Standing Knee Deep in a River and Dying of Thirst

by Dr. Jody Seymour, retired clergy
The above words come from a song by Kathy Mattea.  If you are a “working clergy” you understand those words. I often tell clergy when I offer leadership at renewal events, that part of our calling is to “give people water,” but the truth is that we can get awfully thirsty while giving others water.
Handling and giving the water is not the same as drinking the water to quench our own thirst. It was Eugene Peterson who helped me understand this. Here is what he writes in Under the Unpredictable Plant:

“At first it is nearly invisible, this split between our need of the Savior and our work for the Savior. We feel so good, so grateful, so saved. And these people around us are in such need. We throw ourselves recklessly into the fray. Along the way most of us end up so identifying with Christ’s work that Christ himself recedes into the shadows and our work is spotlighted at center stage. Because the work is so compelling, so engaging and so right, we work with what feels like divine energy. One day we find ourselves …or others find us…worked into the ground. The work may be wonderful but we ourselves turn out to be not so wonderful.”  P. 114

So in other words handling spiritual things does not make us spiritual. The people we serve think it does. They think we are “automatically” spiritual. You and I know better. Being spiritual takes embarking on a personal journey not a professional one. I learned the hard way that working with scripture in order to produce a good sermon is not the same as living with scripture for my own soul.
So there’s my confession after forty-four years of ministry. What is yours?
There are many more resources available for clergy spiritual renewal than when I started long ago. It seems that when I launched out or was launched, those in leadership said just after the hands were laid on me, “Have a good trip. See you at the end.”
Now there are many stops along the way to take time to fill our water bags. I will list a few in this article. You can find a comprehensive list at spiritual renewal resources.
First of all if you have not read the book I mentioned by Eugene Peterson, get it. When I read it the true nature of ministry and the dangers we face by not caring for our souls all came into focus. I will share in a narrative way some of the available resources. You can find detailed information with contact information at the above website.
One of my favorite opportunities is The School of the Spirit. Ann Starrette, who leads this year long opportunity, gives me “credit” for starting it but all I did was plant the seed by helping her understand the deep need that clergy have to experience the ancient spiritual disciplines and the need for deep listening. The year long experience is both manageable and affordable. Check it out.
Another resource I do some personal work with is the Davidson Clergy Center. This is an intense week long program that comprehensively covers spiritual, therapeutic, and physical well being. It is expensive but scholarships and insurance is available. It is great if you are experiencing “clergy trauma” or if you just want to do some needed maintenance.
I helped put together a list or resources that you can find on the website including a list of spiritual directors by District and a long list of retreat centers, retreat experiences, and Counseling services.
If you are interested in exploring a renewal leave, Big Sigh Ministries can help you both examine and plan for this. I have discovered that more and more clergy are taking renewal leaves.
I discovered that the ministry is not a job, it is a life. Having said that, it is up to us to carve out places of renewal so that we will not “die of thirst while standing knee deep in a river.” Bless you on your journey. As the precinct sergeant used to say to the police officers after hearing their various challenging assignments on the TV show Hill Street Blues, “Hey, hey; let’s be careful out there!”
(PS: I am available for individual consultations when it comes to pondering a “spiritual plan.” This can be funded through the Conference Leadership Development Team with whom I do some work. I also do Enneagram work with both individuals and groups.)
Contact info: )
Leadership Development