I am an R.P.M. (Recovering Professional Minister), and I have a few confessions to make. I have been working as a teacher in public school for a little over a year now. I have also become a normal member of a large church with no “official” ministry responsibilities. The experience has helped me recognize several misconceptions and misunderstandings that I had about life as an average American church goer. So, here’s a few confessions.
(1) As a professional minister I was distracted by the crises that arise in people’s lives, as well as demanding personalities. Because of this the majority of my time was taken up by unusual circumstances. I worked hard as a minister, but I was mostly out of touch with the average Christian’s life. Interestingly, public school has helped me see this. It has become evident to me that in public school teachers’ time and energy (as well as state and federal funding) is mostly taken up by the top 5-10% and bottom 5-10% of the student population. It is your average student (80-90% of the school population) that is losing out. Because of this it often seems that teachers are working harder than ever, and your average students are getting less and less from those teachers’ efforts than ever. Unfortunately, the same is often true in ministry.
(2) As a minister the personal and spiritual demands were often overwhelming. Nonetheless, there were always certain flexibilities that are just not options for most working adults. Because of this I was out of touch with what I was really asking of members when putting together special events and ongoing classes and asking people to commit to them. I had no idea how difficult it was for most members to find more time in their schedules.
(3) I thought content was much more valuable than it really is. As “Joe Member” I have come to realize that the things that build me up and feed me in church have very little to do with church service programming and sermon content. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying those things are useless. But I’m fed much more by simply being around the people in my church. I’m thinking of things like the conversations in the hallway and parking lot, the intangible feeling of gathering with others in one place, and the overall sense of community that grows out of those things.
(4) I had no idea what I was trying to prepare people for when they returned home and prepared to return to work. This one is tricky, because as a minister you face all kinds of difficult situations. So, you sort of slip into an assumption that you can speak with authority to how people should deal with the “less difficult” situations of the work place. However, those situations, though often less critical, are no less difficult and demanding. I had no idea how to help people deal with ups and downs of spending 40-hours a week with an assortment of colleagues who have a wide variety of personalities.
(5) I had a hard time knowing what “spreading the Light in your workplace” really meant. And so I did a poor job of equipping people for life in the world.