When You Get There Where Will You Be?

January 11, 2017

Mapping the Journey of Ministry
by Jody Seymour- retired but still on the journey

There is an old saying; “If you do not know where you are going you may end up some place else.” I thought of this as I pondered my 44 years of ministry after retiring this past June.

So I offer you the question above to help you be intentional not only about where you are now in ministry but also to plot where your are headed. To not do this is to be swept up in the white water rapids of ministry. All of us have seen the casualties that result in not being able to navigate those rapids.

There are so many more resources out there now than when I was “thrown into the rapids” all those years ago when the echo from the Church that ordained me was simply, “Have a nice trip and good luck.” One of the things I have agreed to do in my retirement is to collect the resources now available into one site for you to view so that you can use them. This will hopefully help you, “not end up some place else.”

I hope to have this collection done by next June so that you can preview them on this website under a category entitled something like, “Clergy Renewal Resources.” This will include spiritual directors, counselors, coaches, programs, events, and retreat places.

For now I want to offer a few observations about the phases of the ministerial journey as a way to ponder when you get there where will you be? The first phase of ministry is sometimes called the foundational stage which is from the beginning time until around 8 years. My remembering and my research indicate that the question being asked in this formational stage is, “What am I doing?”

Studies show that at this stage it is important to connect with colleagues and not go it alone. This is where we set a pattern for personal spiritual disciplines or we do not. I would not have survived in those early years if it were not for a small group of minister friends with whom I met every month. We needed each other because we were in the same boat as we navigated the rapids of the small rural church world.

It was those colleagues and friends who reminded me who I was when my church people were telling me otherwise. I could not be the person or pastor my church wanted me to be and I was struggling and lonely. We all know the loneliness of ministry but we so often act like it is not true and become Lone Rangers who might just end up some place else.

The second phase on the formational journey of ministry puts us at that mid-life transition time and has been called the maturing phase. Here is where self-awareness and growth need to happen or we start to rust. This is where I did a parish based unit of Clinical Pastoral Education and started paying attention to retreat offerings and continuing education experiences.

The question that comes at this phase is, “Am I going to be able to do this the rest of my journey?” Here is where we either learn from the wounds that inevitably come in the work of ministry or we bury them and become disillusioned or numb. If we choose the latter we end up marking time in order to survive. Some studies show that the highest drop-out rate occurs at this mid-life stage.

One observation puts it this way:
At this midpoint pastors have to be able to re-imagine themselves…which requires a high level of self-awareness, a growing commitment about one’s gifts and abilities, and a mission motivation that outweighs the cost.  (From “Shooting the Rapids: The Cycles of Pastoral Ministry/Faith and Leadership.com)
The final phase of the ministerial journey begins around the 20-25th year and is sometimes called the legacy phase. In this part of the journey we can see down the road and realize that we are approaching a time when our professional ministry career will come to an end. The big question here is, “How do I finish well?”

I participated in a seminar when I stepped into this phase entitled, “Finishing Strong, Ending Well.” I remember what the leader said, “If you want to finish strong then attempt to retire some of the things that tire you out before you actually retire.” That is sometimes hard to do in ministry but at least it may work in terms of prioritizing of tasks and roles. The leader then went on to say, “And when it comes time to look at retirement do not ask, “What am I going to do, but ask who am I going to be?”

So as I look back over my ministerial journey I realize that sometimes I was intentional about where I was going and at other times the rapids simply took me downstream. I hope that you will read the articles in this edition of Lead as a way to ponder, “When you get there where will you be?” The Leadership Development Team is developing an opportunity for clergy over 50 years old to consider what it means to finish well.  Watch for more information later in the year.

I leave you with something I learned from Mark Nepo, which relates to the different phases of ministry:
To journey without being changed is to be a nomad
To change without taking a journey is to be a chameleon
But to journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim 
(From “The Exquisite Risk”)
Blessings to you as you attempt to be mindful of the journey. Doing so allows us to be spiritual pilgrims rather than becoming religious tourists.
Follow Jesus. Make Disciples. Transform the World.