Sunday, March 04, 2007

When Ministry Hurts

I'e been fighting with myself about posting this for the past few months. Having a public blog that isn't anonymous makes things like this a little tricky - do I allow myself the time to debrief and express how I felt in the situation, understanding that those reading may come away with an inaccurate view of what happened, or do I keep silent because people know people and have ideas about things and it'sbetter just to not bring it up.

So I'm writing this with a disclaimer. These are my feelings and perceptions about what happened. I learned a long time ago that feelings are not always an accurate presentation of reality. At the same time, I need to be able to express and validate how I felt. Also know that I understand circumstances had a lot to do with how I felt, and I always give others the benefit of the doubt. I don't think anyone was intentionally doing thigns to make me feel that way, but more I was a victim of circumstance and miscomunication. Either way, it still hurts.

When I was on my internship I fell in love with the Summit. I fell in love with the people there, I fell in loe with the city, I bought into the vision and goals that the church had set out. When Jess and I talked about me coming back to be on staff I was excited and at peace about it. Ben and I both knew this was where God wanted us and that He would take care of us.

When we moed out here we were both anxious and excited. It was nice to be able to reconnect with people after being away for 5 months and so much changing. I wanted to jump right back into ministry. I was looking forward to support, encouragement and mentouring from those around me.

Unfortunately, as time went on, that's not what happened. Relationships became strained and something didn't feel right. Instead of being encouraged and supported I was feeling alone and isolated. Instead of people helping me to succeed and achiee my goals it felt as though they were waiting for me to make mistakes. No one came along side me to help, instead they stood at a distance watching, and talking. More than once I was told that expectations of others had not been met. The thing was, no one told me what the expectations were, or that they even existed.

I felt hurt, judged, and isolated. I felt as though no matter what I did it wouldn't be up to standards, because no one would tell me what those standards were. I tried to reach out to people, I made it clear that I was struggling and needed help, I asked for help and it was promised but never given. I got burnt out.

I admit most of this happened during my pregnancy when I was hormonal, emotional and super sensitive. I admit that could have affected how I was percieving things, but I'm not alone in how I saw things. Other people could see the strain in a few relationships and could see the undue pressure being put on me by others. I was told I just had to deal with it, that it was who they were, and to keep reaching out to them and once the relationship changed it would be better.

It hurt. It hurt a lot. Every event or project or responsibility I had put a tremendous ammount of stress on me. Added to that was the idea that I was the one who needed to deal with it and fix it. I thought that was just wrong, but there was nothing I could do.

When it came to the point I was loosing sleep and not functioning because of the stress I had to step back. I went on a break to destress and prepare for Hana's birth. It made me happy, it took the pressure off, and in my mind I was able to ignore the rift in relationships and work harder at rebuilding them - it was much easier now that there was nothing left for them to judge as far as my professional responsibilites.

When the church closed it was a blow, but not entierly a suprise. There were problems that I suppose I shouldn't discuss here. It was sad, it was hard, and the timing was horrible. Hana was born two days before the last service. I was still in the hospital and she was no where near ready to be discharged. People were organized to bring us meals the first week we were home an dit was wonderful.

After that, we were all alone. No phonecalls, no visits, no connectuon to anyone. I suppose I'm just as much to blame, I didn't call them as often as they didn't call me, but I was at home all alone with a new baby. And it wasn't everyone, a few did keep in touch and still do, and that's wonderful. But what about the others? Especially the ones who had been there and knew what it was like to be alone with kids? The ones who I had seen gather around others, having dinners, making phone calls, helping with advice and experience.

I think that's what hurt the most - ralizing that the relationships we thought we had were no more than professional. The relationships from the church melted into nothing the same way the relationships from my other job did. Ben and I both experienced isolation and rejection. Again, not from everyone, but enough that it still stings.

So maybe that's why I'm so happy being a stay at home mom. Maybe I'm scared to go back into ministry. Maybe thats why I feel as though the church closing is a personal failure.

Just so you know, I have forgive and moved on. I hold nothing against any of those from the summit. I understand life is busy and things happen. This is just part of the healing process.


Lindy said...

The pain never really goes away. It hurts to know that what you have poured yoru life into for the last two years just goes away. Ministry hurts, that's what i've learned, but we all need to be willing to fail at what we are doing. some people may see this is failure, but others see it as a learning experiance that drives us deeper in love with ministry and this call that is on our life. Ministry is hard, our emotions are always at risk and we need to take our relationships deeper. We have grown so much since we left Calgary and we now have deeper, stronger relationships with peopel in our congregation. Calgary is a hard place to do ministry, it's just hard. God is good, God never makes mistakes. This is something that I had to really struggle with after i left. I wanted to leave ministry all together after we left in September. it wasn't until we had built these relationships that I saw who I was in minsitry. I see why i was in Calgary for two years, struggling. God is Good, keep holding on to who you are in Christ. Ministry is hard, emotions are always at risk, we will fail, but we know our calling! hang in there sister! Been praying for you anf we will continue to pray for you guys as you move through this new phase in our minsitry!
lotsa love
e-mail us

Richards' said...

Stephie!!! I am sending a long distance ~~~HUG~~~ I hope it is still strong when it gets to you! I understand how you feel, sort of. When I was preggo with Gabby, and teaching, My principal was always talking behind my back to other co-workers.... My co-workers of course let me know what she was doing... She acted so nice around me, but I knew how she really felt... And then after Gabby was born, she called me at the hospital (the day after the birth) and suckered me into another year contract, and it has been the WORST year of my life!

Matt K Palmer said...

Thanks for sharing and allowing me to read, Steph. I too understand some of your pain that you are going through and I am still dealing with it. I have been out of the ministry for two years while you have been in it two years. I also have been hurt twice by churches in the past. We are always told that churches are about relationships and people not the building. I think what Lindy responded that we leave our emotions out on display or on our shoulders while we do ministry in a church. I believe that God used you more then you could have ever imagined. Let me share a little bit of what I went through. It will be good for me to use you as a soundboard as well. My first hurt actually started right after graduating from BBC. I had been doing my internship in a Baptist church the fall before and then I was asked to continue during the rest of the winter and into the spring. The church was looking for a youth pastor at that very time. I thought, "Hey, I got this made! I am going to get this position!". I was quickly shot down by some of the people in the church (after, in what I thought, I was very successful there in my ministry)because I did not have a masters degree. I moved on to a church in Ontario and tried there but became very disscouraged and had to leave because they did not have the money to support us. So we left. I moved back to NB to start in a church in Bristol, called Trinity Wesleyan. I thought it was great but the place was my biggest dissapointment in ministry ever yet to face. It started all wrong. The other youth leader that look after the youth group before was still there and did not respect me and my decisions. And later on during this 7 month fiasco at the church the leader started to make decisions about the youth ministry without me. On top of that I was having a very difficult time pleasing the Senior pastor of the church. It seemed that everytime a staff meeting would come around he would be picking on me for something that I did or did not do not quite right. There were a couple of times near the end that I left his office in tears because of his harshness. Also in the end the staff meetings were taken over by the youth leader, that I was telling you about, and the senior pastor and they were leaving me out of the everything. When I gave my resignation to the board I was told to leave and they had to discuss somethings. I was told that I would be asked back in and the board would tell me what they had discussed. I waited and I waited and two hours pasted. The meeting finished and the pastor came in to the offices and he looked at me and said to me, "Oh your still here?" I could not believe what my ears were hearing. None of the board talked to me and they treated me from then on that I did not exist. I gave my resignation on Febuary expecting to end my contract in June like all good Wesleyans here in Atlantic Canada at Beulah but they told me that I was done in a week and pay me for the rest of the month to, I guess, make themselves feel better in what all had taken place. That is when I left the ministry sour, bitter, and pretty much given up. I put my all into that ministry and that was the thanks that I got. I did not know if I was to be going back at all. I have had two years of healing in my bitterness, my hurt heart (which I am still healing), and forgiveness of others, and me forgiving others that have wronged me in the past. The past few months have been really interesting. I have sat down and reevauated my life pain stakingly and taken my relationship with Christ very seriously. Christ has started to talk again to me, even though He was talking to me all the time but my ears were turned and deaf. It is interesting what He has said to me. "Grow up, stop sulking, get off the floor, and get on with it. I want you in ministry and you can't do that sitting down there feeling sorry for yourself!" It is sad that it took me two years to come to this. But I suppose that the Lord's timing is perfect and He had a work to do within me in these past couple of years. When I finish here in Portland Maine I hope to find myself doing ministry again somewhere. I don't know. I said all this to tell you that there is life after all this hurt even though it does not feel like it at the time. Reading your post help me understand more of the feelings that I went through in my past ministry positions. One thing that we all have to remember in the terrible times is GOD IS GOOD!

Steph said...

Thanks Matt

I think what is hardest about this is the realization that even the church isn't "safe". Being mistreated by the "world" still sucks, but it's par for the course so to speak. The church was my sanctuary, my safe place, I was always willing to be open with other Christians with the belief that they loved and would care for me. Now I don't have that. I'm more guarded and cautious. I don't like being that way, I don't like not being able to trust, but I need to protect myself, and my family.

Matt K Palmer said...

I know how you feel, Steph.

Lindy said...

Hey Steph- this is Lindy this time. I learned the same thing from my time in Calgary. I'm still working on some of the stuff, Luke has been able to move on a whole lot better than I have. I havn't let myself open up at my new Church yet- I just smile and pretent to be the perfect conventional wife. I'm really afraid of what will happen if I'm myself. I know that it will get better eventually, but not yet. In some ways my crazy work scedule has been great because I have an automatic (truthful) excuse to not get involved in any ministry.

Nate and Jess said...

Steph... what is your phone number I have been wanting to call you, and well, i now realize that "wanting" is great, but not so great unless you act. my email is

hope to talk to you soon!!

Aunt Joe(Carolee) said...

Hi Stephanie,
I dont' even know where to start. You know why we have lived in Kentucky for 12 years?...not because we wanted to but because we got so hurt in minstry that Terry thought God abondoned him(us). We had no place to live, and no jobs. Try to explain to your 5 year old why she has to leave her house and move. Talk about your heart break. It took 6 years to heal from the wonderful world of church politics lack of support from Senior pastors, & Supers/
Someday I hope we can set down and talk about this. Just ask Brenda what we went through. My heart also goes out to Matt(his story sure sound familiar)You won't take any course at BBC or ATS to prepare you for this. There is a lot of hurting pastor out there and there shouldn't be. And there should be a support group to help. A lot of this has nothing to do with God but is man made. Be of courage God does work all this out in HIS time and way. I think that was a hard one to learn. It has to be God to heal the hurt and it has to be his way and timing. I am thankful that God did not abandoned us even though we sure thought he did. Not putting pressure on ya but ....sure hope you guys move back home area somewhere. We love you guys and know our prayers are with you. God is faithful when all others are not. Thank you Jesus.
Love Aunt Joe(Carolee)