What I Wish I’d Known, Part 1

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This third installment of the blog series, begun March 5th, asked three distinct Disciples pastors to reflect on what they wish they’d known upon graduating from Seminary and being ordained. In addition, LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicked off the series.

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 1
–by Julie Richardson Brown, Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary, M.Div., 2002, LTS

I wish I’d known that perfection is a myth, that I’d make more mistakes than I care to–or even could–count in that first year of fulltime ministry and in the years since. I wish I’d known sooner how to say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it. And I wish I’d known that despite my mistakes (and perhaps even because of them) I was still doing good work.

I wish I’d known how to write, balance and then live into with mutual lay/clergy accountability a church budget. At the same time, I wish I’d had more courage to speak up when the numbers on the page didn’t match my vision of what it means to share God’s love with others. “I know you have an opinion,” a kind and gracious church elder once said to me, “why don’t you share it?” “I’m afraid to,” I said, knowing even as I said the words that they were a holdover from a sophomore-year mathematics teacher who said to me, “You’re never going to get this, are you?”

I wish I’d stood my ground more. Too many times I didn’t. There are more than a few conversations and instances that occasionally play through in my memory, with me offering up alternate endings and different dialogue as perhaps my own way of learning, growing, and maybe even forgiving.

I wish I’d known that when a mentor said to me, “Julie, you’ll never please everyone,” he was right. I wish I’d believed him instead of approaching ministry as a task in which everyone’s needs must be met, and everyone’s idea must be heard, and everyone’s disagreement must be registered as valid. There’s a very fine line between a prophetic sixteen year-old and one who just wants to tell you how to do your job. One’s own ego is often the last to find a healthy nuance upon that fine line.

I wish I’d known that despite my many gifts (and we all, truly, have many gifts, y’all), I, simply by having life and breath as a child of God, am, myself, a gift. And the best and truest offering is of that very self—not my fancy tricks or programs, supposed vast knowledge or particular skillset.

This work will break your heart in two, shattering your soul some days. Other days it will put that same heart back together and repair the very soul you were sure it had destroyed. I wish I’d known this, too, and then perhaps those days when I could not give anymore, when I felt as if there was no point to the work I was doing, might not have seemed such Leviathans.

These days, I believe that the kind of unconditional love as preached by Jesus and as manifested in God’s love for all Creation is both the very thread that holds this planet Earth together, and the very thread that we’ve let unravel into the chaos of factions and friction, finger-pointing and blame-casting, greed and anxiety.

It is an evil, unjust and scary world that we live in. It is also a beautiful and humbling one. In the face of this dichotomy I believe that generosity of spirit and resources both makes the world go ‘round, and keeps the Church relevant. And I believe that the Gospel—teaching it, living it, preaching it, sharing it—matters.

I wish I’d known how grateful I would one day be. For the lessons learned and the lives shared and the glimpses of grace and strange turns of mercy that have brought me here to this place, in this time, ready to do this work. And, so, that said, perhaps the one other thing I wish I’d known is that rarely do we end up where we originally thought we would.

But generally we end up exactly where we need to be.