Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Institutions Don't Nurture

I was surprised when I discovered the level of independence and self-sufficiency required in a life of ministry. Drawing from my life as a young athlete, I had romanticized the level of teamwork, support and comradery that I would experience in church work. I pictured my denomination as a team of mutually interconnected individuals rather than an institution with hierarchy, forms, committees and procedures.
This bothered me for years. I held some resentment that my overseers were not more attentive to my needs. They never called to check on me, rarely gave me an “Atta Boy”. I was starved for affirmation or for a mentor to take an interest in what I was stretching myself to accomplish for God and His Kingdom. It never came as I had hoped and now that’s okay.

Eugene Peterson in Under the Unpredictable Plant writes of a similar period in his life.
“I had discovered that spiritually and vocationally I was on my own. The people who ordained me and took responsibility for my work were interested in financial reports, attendance graphs, program planning. But they were not interested in me. They were interested in my job; they cared little for my vocation.
My deeper discovery was that I was mistaken to experience anything else. Spiritual direction doesn’t come from institutions. The institution has its necessary and proper place. I could not function well without it, maybe not at all. But I was quite mistaken to look for spiritual nurture and expect vocational counsel from the institution.”

We are on our own in some sense. Human institutions cannot love like flesh and blood. I am grateful for this perspective. If I had learned it earlier it would have saved me a lot of heartache and loneliness. My own denomination actually did much to promote fellowship and was very supportive when I had a specific issue that required their attention. But to expect the kind of warmth and concern that only another individual can provide was unfair and unrealistic.

Institutions don't nurture. They are incapable of it. Developing meaningful and mutually edifying peer relationships is part of the work of this ministry. There is no magic formula, and no one is going to do it for us. The choices are to retreat into our own little world or proactively reach out- lending a hand and finding a friend in the process.

Rich Earl is author of Shepherds Balm www.shepherdsbalm.com

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