I had a friend who had been in ministry for several good years but whose advisor and counselor suggested he return to the home building trade where he would be able to recognize the results of his work. The thinking was that he was experiencing unnecessary stress due to the intangible nature of discipling others. Success was much more clearly measured in permanent structures than individual lives.
Emma Percy in her book “What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing”, highlights some of the challenges of Christian ministry that often lacks many of the tangible results of other work. In Christian ministry, whether church based or otherwise most often “structures are not shaped by employment, pay, contracts and productivity.” There are other measures that can be used in attempts to quantify success but as my friend experienced these can leave one wondering about the time and energy spent in ministry to others. While mothering may not be the metaphor of choice for many who have been called to Christian work, there are many parallels that help clarify the work of ministry both for those in it and those impacted by it. And ultimately (and I would say fortunately), it too, fails to fit neatly into any standard measure of productivity.
There are dangers in becoming too focused on targets and tangible results, as valuable as these can be at times. As Percy points out in relation to the nursing profession; “We see in current debates around the role of nurses how an overemphasis on measurable targets can come at the expense of humane care.” At the same time there is a need for structure and some means of measure even in those careers that are designated as one of the ‘helping professions’ of which clergy/Christian ministry is a part.
The advice received by my friend was an attempt by his counselor to alter the thinking that led to his questioning his calling. However, if one is called to express the love God has for people then attempting other means of finding fulfillment is unlikely to suffice. No doubt “it can be tempting to find projects that have tangible outcomes and neat timescales, which reduce the time spent in the less easily quantifiable caring activities.” But, those administrative and more readily quantifiable tasks are more likely to produce burnout than joy.
Percy, building on the work of pediatrician Dr. Donald Winnecott, highlights the idea of being ‘good enough’. This does not mean lazy or incompetent but full of sufficient wisdom and discernment to encourage the give and take necessary in healthy relationships. This thought of being ‘good enough’ is powerful because it reminds that all success does not solely rest with the minister (or the mother) and provides enough motivation to encourage growing maturity in those under one’s care and at the same time sufficient freedom to recognize that one does not have to do it all or be universally available.
As with many of the texts that Dr. Clarke has assigned over the course of this program it is unlikely that I would have picked this one up on my own. It is also one that I wish I had been given earlier in ministry. Many of the personal challenges that have come about over the past several years are a result of too much effort attempting to appear productive and insufficient recognition that I was not capable of doing it all. Good enough is good enough and more than likely all that we are called to be in that regard.
This struggle is not limited to those placed in traditional church ministry. In addition to clergy these are attitudes and questions for anyone called to Christian ministry, counselors, youth workers and CE directors, those in domestic and international missions. Further, all those in the body of Christ would do well to recognize one another as a gift from God even when that gift brings periods of challenge and growth. “This seeing others as gifts to this place and its ministry is not just an attitude for clergy but one that needs to be modelled and taught so that all develop the capacity to value their Christian brothers and sisters.”
Though I still have no clear direction of what is next in terms of work for me I am fairly certain it will not be in new home construction. I think the potential homebuyers will be grateful for that as well. Perhaps, after a bit of a rest and some intense writing, God will place me somewhere that I can practice being ‘good enough’.
Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing (p. 10). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing (p. 15). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing (p. 19). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing (p. 4). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially when it looks like nothing (pp. 43-44). SPCK. Kindle Edition.