I’ve been thinking a lot about vocation and pioneering lately, and the struggles that can ensure when as a pioneer you’re asked to fit into one of the boxes of role in the church. If this role is priesthood then you may have experienced some struggles. If you are training for ordination as a pioneer, there are times on that journey where you are benchmarked to see if you are making the requisite progress and it can feel then that you are having to make your irregular shaped self and your irregular shaped ministry fit into a box that seems to be not possible or right.
I guess one of the things I have learned and grown in confidence in over some years of this is that God made me in the odd shape I am, that it is good and has value, and can be useful to the church. I’ve also learned that people at times may react strongly against me, feel very troubled or agitated, and it wasn’t anything I said. It’s just how it is sometimes, and I have to learn to try and be aware of the impact I might have on others negatively, be thoughtful to minimise that as best I can, and then beyond that to let it go.
Sometimes relationships with parish colleagues can be under strain, and it can sometimes feel that it’s your fault – that everything was ok until you landed on the scene, and that you have to be the one who makes all the running as you are the imposter in the traditionally owned parish. Or that your skills are there for the use of the parish and never mind new things you’re supposed to be developing. We can develop an overly responsible view and be running hard to change things and make them right in case our ministry or character get tarnished by the issue. Grace is definitely needed, and will always be the oil that helps working relationships to flow, but I would advise being careful about taking all the weight and strain of that. It’s not realistic, and leads to burn out or a martyr complex!
We need to learn to be savvy about why we might be misunderstood or misconstrued, and learn to communicate in ways that are non-threatening, be sensitive and sensible, but also passionate and truthful – we don’t need to creep and cringe as if we don’t deserve space to stand on! God has placed us where we are, for his good purposes, and made us odd shaped as jigsaw pieces, perhaps as catalysts or movers and shakers. This is a hard set of paradoxes and tensions at the best of times, and is harder in a church that is uncertain and unsure of its purpose and identity when it’s shrinking and weakened in society.
If you are in this situation, be aware of the need for self care. Talk to your spiritual director to get a healthy perspective on the issue, or a trusted mentor or leadership coach. Someone who can see both sides and help you to draw boundaries around your responsibility. Learning to deal with these things in a way that doesn’t cause you to crash and burn emotionally, going round and round the issue trying to resolve whose ‘fault’ it was is going to wear you down, and so short term survival strategies aswell as longer term conflict management skills are more practical approaches.
Margaret Wheatley has good advice:
“Our personal myths blind us to knowing what we can and can’t do. What are our limits? How much more work, how many more causes can we realistically take on? How exhausted are we? What signals from our bodies are we denying? How much longer can we keep this up? Do we think we’re doing just fine playing the hero?
…seeing clearly who we are in this moment – our health, our motivation, the messages coming from our world – gives us the information we need to carry on. Just not in self destructive saviour mode.”
Margaret Wheatley, Perseverance, p43 BK Publishers