Connected by our disconnections

Dan Dick’s latest post includes a summary of some of the letters in his files from pastors who quit the ministry for a variety of reasons, but all of them because the ministry in one way or another was destroying their lives. Dick writes:

These are just three of dozens of people who report that the church destroyed their faith.  In each case, and in most others, these people faced their torments alone — isolated and feeling cut off and unsupported by the system.  Are they weak?  Do they lack “real faith?”  Are they to blame?  I can’t answer that, but my feeling is “no.”  The system is designed for the results it gets.  If the system chews people up and spits them out, then the system is bad and needs to change.

We Methodists often speak of our connection, but I wonder if it is more than a nice word we toss around.

My life as a lay member was centered largely on my local congregation. Being perhaps a bit  more Methodist in my orientation, I considered it an honor to be a delegate to annual conference and from time to time brought up connections to the larger church in local church gatherings and meetings – almost always to be met with dismissive comments or hostility.

Even congregation-to-congregation connections were strained. Two churches in town had as their strongest connection the streams of members who would move from one to the other when a pastoral change or crisis caused turmoil in one of the congregations. When the two talked about sharing a youth minister and combining youth ministry efforts, the idea collapsed in debates about turf and control.

My time as a part-time pastor who lives about an hour from his charge has not given me a fair picture of how elders and residential local pastors experience the connection. I have not seen a lot of evidence of a vital and empowering connection among pastors and the supervising clergy.

If our connection is supposed to be one of the strengths of United Methodist polity, how do we make it so in practice?

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9 thoughts on “Connected by our disconnections

  1. For lay members, when they have their struggles, they can take to their friends at church for help and support. Marriage in trouble? Tell your closest brothers and sisters. Child making bad choices? Confide in the pastor. Problems on the job? Share it with your Sunday school.

    Pastors have none of that. Their life is spent serving a church they cannot ask help from. I’ve been in the ministry all my life. I am extraverted and supportive of others, but the tradeoff has been lonliness and isolation to the point that I alternate between wanting to cry or punch the wall.

    But I must do it privately so no one will know.

  2. That is not a good situation to be in ClergyGuy.

    You can’t talk with other clergy? There aren’t any members of your church with the spiritual maturity to be a confidant? No one outside the church?

    I cannot imagine how heavy that burden must become over time.

  3. Forgive me, ClergyGuy, but this is simply unacceptable to me. My pastors ARE my brothers and sisters in Christ. How can I be a better lay person so my pastors know their chalenges and celebrations are mine as well? How can we explicitly support our clergy and let them know we accept them with all their human shortcomings and gifts? Without being too personal, what events in your life could laity have helped/handled better? Please allow us to learn from your experiences so this cycle of “clergy abuse/clergy isolation” can be broken.

  4. Thank you both for your kind concern. Perhaps I’ve let myself get too isolated and I’ll work on establishing some mutually supportive relationships.

    Thank you also for the good work you do.

  5. I’ve heard what ClergyGuy is talking about. I’ve listened to/read from pastors who are facing doubts in their faith, but they can’t share it with clergy, for fear that the clergy will then go off and whisper in the ear of the District Superintendent/Bishop/Presiding Elder.

    I’m sorry that you’re hurting ClergyGuy. I wish that you had people to talk with candidly.

  6. From the quoted material:

    Are they weak? Do they lack “real faith?” Are they to blame?

    I’ve been told that I only left Christianity because my faith was ‘weak’. Well, guilty as charged.

    Faith is accepting things that are contrary to presence of supporting evidence or reason or against contradictory evidence or reason. People who drank the cynanide-laced Koolaid at Jonestown, knowing what was in it, had much, much stronger faith than I ever did. But I don’t think that this was necessarily a good thing.

    A strong faith, in and of itself, is not an intrinsic good.

    1. A strong faith, in and of itself, is not an intrinsic good

      I quite agree. What you have faith in matters – as does what that faith leads you to do.

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