In my early 30s, I was a full time pastor. My wife and I had three small children and with both of us working, we found life somewhat hectic. In the midst of that busy and demanding time, I decided that it would be a great time to go back to study so I enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program. This was a non-resident program but did require regular trips to the seminary in the States. Somehow, things worked out and in fact we must have worked them out really well because my wife decided to enroll in a similar program at a different seminary before I had finished.
Anyway, I had to find a topic for my doctoral project-thesis and decided the work on something that even then was occupying my thoughts–the nature of the church. I decided that I would take one New Testament image of the church and find ways to help local congregations strengthen themselves using that image. I ended up spending a lot of time and effort on image of the church as the family of God.
As I think about it now, that thesis project did help the congregations come to a better understanding of who and what they were. But on another level that I hadn’t given much thought to until now, the whole project would not have been possible without the church working as a family to support my decision to study.
The church accepted my decision, happily recommended me to the seminary for study (a requirement of the admission process), gave me study time each year in addition to my regular vacation time and willingly participated in all the activities that a Doctor of Ministry project-thesis required of the church. Even more than that, church members and adherents volunteered to help out with things like child-care and a variety of other things that none of us has anticipated when I began the program. When I received my degree after three and a half years, it was as much due to the support and care of the church as my efforts.
While I would like to say that my experience of a caring and supporting and enabling church is the norm, the best I can say is that this is the goal of the church. The unfortunate reality is that the church often falls short. But rather than bash the church, I want to bring a slightly different approach to the lack of support from churches.
My sense is that in some cases, perhaps many cases, the reason the church doesn’t provide the support and care and concern that it is theoretically supposed to provide is because many people don’t want that support. To acknowledge a need for help is to acknowledge a need–and our individualistic culture sees need as weak. We want to stand on our own two feet–only wimps and losers need help.
And so the church sits there, often willing and able to provide the help that we need but since we won’t really acknowledge our need, we can’t receive the help that God has ordained for us through his chosen instrument, the church.
Over the years, I have found it very liberating and freeing to open myself to the church for the help that I need. Whether it was help looking after the kids when both of were studying, asking for prayers from the church for my depression or availing myself of a Bible Study group’s willingness to help me work through some of the hurt associated with our last stint in Kenya, I have found churches a great help and support.
Now remember, I have been and am the pastor in all these situations. Has it weakened my pastoral position to seek the help of the church? No–in fact, I think allowing the church to care for me has enabled me to do better ministry. Because the church knows I struggle with depression, it seems like people are more comfortable acknowledging their issues and seeking help from me or others.
I have learned that if I want to help the church, I need to model the behaviour that the church needs to develop. If I open myself to their help, it enables the church people to open themselves to each other more and all of us discover something very important about ourselves, the church and the love of God.
May the peace of God be with you.