Dear 2014 Chelsey,
Congrats! You’ve done it! Seminary is done, you’ve moved home, found a new job, and everything is exciting and scary and hopeful. You know (from personal experience, books, and other people who have gone on before) that the roller coaster of church planting won’t be easy, but you’re secure in “The Plan” for at least the next five years, as well as the belief that God will accomplish what He means to, no matter what.
I mean…that’s what you say when people ask you about the future, right? It rolls off the tongue much more easily than: Honestly, I’m terrified. What if the whole thing implodes? What if we run out of money? What if, what if, what if…?
I get it. I do. And I’m here to tell you that the next two years will exceed your expectations. I’m here to tell you that there are incredible, faithful people who will surround you with love and support and will become not only the church – they will become your church. It will be a place in which you feel known. You will finally have a place of worship where you actually look forward to being there.
But it will not be easy.
You cognitively know to expect this. But feeling it – these bruises, this loneliness, these disappointments – the actual feeling of it is something you’re not expecting. And how can you? How can anyone? I’m not sure it’s possible, even if you’ve already gone through the emotional ringer in other places. Maybe the hard truth of this is that an “easy” ministry is a deluded one. Sin is tempting and awful and real and Jesus made you a promise, after all: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
So before I share anything else with you, let that sink down into your anxious and baptized heart. Jesus has overcome. The saving work – the real work – is done. It is a gift and it is finished.
But there is still work to be done. And again – it’s not easy. So, after you’ve remembered your baptism, start with these:
1. You won’t get a break, so take care of yourself.
This is just a fact of the life of professional ministry: the song “Easy Like Sunday Morning” will make you irrationally bitter for the rest of your life. Gone are Sunday-morning brunches. Gone are full weekends of rest. Gone are day-of holiday celebrations. You’ll probably never have more than 6 days of vacation for the foreseeable future (at least, until maybe 30 years from now when Ted might have a sabbatical).
So, in the meantime, practice self-care. Give yourself a pedicure. Go for a jog. Write, but only if you want to. Cry, but only if you want to. Do the laundry later and instead, pour yourself a glass of champagne (who says you need a special occasion?) and read your favorite book.
2. Ted, too.
Also, hey, newsflash: your husband doesn’t get a break, either. Even when he’s not working, he’s thinking/praying/trying not to worry about church. Pray over him. Learn how to better help him to rest. Become proficient in his love languages.
3. Draw boundaries and stick to them.
This closely follows the self-care tip. You already know you’re introverted, so don’t hesitate to sit something out. Don’t feel guilty about not going to a party or a meeting because you need a break. American culture is built for extroverts, and though you’re getting better at being an extro-functioning introvert, you still need recharging. And trust Ted with your need for alone time – he understands you better than you might understand yourself.
4. Be pastored.
One of the biggest struggles of professional ministry is the fact that almost all of your fellow ministers are scattered far and wide, but the silver lining is that they’re available as an uninvolved party. It can sometimes be hard to gain Christ-like perspective and comfort from people who are involved in the ministry itself. You need a kind and encouraging word just like the people in your church. Don’t hesitate to ask for prayers or a listening ear, and don’t hesitate to seek counseling, if you need it.
5. Hold people loosely.
You think it won’t happen to you, but it will: People will leave. The reasons are myriad. Some you will understand; some you will not. Pray for extra grace and patience. Hold people in prayer, but do not hold them with an iron grip. God’s got that covered.
6. Practice the fruits of the Spirit, especially the ones you suck at.
Lack of a spine has never been your problem, 2014 Chelsey. You’re fiercely loyal and generally unafraid of confrontation, but those aren’t always good qualities. It makes you uncomfortable to remember certain fruits of the Spirit, like humility and gentleness and self-control. Lean into that discomfort. Practice being humble and gentle and quiet. Listen more than you react. Pray more than you try to fix. Sometimes, being strong means doing nothing.
Yeah, that pastor who told Ted that you darken a room when you walk into it rather than light it up, like a real pastor’s wife should? He still has not apologized. In fact, he’s probably forgotten he said that about you at all.
Here’s the thing – he will probably never apologize. You should still forgive him and that other guy and all the others. In fact, you must. Forgive, forgive, and forgive again – up to 77 (or, a bazillion) times. Withholding forgiveness is a futile and toxic thing, like mixing up a poison for someone else and then swallowing it yourself. You have been forgiven much. Go and do likewise.
And lastly: Again, remember that you have been forgiven. You’re not good at these seven, 2014 Chelsey, and neither am I. I think the local church is built in the small and frustrating moments – on the days you don’t want to get up early to prep for Sunday School; on the days you don’t think you can muster one more smile or one more extra plate of food – and knit together by forgiveness. All you can do is keep your eyes fixed on that empty cross and trust that God will accomplish all He means to in this place through you, His baptized and beloved child, no matter what.
And thank God for that, because if it were up to you…we’d all be in trouble.
With love and a grain of salt,