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Is ministry a …?

09.16.07 | 4 Comments

Church work can be a tough business. It’s never done. The needs—as I’ve heard so many people put it—are endless and nonnegotiable. It follows you home. It goes to bed with you.

Lots of folks’ work follows them home. Lots of folks do work that encounters endless human needs. So I’ve put off writing this post for days trying to find a way to write it that didn’t feel whiny or ungrateful or self-serving.

Here’s the deal: Church work changes you. Once you’ve committed to it, it shapes your life. It works itself into every nook and cranny.

Keeping it from changing parts of your life that you don’t want it to transform becomes more and more challenging. A tug of war goes on. What will your life center around? Church work or something else? (Like friends and family.) And if it’s not church work, should you even be in church work?

I have found no way to mark off parts of my life as free from the influence of church work. Church workers on the whole haven’t either. My google kung fu is failing me, so I can’t find the numbers,1 but clergy suicide, divorce, and alcoholism rates are higher than most other groups.2 (Or at least they were ten years ago when I was in seminary.)

I’ve known dozens of clergy and other church staffers over the years, and all of them struggle to avoid being consumed by the work–those who love it and those who hate it, those who excel and those who suck. I’ve come to realize that my inability to find a way to cordon it off from friends and family isn’t a failure. It’s just part of the gig.

It can’t be helped. It can’t be solved. It’s just something you learn to manage, well or poorly.

What do you call something that effects someone to this degree? That places them at a clear and present risk for serious health problems? That colors their ability to relate to loved ones?

Is it unfair to say ministry acts a lot like disability?

  1. All my searches turned up stats on clergy helping with suicide, divorce and alcoholism, not on clergy suffering from them.[]
  2. Case in point.[]


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