“God created us to be social beings as our relationship with Him ‘spills’ over into our relationships with others. In our various communities, we take time to nurture our relationships with family, friends, and co-workers through interaction, play, and forgiveness.” Concordia Plans Services
Entering into ministry is many times like stepping out of a comfortable world and entering into some place new and perhaps a bit isolated. There have been many times that I have walked with lay people as they have been hired on to a church staff and stepped behind the curtain, so to speak. The change is often even more dramatic for those seeking vocational ministry as a called church worker in the LCMS.
A young person who was well connected to their home congregation may find it challenging to figure out how to balance between establishing a professional ministry balance between the ministerial care that they are called to provide and the relational closeness needed not only to establish rapport for ministry, but also to help sustain themselves for that ministry.
I recall in my first call, that I had to figure out how to understand when I was being a friend to someone and when I was there to bring them spiritual counsel. I had to learn how to appropriately open myself up to engage in friendships both within the churches I served as well as with my fellow church workers (not that hard for DCE’s, I must say).
Genesis 2:18 states that “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” This holds just as true today as it did in the beginning. We are social beings. Whether we are extroverts to thrive and gain energy through social interaction, or we are introverts to enjoy time with friends but need to have time alone to recover.
Church workers who find themselves isolated are the least likely workers to have a lasting career. There is something cathartic about being with others who understand live from a similar vantage point as you do. This is what The Smalcald Articles refers to as “the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren” (Part III Article IV). This is connected in our confessions back to Matthew 18:20 which states “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This is why pastors are encouraged to attend their winkel or circuit meetings. DCE’s have clusters that meet in the Pacific Southwest District and many districts across the LCMS. Pastors’ and educators’ conferences, staff meetings, and other gathering are times to connect and share the burden of ministry together.
For our long term health as church workers, we need a variety of relational connections. We have a need to connect with people who share mutual interests that are unrelated to our ministries just like we need connections with those who understand our ministry directly. There is a need to connect with our peers who are in ministry like our own as much as there is a need to have relationships with other church workers in our churches and schools and in neighboring churches and schools.
The combination of these relationships provides a healthy sense of perspective that can help provide not only support and encouragement, but also a challenge to our thinking that may cause us to mature in our approach to ministry. I receive a great deal of added perspective both from my fellow DCE’s as well as from the times that I find myself among my teacher and pastor friends. By getting to know them as well, I avoid locking myself in my own echo chamber. I am better able to understand my ministry in relationship to the ministry of others. I grow as a member of my profession by being able to critically examine the way in which others reflect back on how I serve.
This only takes place in a relational space that allows for safe honesty and transparency. As church workers we need relationships in which we are able to both vent our frustrations in a constructive manner, but also relationships in which that venting is not an end in itself. Having a regular meeting of friends who can push you to grow as a church worker and more importantly a child of God and follower of Christ is essential.
Geography may be a factor for some workers who find themselves called to areas where there are few to no other church workers who do what they do locally. While it is well worth making the effort, even if it means driving most of the day to spend time with others, technology allows an element of connection beyond a phone call through video conferencing on Google or Skype.
We all need relationships in which we are able to enjoy ourselves. Church worker gatherings should be a time of support as well as celebration. Joining together for a drink and a time of sharing and laughter is exceptionally healthy and can bring vitality back into one’s ministry.
Finally, when we inevitably fail or believe that we are unworthy to serve in ministry, it is in these relationships that we are able to hear God’s words of forgiveness from our fellow servants. Church workers are not perfect, we are sinners in need of a savior just like everyone else. Speaking Christ’s forgiveness to one another is yet another restorative benefit that uplifts our relational wellbeing.