need. 

I have been reading “In the Name of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen - If you have not ever read Nouwen you need too!  Anyway, Nouwen was a priest who after years in ministry ended up moving to a community of people with special needs called L’Arche.  He writes out of the wisdom he gains from this community that truly shares life, pain, joys, hopes…everything. 

In one part of his book “In the Name of Jesus,” Nouwen shares his wisdom about a communal ministry as opposed to individual super star ministry.  He shares about how before he moved to this community, he did ministry alone.  He put on a show, and hoped people applauded, and how his new community made him realize it.

“Living in a community with very wounded people, I came to see that I had lived most of my life as a tightrope artist trying to walk on a high, thin cable from one tower to another, always waiting for the applause when I had not fallen and broken my leg.”

I know I feel like a circus performer…more than I would like to admit; walking the thin line, between entertaining enough that people come and pay attention and then maybe sharing God.  Between what the parents want, the youth want, the church wants, the pastor wants, the random lady who tells me what I am doing wrong wants, and the other random guy who thinks that youth should do this this and this wants …I am just trying to walk on the wire.

“Jesus refused to be a stunt man.  He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his head in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say.”

Sounds like youth ministry – we must have brightest lights, newest media, nicest hippest threads ...yes hippest, and messiest games.  My temptation in all this is to show how good I am at walking the tightrope.  To show all of them, I can do it.  I can be perfect in the eye of everyone…and all the while hoping that it ends in applause.  But it seems like it almost never does…so I try harder, walking on a thinner line while carrying more things…

I know deep within me this isn’t how it is supposed to be.  It can’t be. We were all created to live, worship, and be in community with God and others.  Yes, even those in the ministry.  As Nouwen points out, it is in us honestly sharing life together that we are truly ministers; but too often we as ministers don’t do this.  We keep a safe distance from those we minister to just to make sure they don’t know we mess up too.  We know that our churches demand perfection from imperfect people, so we just don’t share that side with them…

“But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into deep personal relationship?  Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.”

We are called be willing to share our pains, hurts, and brokenness as an example to our churches.  Through it we teach them that God calls the broken into healing, the hurt into comfort, and the empty into fullness. 

One last point Nouwen makes is that he prays that ministers all find safe places for them to be broken. I don’t think that he is under the disillusion that our churches are the perfect place for all of this; we need to be vulnerable with our churches, but maybe not completely. 

“I am convinced that priests and ministers, especially those who relate to many anguishing people, need a truly safe place for themselves.  They need a place where they can share their deep pain and struggles with people who do not need them, but who can guide them even deeper into the mystery of God’s love.”

For Nouwen L’Arche was this place for him.   I know that YPA has become this place for me and many others.  It is a place where I can be open about struggles in my call and ministry, knowing everyone in the room has or will be in this same place at some time.  I can be vulnerable because I know they don’t depend on me, we depend on the community of ministers.  We must be have those we rely on and they on us, just like an archway each needing the others help. 

If you work in ministry, I pray that you have or find a community like this.  May this website help you create one if there is nothing like this around you… not because we have all the answers, but maybe it will make it easier to start.

I will leave you with one last hope from Nouwen, a passionate plea to God and us.

“Would that all priests and ministers could have such a safe place for themselves.”

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