On a chilly March day in 1990, I sat in the Fillmore Chapel at Unity Village, Missouri. There were about forty of us there for interviews. All were excited at the possibility of answering the inner call received to serve God in ministry to His children.
The dean of the school approached the microphone. First, he welcomed us to the interview process, and assured us that Divine Order was now manifest. He then said, “If there is anything else you can do in life, do that.” A self-assured chuckle went through the group. It was like an inside joke. We did not find out until we’d started our work in the field, how true those words were.
The next day there were interviews with the Admissions Teams. We each were assigned two teams. Additionally, there was psychological testing and IQ tests. At the end of the day, we were released. We were advised that there would be envelopes on the table in the morning that would advise us of our status. We would either be done with the process, or we would have second interviews with another team.
Four of us, tightly wound from the stressful day, went out to Minsky’s for pizza and cocktails. The next morning, three of the four, including myself, were among those having second interviews. That meant the teams were not one hundred percent sure we were right for the program. None of the interviewees would know the outcome of the process until notified by the school about a month later.
Heading into Ministry
The day my letter arrived, I had to read it three times to be sure I knew what it said. I was accepted. I jumped and hooted and hollered right there in the parking lot where the mailboxes were located. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.
For the next two years, I threw myself into the most amazing and wonderful experience I’d had since motherhood. We had been given a solid education in our Unity traditions, history and beliefs, established our personal credo, studied church management and leadership, pastoral counseling … just about everything we needed. Or thought we needed. However, one thing was missing. A Survival Manual for Ministers.
After more than twenty years in ministry, with highs and lows, there are a number of things I would include in such a manual. It is easy to get caught up in emergencies or crises, either real, or perceived, but following such a survival guide will maximize your ability to handle them and minimize negative results.
Survival Guide for Ministers
- Remember you have only One boss. The one who called you. It is critical that you communicate directly and frequently.
- Being the shepherd for a congregation is not easy, rather than herding sheep, it is like herding cats. Shepherd the ones who “hear your voice,” and leave the others to find their shepherd.
- Let your light shine as a shining example of what it means to live a good life, but don’t shine your light so brightly (holier-than-thou arrogance) that the people want to close their eyes.
- If you are practicing #1, be okay with that. Do not compare yourself with others. Success in ministry is about growing the people, not just the number of people growing.
- Trust God and trust yourself. Stay in integrity which is what you were called to do. Do not compromise the Truth of your being.
- You are not in this position to please the people; you are here to please God by ministering to them and calling them out to come up higher. This will very often not go over well. Some of the people will love you, some will like you, some will not like you, and some will hate you. It’s a fact of life in ministry.
- Know your job, do your job. Be intimately familiar with the bylaws, job descriptions, policy and procedures manuals, etc. Follow them, or work toward improving them if necessary.
- Keep excellent records. This includes meeting minutes, minister’s report and financial records. Be ready to access them at a moment’s notice.
- Work toward perfection, but stop expecting yourself to be perfect every moment. Your congregation will grow as much from seeing you work through “stuff,” as demonstrating your current state of awareness.
- Develop a support system. Stay connected. You need to have mentors and friends in ministry, and friends through outside interests—do not let the ministry become your life. It will devour you. That’s not what God called you to do.
- Call the congregation to come up higher and fulfill their spiritual potential. Nurture them, but don’t baby them. Don’t tell them what they want to hear—tell them what they need to hear in a way they will want to listen. Lead the board in integrity and gratitude for their service.
- Take care of yourself. You are a servant of God, not a slave. Eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep, pray, play and enjoy your family.
Now, twenty three years later, I guess that, while I think having this survival manual may have made my experience better, I thank God for the call … and that I answered it.