Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Life in the Ministry Fishbowl

There are a lot of things I like about ministry. I like doing people work. I like teaching and preaching. I enjoy the fact that our hours can be occasionally flexible. I also delight in the opportunity to be a generalist in many ways. I like working with my mind in the way ministry challenges me too.

Yet, there are also things that are difficult about being in ministry. One of those more difficult things is feeling like you are living your life in a fishbowl. In other words, feeling like your life is being watched and evaluated by lots of people all around you.

It is interesting. A few weeks ago in our church's contemporary service, we were having a talk back after the sermon. One of the things that people kept talking about in relationship to the message was the difficulty of dealing with the judgment of others. In particular they were talking about a sense of judgment from those inside the church, and how this kind of judgment ran contrary to Christ's message of acceptance and grace. As they were sharing, I got the sense from some of them that they felt they were informing their pastor on something he may not have knowledge of since he is a pastor. Which is interesting, because it is my feeling that nobody can identify better with the self-righteous judgment of religious persons than a pastor.

It is interesting. There is much in ancient writings about encounters between holy men and women of ill repute, and their ability to relate to one another. I think this is due to the fishbowl effect. Both the religious leader and the prostitute are used to people looking at them and seeing their jobs. They are both used to having what they do for a living conflated with who they are. Both are often valued by what service they can provide, and both often don't have people wanting to come to close to them in a peer relationship.

There is very little about me and my life that when I speak it or publish it on Facebook or a blog, that I do not have to consider how what I think will be perceived by the church I served, as well as the churches I have served before this one. Which in turn makes it more difficult to be the kind of open and transparent person that I like to be.

I have noticed the fishbowl more now that I have my family in it with me.

This makes "life in the fishbowl" all the more complicated. Why? On one hand, I hurt for my family to experience the sense of being "public" people, especially when they did not ask to be. Also, their behavior, both positive and negative, is a reflection on me in the eyes of the church and effects my ministry perceptions and results.

People are generally positive about all this now. They look on me more favorably because they think my kids are cute and my wife is a classy lady. But, I know that this will not always be the case.

There will be a day when Karis' spunkiness will rub a congregation the wrong way, and they won't just look on her as a kid that is a little ornery, they will look at her as a child that does not live up to the standards they hope for with a pastor's kid. Don't believe me? I had a friend whose child played with fire. The church wanted him to get help, and wondered if his fascination with fire was a result of demonic influence.

I worry that my wife will not feel free to be herself in church because what she might say or do will have a direct bearing on our financial well-being and on my ability to have influence with others. She worries about it too. Feeling like she was living in too much of a fishbowl in a town of 1200 in SE Colorado, and that if she shared too much about herself she would find rejection and judgment is part of a long-list of reasons she was happy we moved to Hot Springs, SD.

I don't worry about escaping the fishbowl of ministry. I don't believe that is possible. But I do wonder how much I should live in awareness of its presence. When should I just be transparent about what I do and what I think, and not care what others may think that I have a ministry with? And when is an awareness of the fishbowl and invitation to discretion and reserve in my life (which is hard for a person who is naturally uncouth and unreserved)?

Anyway...something I am thinking about....

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