Trapped Part Two: The Mercenary

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2 mercenary

In part one of this series I told you there are a lot of ministers working in churches who no longer feel a sense of calling to their vocation. With no other job skills and dependent on their income, they become trapped in their jobs.

Lots of people are trapped in their jobs, for one reason or another. But a minister and congregation have an agreed-upon understanding that he or she has a divine calling to this vocation. If the minister no longer feels called to that congregation, his or her practical need for employment is in conflict with the needs of the community. I’ve noticed that ministers use a variety of coping mechanisms, often unconscious, to deal with the stress of that conflict. I’ll be writing about these different ways of coping over the coming weeks.

The Mercenary

Harold “surrendered” to the ministery when he was 18. That was the language his faith community used. He graduated from seminary and began his work with excitement and passion. But a series of disillusioning events caused him theological doubts that lead to his feeling out of place with his denomination. In addition, the churches he served had a lot of conflict and a number of very difficult members. And dealing with conflict was not Harold’s strong point.

Harold is now 45. He has lost all passion for his calling. He fantasizes about leaving the church altogether and working a simple, “nine-to-five” job. But his teen-age children and wife are deeply invested in their church. And besides, what would he do? He has no other job skills.

So Harold soldiers on. He keeps his dissatisfaction to himself and carries out his duties in order to get his paycheck. He preaches and teaches. He visits the sick and administers the business of the church. Discerning people can tell that Harold seems shallow or fake. But most of the people in his church are not particularly discerning. And the truth is, Harold’s personal situation isn’t that important to most of the members. As long as he “takes care of business,” they don’t want to know about his personal struggles.

Theology doesn’t seem to matter to Harold. Why would it? He is all about keeping the peace, keeping his job, and avoiding conflict. He preaches and teaches what his community expects to hear. His church sits comfortably in a middle-of-the-road theological position for his denominational tradition.

As a self defense mechanism, Harold does not allow himself to become emotionally invested in anyone in his congregation. When he is around his parishoners, he has a Mister Rogers style personality that he slips into. When people leave his office, his face goes slack.

Once a year or so, at a distant convention of ministers, he confesses his lack of passion for ministry and fantasies of leaving the church to old seminary friends. They listen with compassion but the conversation makes them uncomfortable. Some of them are in the same boat but have not admitted it to themselves yet. Others simply have no answers for him and change the subject as soon as they can.

The price Harold pays to keep the peace and his job is a secret sorrow and loneliness that will eventually manifest itself in a variety of physical and emotional ailments. The congregation pays a price as well, though they haven’t noticed it. For they have begun to take on the same deadness that Harold feels inside. They take no risks; they do not listen for a fresh word from the Lord; they are not interested in trying anything new. They carry out their churchly duties with robotic precision, maintain their own sense of comfort, and keep the doors open on Sundays.

Harold's story is based on the life of a minister I know in Texas. His name has been changed.

Questions for reflection:

Do you have any recomendations for Harold?

How should Harold's church respond to his life and ministry?

Next in the Series: The Cynic