What would be said next changed everything. What happens when leadership are the ones in pain? When people are just that… people. The abuse of the clergy and those who serve in spiritual communities.
It is a side not often talked about. It is a silent killer.
We have heard about the horrors of when clergy and religious leaders abuse individuals under their care; the devastation wrought, horrific. What is less talked about are the realities of clergy and religious/spiritual leaders (and their families) who, while albeit willingly at times, endure up under the most ridiculous of circumstances. Past the point of abuse, individuals stay within a role or congregation as their own being gets whittled away.
What keeps them there?
I have seen dozens of varieties of answers. Everything from insecurity to some notion of duty combine, the “needs” of the people pair up with the need of the leader to be needed, the idolatry of numbers and performance, the naïve thoughts of the majority that the spiritual leader is something other then themselves (some how closer to God); all of these and others combine to create culture where the spiritual formation of the many ride on the coat tails of the one. The one allotting for it, as it ensures position. Until, what? Until the weight of the mantle is too heavy? Collapse inevitable.
I am not negating the responsibility for growth and healing and appropriate boundaries; but until you have served, been married to, or parented by one who is in ministry or serving some sense of God the comprehension of this might be hard. I have. I have lived it. I have seen it, first hand. I have witnessed the bad, the ugly, and the down right wrong. I have sat with leaders, their spouses, their children. I have walked along side my own, learned my own lessons. Come out stronger.
The lure of ministry within certain sectors, the westernization of what success in spirituality looks like, the lack of interior formation and inner belief all congregate together. The results at times disastrous.
We read the stories of “moral failures,” inappropriate usage of resources, the disappointing realities of the fallen pedestal sitters. Those that built their pedestals, those who put them upon them, those that lingered upon every word now the loudest of the detractors. Burying the idol in rubble, so as to avoid personal responsibility for all the pain that was caused. Who cares for the one who has fallen? Who cares for that individual? Their families? When that which was wanted can no longer be given because the one is sucked dry, what happens then? The numbers dwindle. The once filled parking lots lay as ghost lands. There is heart break. While the religious faithful stand and point, who walks in backwards to cover? Who looks at the individual and says, “your humanity is enough.” Thank you.
For those who attend religious services, this is a must read. For those who serve them, this is a must read. The importance to hold out hope; that we can all walk in and touch spiritual formation and growth, health and healing is imperative. Egos and the need to “be somebody,” need to be given space to be talked about. Success in the context of spirituality can not.. CAN NOT, allow itself to be measured by the same standards as the world uses. Spiritual formation and growth isn’t based on mega-church attendance nor podcast base listeners. “Success” in spirituality can not use the context of bottom line equations. But we have let that all happen, much to the detriment of many amazing human beings. Much to the detriment of all of us.
Here are some stories to highlight the reality when spiritual abuse and pain are upon those that lead. If this is something like your story, some variation of ….. You are loved, valued, cherished for the man or woman that you are… YOUR HUMANITY IS ENOUGH!
“Well, you would totally win if you were playing with me. I guess I don’t know anyone.” I had listened to an old friend talk about how people, he was in ministry with; played, “contact roulette.” Who had who in the rolodex. Who had who’s private cell number. I listened, took it in. Remembered different days within my own life. And answered the way I did. What would be said next changed everything. My friend looked at me. Perhaps it was because I was no social threat on the hierarchy of the who’s who in the show biz of ministry. “You know,” Mims, “I am so lonely. (Named spouse) and I are just so lonely.”
There is was, I was ever so glad for my response.
Could people be impressed by my friend? Yes. Could most see him just as another man? No, no.. most couldn’t. Most wouldn’t want to or be able to disengage from the persona to see what was underneath.
“I’m not one of your paparazzi, do you want to tell me how you are really doing?” I hadn’t seen my friend in over a year. I had been told he would be at the gathering. I had been with him around the pinnacle of his becoming and sadly, had front row seats for the undoing. The realities of all that transpired had set so very much up in flames. It wasn’t that there hadn’t been a personal cost, it was that I still had deep affection for him. When I saw him across the way I knew I wanted to go and say hello. As we struck up a conversation, I asked the ‘how are you doing?’ question. A masked response was given. I looked up, I knew my friend. I wanted a genuine moment. The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. But there were the ones I wanted to say.
The release upon his body was evident. He exhaled. We talked, real talk, for a few moments. Then he had to go. I had shared that my grief around all that went down was that the person of who he was hadn’t been granted the time to heal. The industry of spirituality/ churchianity owned a piece of his backside. More of a persona then a person, and the grief continued.
It was one of those lunches. Set up by those interested in networking and connecting. I knew the anticipation for the meeting was high. There were a number of people around, what would begin to emerge was not networking. The moment my eyes set upon him, my heart lurched. While there was certainly an agenda, there were other realities that I could see upon the individual. Intuition is a large part of my make-up. Call it revelation, empathic sensing, or intuition; I knew that the man before me was suicidal. This wasn’t going to be about ministry connections. This was going to be about one human being to another talking about life.
I think of that story often.
The pressures of life and ministry upon individuals, couples, and families. The same could be true about so very many professions. The “special” reality that accompanies those who work as leaders in some sort of spiritual construct, is that upon them is tied images of God. Upon them is the weight, expectation, and demand to be more than just human. I have watched the need of people and congregations put that upon men and women, I have watched men and women take that up upon themselves.
When will we allow for the humanity of our leaders to be enough? When will we allow for our own humanity to be enough?
Time for healing, for a re-grouping of hope. Time for rest. The exhaustion and depletion levels are beyond calculation. The re-humanizing of service is at hand.