Last week, I was having lunch with a friend who I'd hadn't seen in years. As we were catching up on life's ups and downs, she stopped the conversation to make a bold statement: "I'm tired of being a spiritual guide for everyone else."
My friend, a veteran minister with a thriving campus ministry under her leadership was speaking to the weariness that had become her own life. She went on, "There are times when I have to remind myself that I'm not just a spiritual tour guide, helping others creating meaningful experiences with God when I don't allow myself to stop and have some of my own." She then told me about the things she's recently added and subtracted from her schedule to make this possible-- growing in her own faith journey again.
I was convicted and encouraged by her honesty of this friend, especially as I'm now in month #4 of my own sabbatical from playing the role of "spiritual tour guide" for a congregation.
Don't get me wrong-- the role, the privilege and the opportunities that come when others entrust you to lead and guide their faith-- is a high and wonderful calling. It's a blessing to those of us who have found or do find ourselves in this role in our communities. And, being a "tour guide" is never a completely serving only others activity. For there is much to learn as you abide in the deep waters of relationship with others.
But, should this be a role we are in for life? Many ministers I know, think so. But, I'm just not sure.
We've all got to take time outs.
I know that what I'm suggesting is nothing profound-- for there are entire centers, book series and support groups of all kinds that encourage personal well-being for those in serving roles such as ministers. Clergy-care is something seminary folks and denominational folks, and foundation folks like to talk about, give money to support and even set up conferences to encourage.
But, the simplicity of my friend's statement: "I want to create spiritual experiences for myself" I think really gets at the heart of what the conversation is missing. And, that is the point of clergy care.
As a pastor, I remember going to conferences where it would be preached to me to :
spend time alone with God every day outside of sermon prep,
put my family above the church as much as I could,
take all of my vacation
never miss a day off (the deadly sin of clergy care!).
I did these things as a pastor (well, a lot of these things). I was proud to take all my vacation and visit a spiritual director once a month and even dream with the leadership about a Sabbatical at some point (funny how I got one sooner than we all would have thought!).
But, even in doing these things, I have to tell you I missed the point.
I never got around to creating spiritual experiences for myself. I never saw myself outside of the role of pastor (a.k.a. spiritual tour guide for others). I rarely made it a priority to position my life to let God speak to me without it having something to do with a Bible Study I needed to lead or a sermon I need to preach. I did the best I could. I know that. And, after all, I had a job to do with deadlines and people who "needed me." I was paid to lead.
Yet, now where I sit now as a disciple of Jesus without tour group, I have to say I'm learning much in this tour group of one.
I'm learning how much I liked my title and role at the church-- though I know now how little such impressed Jesus or made me a "better" or more "faithful" Christian than anyone else.
I'm learning much about prayer-- that the Holy truly wants to abide with me in everyday life, not just the parts I think are holy.
I'm learning much about community-- that "church" can happen very often outside the walls of any building.
I'm learning how to be supportive to my former clergy colleagues-- even when it means playing the part of "Judas" at the last-minute at a Maundy Thursday service (yes, this really happened for this friend).
I know I won't be in this space forever. But, for now, I continue to be grateful for it. I know that even in the uncertainty of what each day ahead holds, I'm still ok as a tour guide in an time-out.