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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ways to shoot yourself in the foot

The conference I attended this week was a good one. Our presenter was the Rev. Douglas McGlynn, a longtime parish priest and currently professor of pastoral care at Nashotah House seminary.

Admittedly, I went to the conference with some internal reluctance. Based on some previous negative encounters with a few umpleasant "Sons of the House" (a nickname for Nashotah students, dating to a time before "daughters" were admitted), part of me was bracing for more of the same. However, Prof. McGlynn exhibited precisely none of the strident behavior I've encountered in the past. He was a kind, direct man, with a good sense of humor and perspective.

We spent a good deal of time talking about ministry in smaller congregations, which I found very helpful. One of the things he outlined was a list of mistakes, or mistaken beliefs, that new priests make in small congregations. They seem to me to also apply in many cases to larger parishes, as well; but little groups were his focus in this discussion.

Here's the list, cribbed from my hastily typed notes:
  • “The liturgy is mine.” Clergy certainly have some prerogatives, as well they should; but godly liturgical worship does not develop in a vacuum, nor is it a solitary activity (by definition!).
  • Failing to share your life. No, not every detail or emotion should be on your sleeve; but mutual relationship is critical, especially in a small congregation.
  • “Finally, your savior has come.” Do not criticise your predecessor, no matter how much of a jerk s/he was.
  • “You are lucky to have me.” Remember that our ministry is at the Lord’s mercy.
  • “God loves you, and I have a great plan for your life.” We will never have all the answers.
  • Making promises I cannot keep. We may intend to stay for 10 years, and then end up not being able to do so. Let time and action speak for us.
  • “Bleeding in the pulpit.” Becoming angry at the congregation for some action (or lack thereof), and then preaching out of that anger. Never publicly scold your people (though he notes that "it doesn't hurt, upon occasion, to share with them opportunities they missed.").
  • Ignoring the new people, because old people are the bread and butter.
  • Ignoring the old people, because new people are the future.
So, all you experienced clergy out there-- what do you think? Anything to add?


Anonymous Phil said...

Well-spoken words, I'd say. and obvously drawn from experience, either his own or those he's observed. I intend to keep these handy to share with those I work with.

I'd add one more (is there room?)

"I have what it takes to love you." We don't -- not really. Even when I think I do, someone soul under my care finds the end of my rope and sets out to untie the knot.

I need to draw on the resources available from the Savior at that point. (Compare Ephesians 5:2 with Ephesians 5:25) His well is deep and the love endless. When I go to the well, draw from Him, and give to even the unlovely, it's doable. When I try to conjure up the right ammount of love from within, I simply don't have what it takes some days.

Wish I'd have known that earlier in my ministry. I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to do this in my own strength.

May 19, 2006 9:41 AM  

Anonymous Mark J. said...

Fortunately we don't have to like everyone, just love. Like is even harder.

Nothing to add, but that's a really good list, Phil's included. Might make a good Lenten reflection for clergy... Each night before bed, run down the list and see how many you did today.

I think I've been pretty good with most since I've been here, but definitely could check one or two. Doh! :-)

May 19, 2006 12:05 PM  

Blogger cheesehead said...

Man-o-manischewitz! You were about 2 freeway exits from me(except I was in Atlanta).

I would add:
"The job is possible." Don't believe it. We will not be able to single-handedly bring in the Kingdom

May 19, 2006 2:56 PM  

Anonymous peripateticpolarbear said...

good advice, I think.

May 21, 2006 10:10 AM  

Anonymous Tripp said...

Dysfunction meets dysfunction...Remember that a congregation may let you do these things because on some level they expect it...want it.

May 22, 2006 6:04 AM  

Blogger revabi said...

Ithought this was a very good post along with what others added. I meant to comment earlier, and didn't. I did want you to know I copied them into word doc. to save and remind myself as I make this move. Thanks

May 30, 2006 6:59 AM  

Blogger Jason said...

Jane, this is great stuff!

I think if I were to add something it would be this (although this is implied in some of what you say):

The Holy Spirit was here in this congregation/community before you and will be after you. We are always entering a ongoing situation: God has been at work here long before we came, and we need to listen to and respect the genuine life which is already present there instead of making the congregation 'our project', an extension of our own issues and ego. Part of what we need to do when we first come is to apprentice a congregation and listen deeply for what is already there. We're leaders, true, but in New Testament perspective that means we're servants.

May 31, 2006 8:58 PM  

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