Insights From the Long-Haul

Published on: March 1, 2011

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If there is anything that nearly 38 years in the Unity ministry has taught me, it is that “humility” (not to be confused with low self-esteem) is the key to all the advanced lessons both personally and professionally. Here are a few of the pieces that I’ve managed to uncover.

Administration

Corporate training is a helpful tool, but it is not spiritual leadership (the bulk of what is required of us).  Ministry is an art, not a process to be mastered. We spend the first 5-10 years mastering the tools of our trade. Then we discover an invisible shadow aspect of administrating a church that we have been unconsciously participating in all along. 90% of what we do is to lead the way from within (no matter how badly the congregation plays).  Then, 10% is administering in a way that supports your “consciousness molding.”

We are not off-duty until we have left town. The key to long-term ministry is “spiritual renewal” time. It is in the church’s interest to give you extended time off each year. The time charges you with new energy for ministry that shows when you return. A few weeks off is a small price to pay for avoiding ministerial burn-out—the most expensive thing a church can face.

Teaching

The farther I go down the road, the more I realize that teaching is more about an invisible energy exchange and a connection to something greater than myself than it is about my “great and inspiring” ideas. It is often humbling to hear what people learned from my words. And the key to being a good teacher is to never stop being the spiritual student.

Within ministry there are teachers and there are entertainers. Entertainers draw large crowds quickly, yet their flame is short-lived. Teachers build strength and depth within a church. I am a teacher first. Thus, I believe that we need to “teach” on Sundays as well as in classes. People need to leave a service with a game plan for applying what they learned, not just inspiring ideas.

The Fillmore teachings are extremely important to me. The books are an amazing resource, but hard to read. I consider it to be my job to read them, pick out the spiritual practices, and teach them. I’ve come to understand that what puts the real power in our teaching is the experience of “Christ Consciousness” and striving to scratch the surface of what that means. That is what made the Fillmore era of Unity so dynamic and powerful.

Over the years I’ve seen seven levels of spiritual awakening evolve leading to Christ Consciousness (though I don’t claim to have mastered them). Unfortunately, we have a tendency to teach mainly from the first level (law of mind action), with short excursions into 2 and 3 (let go and let God, and co-creation). This reaches the bulk of those who come to Unity. But, I believe that we need to give them vision of what lies beyond, including surrender of one’s whole life to God, becoming the messenger of God, and surrender of “identity” (the ultimate preparation for Christ Consciousness).

Things have changed a lot in the last 40 years. Unity is no longer a “strange teaching” to the masses. Our next large target population should be “traditional Christians.” Our mysticism (we teach spiritual experience) and our “practical Christianity” (it applies to everyday life) are extremely appealing. Yet they need to hear Bible and understand that we are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Many find our mystical/metaphysical approach fresh and exciting. Seen from the mystical perspective, the Bible demonstrates clearly everything we teach. Every talk I give includes teaching spiritual principle, practical application suggestions, and Bible correlation. Lastly, I’ve learned to send them home with some actual spiritual experience each week, not just an intellectual excursion.

Counseling

Psychologists follow the rules. Ministers follow Spirit. We need to understand the legitimate rules of the road for counseling. However, we must learn to manage the invisible spiritual encounter that counseling provides. It is one of the most intimate experiences of our lives. I need to remember my surrender to something greater in this role. I will often ask my Christ Self to work things out with their Christ Self and tell me (the outer being) when we’re finished. I always know that God is determining the outcome.

Ultimately, I consider the whole encounter to be a prayer and don’t obsess on what form it takes. This is God’s work, not mine. I’ve often marveled that the energy exchange begins to happen from the moment they make the appointment. Sometimes by the time the appointment arrives they already have their answer. After all, “It is not I, but the Spirit within that is doing its work through me.”

Conclusion

Since ministry is an art, each of us will do it in a little different way. I can assure you that at every stage of your ministerial career, the ministry is more than you imagine it to be. And this life path, though filled with unfathomable demands, has much more to give you than it takes.

Bob Marshall
Senior Minister at Unity Orlando

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