I recently received a phone call from a colleague, who shared that some of his key leaders, including former board members, no longer felt “spiritually fed” by his Sunday lessons. And because the ministry has not grown much in recent years, they questioned whether or not he is still a good fit.
Unfortunately, this dynamic is not an isolated case of ministry leaders dealing with the discomfort of little or no growth and wondering if the minister still has the “right stuff.” With 4 out of 5 churches in North America in decline and 85% of New Thought ministries and centers with congregations less than 100, it is not surprising that ministry leaders are looking to their ministers as the potential weak link in the chain of thriving ministry causation.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of this colleague and ask yourself, “How can I dispute someone’s belief that I am no longer spiritually feeding them?” Can you sense the frustration, the disappointment, and perhaps the fear?
Herein lies the setup, one that we have denominationally perpetuated as a myth with respect to our role that we are here to spiritually feed people. Think about it…we teach: tithe to where you are spiritually fed; give to the source of your spiritual nourishment; support what serves you; etc.
Okay, so here’s the simple Truth: The minister is not and will never be the soul (pardon the pun) source of another’s spiritual nourishment. The problem lies in the 400-year-old model of ministry where the pastor has unknowingly been cast in the surrogate role of parent in relation to the congregation, or a liaison to God and therefore is responsible for his flock’s well-being.
We have inherited a legacy, a cultural imperative with respect to the role and responsibility of being a minister unto a spiritual community. We have bought into the myth that our job is to rescue, save, protect, lift up, take care of, or otherwise be all things to all people. While innocent at its core, this imperative carries with it the unintended consequence of people inadvertently casting us in the role of being responsible for their well-being—whether or not they are spiritually fed.
The other side of this issue is with respect to spiritual maturity. There comes a time in everyone’s spiritual journey, when we no longer find food for thought or inspiration “out there.” We go through a “wilderness experience” where we are uninspired, unimpressed, dissatisfied, and bored with the traditional avenues of spiritual nourishment. After awhile – 40 days or 40 years – we may awaken to the reality that “I am Source” unto myself and unto my own life.
IT can no longer come from out there. IT can only be realized from within. I can only be actualized from within. I am a localized center of Source unto my own life. No longer do I tithe to Source, but I tithe as Source. No longer do I find myself fed by what I hear or by what I experience so much as by what I express and by what actions I take. It is my Conscious Being and Authentic Doing that feeds me. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life of God. This is not to say that we are no longer blessed by our encounters or interactions with the external world. It means that we are not placing the burden of our well-being on outer circumstances in our lives, but rather placing the emphasis on how we are being with what we are having.
My advice to this colleague was to understand that his detractors are at a spiritual crossroads. He has the opportunity to guide them into a new context for their spiritual journey. I invited him to celebrate their discontent, to agree that he is not feeding them spiritually anymore. And to thank God that they are at the portal of their own integrity, power, and indomitable spirit. Thank God, you are no longer their source.
In the words of my friend, Ken Wilber, “First we wake up, then we grow up.” These growth-filled moments are not only calling us higher but are calling us to be who we have come here to be – Source unto our life; Source unto our world.