It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes I buckle down and cook dinner for my husband and three teenagers. It’s a lot of effort, but it’s almost always worth it and, at least the way I cook, it always makes a mess. If I get stuck with the responsibility for figuring out what to cook, buying groceries, cooking, and then cleaning up, I’m usually not too thrilled. When we all help, though, it’s great. Maybe Harper suggests something we should fix, my husband buys groceries, I cook, and we all help clean up after we eat. We spend a little extra time working together, do a good job putting dinner on the table, and putting the kitchen back together, and nobody feels put out.
During my 20 years as a staff minister, I have served four different churches in three different states and had three different titles. I didn’t work in a church during the first 11 months of 2014. Those months away gave me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences and assess how I had been doing ministry and how the church saw and utilized paid staff. Although each church I worked at was different, each experience was positive and taught me lessons about serving, leading, and coming together in community. But just like fixing dinner, there were lots of moving parts, and things always worked better when everyone shared responsibilities and was willing to be involved in the messiness.
Early in my ministry, I was taught that as youth ministers our job is to minister to the entire family of our youth. The problem with that was (at least early on) I wasn’t a parent, I had almost no idea what it was like to parent, and I barely felt qualified to describe myself as an adult. Just because I was given the privilege of working with middle school and high school students and their families didn’t mean I had the capacity to “be there” for everyone, to know the right thing to say, or to be in three places at once. In fact, even if I was Super-Minister, I realized I couldn’t do it all. When churches have unrealistic expectations of their staff and when staff people buy into the idea that they are the only ones who can do it right, or they are the only ones supposed to “feed my sheep,” everyone suffers.
This is where “sharing” comes in. Remember when we first started overusing the word “share” in the context of revealing information? It seemed like for a few years there no one ever “told” anyone anything. Instead, we always “shared” our news and stories. But sharing is much bigger than that. According to the dictionary, this is sharing: to participate in, take part in, play a part in, be involved in, contribute to, have a hand in, partake in. It is so much more than telling a story, and it’s a much bigger investment.
Let’s share our resources with each other and not just by writing a check. Let’s share our pain and not just news of who is in the hospital. Like Paul says in Galatians 6:2, let’s “share each others’ burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” This type of sharing goes all directions. It’s not a top-to-bottom flow chart—it’s a web of needs, pain, resources, and support going every which way. It’s complicated and messy.
Amy and Brock went to the same high school and youth group. If you asked them if they knew each other they would have said “yes.” They knew each others’ names. Brock knew Amy was very into her hair and make up. As a matter of fact, as far as he was concerned, she was way too into being and looking perfect. Amy knew Brock had too many piercings and tattoos, and he didn’t seem to care about anything important. One day, when they had no choice, they ended up spending some time together and having a conversation. They realized they didn’t know each other at all. The assumptions they made were incorrect and it came as a real shock when they realized they actually had quite a bit in common. They were carrying around similar pain and fear. They became friends and were able to share each others’ burdens.
We tell our youth “you’re not alone” and “you might feel like you are the only one going through this experience, but that’s not the case.” Yet, many of us hide behind facades just like Amy and Brock and we feel isolated not realizing that there is someone nearby who has suffered something similar. We can be there for each other, but it takes some effort.
Paid staff can help facilitate true sharing or we can serve as a buffer that protects people from each other. Let’s work at helping people connect in ways that are meaningful and go below the surface. Let’s not perpetuate the idea that some people are there to give and others are there to receive. We are all God’s creation and we have more in common than we realize. But just like Amy and Brock, we’ll never realize that if we don’t spend time getting to know each other rather
than just sitting side by side on the pew.
Terri is a Center for Healthy Churches Coach and is the interim youth minister at First Presbyterian Church Clemmons, NC. She is a Board Certified Coach who has worked with clients in the areas of ministry, career direction, and life issues. She has served on the staff of churches in Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina focusing on Youth and Spiritual Formation. Terri is a graduate of Indiana University and Southern Seminary. When she is not coaching or ministering, Terri is an avid reader, traveler, and hiker. She also serves as the on-site IT specialist for the Springer family.