Wednesday, May 18, 2011

facing the dark places of ministry and leadership

On Friday, I provided the opening address at a lay training event. The topic was God at earth – what it means to follow a God who in Jesus is real, local and grounded. In preparation I began to reflect on the feelings of Jesus – Jesus who feels

  • sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • tears at the death of a friend, Lazarus
  • anger in the temple
  • compassion at the crowds harrassed and helpless
  • radical love when faced by the rich young ruler.

As I did, I began to sense some implications for mission, for our following of God at earth. In response to compassion, Jesus sends the disciples on mission. In response to anger, Jesus enacts justice. In response to radical love, Jesus challenges in radical discipleship. So often mission comes out of our heads. But what might it mean to connect our feelings with the feelings of God?

In preparing for the evening, I reflected on my feelings – the pain we feel in leaving Christchurch to move to Adelaide, the suffering watching our city experience major earthquakes in recent months.

Coincidentally (?), the last week has been really hard. I’ve been a swirl in sadness. I began to wonder if I was losing it, burning out. In hindsight I wonder if I was simply processing the talk, working through the pain of my past, the pain of my city, the pain of being the Christ, holding the cup of suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Is this ridiculous? Or is this what it means to connect our feelings with the feelings of God for a world broken and in pain?

Some talks you can give easily.

Do others demand a depth of emotional engagement, the dark side which leaves one exhausted, depleted, vulnerable and fragile? If so, how does one care for oneself, be a good father, a corteous employer, in such places?

I am not sure I have many answers. But I do sense that in these dark places, in our feelings, are some leadership lessons essential for our following of Jesus today.

Posted by steve at 09:20 PM


  1. Steve
    I am sorry for your sadness and the grief of Christchurch. I suspect you are suffering from emotional fatigue and why wouldn’t anyone who was genuinely engaged in ministry. There is a cost to absorbing the pain of others, proffering support and hope to others, and being disempowered by being here whilst they are over there. You are not losing it, you need not fear losing it but, as my old mate Chief Rabbi Jonathon Sacks would say in advocating for regular periods of ‘time out’ in our lives; “This is why a culture needs to find room, in the midst of the now, for the things that are not now….Who knows whether, forgetting our afflictions for moment, we might not have experienced that leap of freedom which is the supreme expression of the human mind?” From “Celebrating Life: Finding Happiness in Unexpected Places” at page 41. I wonder whether ‘the church’ as an employer actively addresses the needs of its ministers in respect of ‘time out’ that they might address their emotional and spiritual fatigue and recuperative needs.

    Comment by fred trueman — May 18, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

  2. I was going to write something in the form of a prayer but Fred has already done that. Steve I’ve affirmed you and thanked you all year long. You’ve handled me with sensitivity, grace, and can I say it, love. So my heart and love goes to you to be with you, beside you and where you need to be for now.

    Comment by Bruce Grindlay — May 19, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  3. Thanks Fred. Certainly there is flex to take time out. What I was trying to get at here is that some things take me to deeper place, that is more draining. Sort of catches me by surprise, so difficult to cater for the unexpected in regular structures. (And you might have some insights on this perhaps :))

    Bruce, you are very kind. Your last sentence is very meaningful, that sense of solidarity with. Somehow connects me intuitively with my first pioneer icon and a sense of strength about men standing together.


    Comment by steve — May 19, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  4. I certainly felt the depth of the well from which you were drawing on friday night. May I say again, that your insights into the emotional interpretation of the Sacred Story resonated and sparked my imagination, providing I think, the focus I might need for the research work I would like to do.
    In recent weeks I have been exploring the implications of my particular personality, and the way I respond to the world. I don’t suppose I am alone, and reading your words, I wonder if in one way or another this is true for all of us, but I find I have a particular rhythm to my engagement with the world – giving and retreating. This plays out for me in a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rhythm. The implications are that I stick diligently to the day off a week, to time out each day, to a week off after the church’s high seasons.
    And as a pioneer leader this is going to look like a seasonal engagement with new forms of church, because I do not have the reserves to maintain the level of giving energy to something new beyond reasonably short seasons.

    But before I ramble on too long – what I am wondering is how we might engage with the seasonal rhythms of life as humans – you were talking over lunch on the weekend about the lighter activity schedule for a church community – and in response to what you’re saying about the speaking engagements that ask more of us, perhaps we need to be better at acknowledging the unexpected seasons of deep emotional work and giving ourselves and each other permission and space and support to attend to those seasons … we do it when we are grieving, but when work, life takes us to those places for other reasons and purposes … ??

    Comment by sarah — May 21, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  5. Thanks Sarah. Appreciated.

    Certainly it would be nice if there was some flex. Although when the week ahead included Uni classes, and preparing to speak at an Anglican and a Lutheran synod, it does feel a bit more difficult to pull out. It’s an interesting one, wondering about making it a case study for our next masters class cos I suspect it’s not only me that’s find myself in this sort of space.

    And your response bears that out 🙂


    Comment by steve — May 21, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

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