Dear Addie: I Really Need a Day OFF

Dear Addie,
 
I am several months into a new ministry position and am enjoying the experience very much. But today, on my day off, I am wondering what the “proper” protocol is for ministers on their days off. Am I supposed to answer emails today? Take phone calls? Should the office give out my cell number and put calls through to me? I don’t think we covered “day off” guidelines in seminary. Help!
 
Just Wanting Some Peace and Quiet

Dear Peace and Quiet,

Congratulations on your new ministry position! Setting boundaries early in your tenure will be helpful for you and your congregation.

Prepare an automatic response on your work email account that is triggered on your day off to notify senders that you will not be reading your email until you are back in the office. Include a sentence that instructs them who to call if they need a reply that day (Hint: It’s not you). Allow calls that come to your cellphone or home phone to go to voicemail; then you can listen to the message before deciding whether the call merits a response that day (Hint: It probably doesn’t). Just because someone calls you at home doesn’t mean you are obligated to respond immediately. Do not instruct the church office to give out your cell number on your day off. Provide the office with guidelines about what constitutes an emergency – you likely want to be notified of a birth, a death, a hospitalization, or some other time-sensitive situation.

Although you may feel awkward initially having these conversations with office staff and congregants, remember that this is a teachable moment. By modeling how to carve out time for rest and reflection, you are empowering others to do the same in their personal lives. You will be more creative, more engaged, and more effective in your ministry if you make time for Sabbath rest.

Get some rest!
Addie

DEAR ADDIE: I’m Ready to Be a Mom

Dear Addie,

I am a thirty-seven-year-old single minister, serving on the staff of a large church. I have never been married and am not currently dating. And to be honest, I don’t see marriage in my future. I have made peace with my singleness—with one exception. I desperately want to mother a child.

My ministry position is as secure as any ministry position ever will be. I have saved a chunk of money by being frugal and careful, and I am in good physical shape. In recent months, I have read books, explored websites, and had conversations about single parenting, and I am ready to move ahead with this idea.

I know that adoption is probably the best route for me to pursue as a single minister mom, but in my heart, I really want to carry and birth my baby. I also know that having a pregnant unmarried minister (even one who openly confesses her use of artificial insemination) will be difficult for my congregation to accept.

How do you think I can start a conversation about a potential pregnancy with my fellow church staff members and leaders in the church? Or do you think I even should start this conversation? I love my church, love my ministry—I don’t want to shock, offend, or hurt them.

I am so conflicted! Your wise words, Dear Addie, would be appreciated!

-My Biological Clock is Ticking LOUDLY


 

Dear Conflicted,

The decision to become a mother is a highly personal one, yet one that has enormous implications for you personally and professionally. Your calling should figure into the calculus of your decision-making, but how much? You say you have already identified “the best route” to pursue as a single minister, but I wonder if silencing your heart’s desire really is the best route. If you worked in a different setting, would you be weighing your options in the same manner? Certainly everyone who is called into the ministry must make sacrifices, but is this a sacrifice God is calling you to make?

Have you begun a conversation with those closest to you outside of your church – your family and trusted friends? If so, have their responses strengthened your resolve or clouded the issue? Do you have a mentor, a coach, or a spiritual director with whom you are speaking regularly? If not, you need to identify a spiritually mature individual outside of the church who can walk with you. Ultimately, you are the only one who can make this monumental decision, but God often uses others to help us in the process of discernment.

You wonder how you can begin a conversation with your fellow staff members about this sensitive subject. Are you seeking their input, or are you going to them with a final decision? You say your position is as secure as possible, but few ministerial positions are truly secure. If your pastor is supportive but then leaves unexpectedly during your pregnancy, what happens then? You need to take the long view. Your initial decision about whether to adopt or become pregnant will have long-term implications; either way, the decision to be a single mother will provoke questions should you look for another position down the road.

Does your church have a maternity leave policy in place? A conversation with your pastor or direct supervisor regarding the need for a policy, or one clarifying the details of the existing policy, would provide you with an opening for this discussion. (Note: BWIM’s website offers helpful resources regarding church maternity leave policies.) Initiating the conversation will undoubtedly be awkward, but this is absolutely necessary and needs to occur sooner rather than later. Realistically, you cannot control whether or not your decision shocks, offends, or hurts people in your congregation. Are you prepared to extend grace to those who don’t accept your choice? You are indeed facing a difficult decision, yet one that has the potential to bring you – and your congregation – great joy. Blessings on your journey.

Addie

DEAR ADDIE: Preaching with a Translator?

Dear Addie,

I am serving in a short-term mission position in a Spanish-speaking country, and I have been asked to preach. Since my Spanish is muy poco, the church will provide a translator, but I have never preached with a translator. Help!

Can I Learn Spanish Before Sunday?

 

Dear C.I.L.S.B.S,

What a great opportunity for you! Preaching the gospel cross-culturally always presents challenges, and preaching with a translator has its own whole set of challenges. It can add a new level of anxiety when standing in the pulpit. So a few words of advice.

Ask your translator for input! Ask what tends to work in that context. Ask how long your sermon should be, and remember your words are being said twice so keep your sermon shorter than usual. Get feedback as early as you can, and adjust your sermon and delivery to best meet the needs of your listeners.

Preach what you know. Use a text or even a sermon you have used before. You will have more time to rehearse your delivery if you aren’t consumed by the task of writing a brand new sermon.

Divide your sermon into short paragraphs of two or three short sentences each. This brevity will be a gift to your translator, who should not be expected to remember a long, complicated series of sentences.

Provide your sermon manuscript to your translator—preferably a day or two before the service. Allowing your translator time to become familiar with your sermon will make the interaction between the two of you a much smoother experience.

Rehearse! Practice your words. Practice the pauses! See if you can establish some rhythm as you practice.

Use eye contact. When you are standing quietly as the translator speaks, look at the people sitting in front of you. Don’t stare down at your manuscript or glance awkwardly at the translator. Engage your listeners by looking at them and getting a sense of their reaction to your words.

Remember to breathe! And relax as much as you can. Try not to be stiff and wooden.

And most importantly, pray. Ask the spirit to speak through you and through your translator and trust that the gospel will be communicated clearly to all who listen.

Blessings on you in this new adventure.

Addie

DEAR ADDIE: Unemployed and Losing Hope

Dear Addie,

I have a shiny new seminary diploma of which I am proud. But I don’t have a ministry position to go with it!

I started my search process about six months before I graduated, but so far no luck. I have had a few interviews and even went on a visit to one church, but I just can’t seem to make it to the final round.

I, of course, saved very little money during seminary, and while I don’t have much student debt, I also don’t have much money left to live on. I know the search process sometimes takes a long time, but I can’t afford to wait much longer. I have rent to pay and health insurance to buy. Plus I really want to keep on eating. Yet working some place like Starbucks seems like such a waste of my education and my calling. I would feel like such a failure. I can hardly even think about taking a non-ministry job.

Hope is Slipping Away

 

My dear H.I.S.A.,

You are in that hard space of between–between seminary and your first full-time job, and that space is rather crowded these days. It seems to take a bit longer to find that first position after you graduate–so know that you are not alone. I imagine some of your fellow graduates are still in search mode as well. Reach out to them. Be a support to them, and ask them to return the favor. Pray for each other. Share your disappointments. And learn from each other. Searching for a ministry position should never be done in isolation. You need lots of friends and encouragers to make it through this season.

You are also in a beautiful space–a space in which you have opportunity to learn that there are no wasted experiences in life. Every job you take, every employer you have, every co-worker you serve with will contribute to who you are as a person and as a minister, and working in a non-church job can add great value to your ministry journey. In fact, a secular job will provide you with many opportunities for service. Being a barista or a waitress affords you with personal encounters and conversations that will stretch your ministry gifts, help you develop stronger pastoral skills, and open doors for you to serve many folks who are not and may never be connected with a church. While you are not able to imagine it now, Starbucks can be a place of ministry for you. So open yourself to a new vision of how and where God can use you, and remember that there is ministry to be done in every place you work, in every job you hold.

And finally, hold on to hope! And keep on doing the work required to find a ministry position as you serve faithfully in whatever situation you find yourself.

Blessings on you,

Addie

 

 

DEAR ADDIE: The Wedding Bells Blues

Dear Addie,

My divorce was finalized a month ago. My church members took the separation well, and they have been supportive throughout this whole painful process. One of my greatest struggles as a newly divorced minister has been what to do about weddings. I am scheduled to officiate at two weddings in the next few months, and every time I think about standing before a congregation and blessing a marriage, I feel so sad and a little sick. I worry that I might break down and cry. Do you think it would be wrong for me to ask these two couples to find another minister?

The Wedding Bell Blues

 

Dear T.W.B.B.,

I am deeply sorry for your loss. Those words may seem strange, but you are grieving the loss of your marriage. While the support of your congregation has undergirded you thus far in this painful process, you are understandably experiencing trepidation as you imagine what it will feel like to stand before them in that particular context. Just as a pastor who has recently lost a loved one is aware that the first few funerals she conducts will trigger fresh waves of grief, you know that officiating these weddings will evoke deep emotions for you.

Should you ask these two couples to find another minister? Only you can answer that question. The proximity of these weddings to your recent divorce has escalated your anxiety. You don’t want to become a distraction at an event where the bride and groom should be the center of attention. But declining to officiate may be taking the easy way out–allowing you to postpone the painful but necessary interior work that will lead you to a healthier place, a place where you can rejoice as a couple takes their wedding vows, even as you mourn the loss of your own marriage.

Have you been seeing a pastoral counselor during the period leading to the dissolution of your marriage? You need a non-anxious presence outside of your church family who can help you to process your feelings in a safe space. You can model good self-care for your congregation by getting the help that you need to wrestle with your pain and grief.

May God grant you peace and courage for the living of these days.
Addie

Dear Addie: A Mom Looking for Wisdom

Dear Addie,

I am a minister mom, prayerfully considering a new position. My children are ten and twelve years old, and I am very concerned that my family’s transition to a new community and a new church will be painful for them. They love our current church, and I don’t want to in any way jeopardize their affection for “the church.”

My husband and I both want our children to continue loving the church as they move into their teenage years, and we are perplexed as to what to do? Would this move be too big a risk to take?

A Mom Looking for Wisdom

 

Dear A.M.L.F.W.,

You and your husband share a desire for your children to continue loving “the church” in the years to come, which is laudable. Your concern about the angst they may experience if you make a move, particularly as they transition into their teenage years, is understandable. Leaving a dearly loved church is always difficult, regardless of the stage of life.

Try and view this as a teachable moment, an opportunity for your entire family to grow spiritually as you step out in faith together and follow God’s lead. This is a chance for you to model discipleship for your children. Just as Jesus’ first disciples were called to make sacrifices in order to follow Him, we, too, are called to make sacrifices as we seek to follow Christ. Obedience is costly, and we do our children no favors when we water down this spiritual truth.

Would this move be too big a risk to take? Here’s a better question: If you feel God is leading you to accept a new position, is being disobedient too big a risk to take?

Blessings,

Addie

 

If you have a question for Dear Addie, please send them to dearaddie.advice@gmail.com.

*The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

 

DEAR ADDIE: So Lonely

Dear Addie,

I am serving outside the United States, doing mission work. I have been here for eight months and really enjoy my ministry. I am a twenty-eight-year-old single woman, and honestly, prior to my move to “the field,” I did not give much thought to my singleness. But suddenly, I am finding it difficult to remain content in being single. Why is it harder here than it was in the U.S.? Any suggestions on finding peace with my singleness?

Lonely and Far Away From Home

 

Dear L.A.F.A.F.H.,

As you have faithfully followed God’s call, you have left behind all that was familiar. Now you find yourself in a foreign land having “foreign” feelings – discontent with your singleness. Whenever our usual routines are changed, that which is deep within us rises up and gets our attention. Rather than viewing this yearning for companionship as a problem, can you receive it as an invitation to self-discovery?

As you explore your feelings of discontentment, what might God be teaching you about yourself? About your relationships with others? About your relationship with God? This is a good time to discover the spiritual discipline of solitude. Solitude, aloneness, and loneliness are not synonyms. Perhaps the distance between you and your support system of family and friends back in the U.S. has made you more keenly aware of your need for companions on the spiritual journey. What steps can you take to nurture new spiritual friendships on the mission field?

The Apostle Paul, a veteran missionary, wrote that he had learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11). Those are certainly challenging words. How can you be open to the possibility of finding a life partner while still being content in your singleness? Moving from loneliness to aloneness to solitude is spiritual work. Making those movements doesn’t preclude the decision to have a life partner, but it does move the possibility of single life into a different light.

Blessings on your ministry,

Addie

 

If you have a question for Dear Addie, please send them to dearaddie.advice@gmail.com.

*The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

Dear Addie: Hoping to be a Pastor

Dear Addie,

I am a thirty-seven-year-old ordained minister, seminary graduate, and a mother of three elementary school-aged children. I have served in a variety of ways in the past twelve years, piecing together positions, doing pulpit supply, and writing some. And now there is a position available to me in a nearby church. In some ways, this position and this church are an ideal match for me. It is a part-time position, and I would be working with teenagers and college students. I would have time at home with my children, be able to preach some, and make use of my pastoral care skills.

The drawback for me is that I have always felt a strong call to the pastorate. Doors never opened for me to pursue that calling, and I continue to grieve the loss of that dream.

Now I need to make a decision about this opportunity. The church that I am talking with is really special, but I worry that the position would frustrate me and that I might not be able to adjust to working with young people.

Any advice? I am wide open to suggestions, ideas, prayers!

Still Hoping to be a Pastor

 

Dear Hoping to be a Pastor,

You have learned the hard way that the doors of opportunity in ministry do not swing open as freely for women as they do for men. You are grieving an unfulfilled dream to be a pastor, yet I would encourage you to be patient and prayerful. After all, you are only thirty-seven years old. While you may feel that you are far behind seminary classmates who were on the fast track to the pastorate–those who walked straight out of the classroom and into the pastor’s office–God willing, your dream may still come to pass. A pastoral biological clock is not a ticking one. God can and does call women and men of all ages to serve as pastors.

In the meantime, a door of opportunity stands open before you. This church is special for you, and you already have a sense of how you can use your gifts in this place. You recognize the benefits of being able to be present with your children during these critical years in their lives. I think the opportunities by far outweigh the challenges.

If you choose to walk through this door, you may discover that God will then lead you to another open door. You can trust that none of your experiences will be wasted in God’s economy. Through your prior service, your writing, your preaching, and your parenting, God has been shaping you–preparing you for what comes next. Hold on to your dream. In the meantime, serve the Lord with gladness.

Blessings!

Addie

DEAR ADDIE: New Minister Mom Blues

Dear Addie,

My husband and I are new parents of a beautiful and brilliant baby girl, who is soon to be six weeks old. So yes, my maternity leave is almost over. I love my ministry positon. I do. And I love the children in our church. I want to be a children’s minister. God called me to this role, to this church. But the thought of being away from my sweet baby girl is killing me. Maybe it is the hormones, but all I have done this week is cry. And when I cry, both my daughter and my husband cry too. My house is not a pretty place these days. Do you think I will get over being emotionally distraught? Is it even possible that I might enjoy my ministry work again? Or will I be forever sad for deciding to not stay at home?

Broken-Hearted New Minister Mom

 

Dear BHNMM,

First of all, congratulations on the birth of your daughter! You have entered a new season of life as a mother, wife, and minister. The emotional distress that you are experiencing is common among new mothers and is certainly not limited to those in ministry—check out the fascinating article from The Atlantic called “What Happens to a Woman’s Brain When She Becomes a Mother.”

The birth of your daughter has triggered a seismic shift in your priorities. As you cradle your daughter in your arms and anticipate being separated from her, your ministry position seems more like a threat to your emotional well-being than a source of fulfillment. But in time, the sadness should diminish and you can once again find joy in your ministry. If your emotional distress does not subside, you may be suffering from postpartum depression, and you need to seek professional help.

Making the transition from maternity leave to minister will be challenging, so you would greatly benefit from talking with someone who has already successfully navigated this path. If a name doesn’t readily come to mind, contact Pam Durso, and she will be happy to help connect you to another minister who can encourage you in this journey of motherhood and ministry. Connect with other women in ministry who are at a similar stage of life. Ask them the questions that are racing through your mind. Don’t isolate yourself; nurture a network of supportive peers.

Remember, the God who called you to be a minister knew that you would also become a mother. God has begun a good work in you, and God will be faithful to complete it. May you find joy in motherhood and joy in ministry in the days to come.

Blessings,

Addie

 

If you have a question for Dear Addie, please send them to dearaddie.advice@gmail.com.

*The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

DEAR ADDIE: Trying to Make Ends Meet

Dear Addie,

I’ve been working on staff at a church for a few years and have come to realize that I am underpaid. I am sure some people might think, “Aren’t we all underpaid!” But I’ve discovered that I really am significantly underpaid and am gearing up for the appropriate conversations to try to remedy the situation. How might I call this information to my church’s attention without sounding whiny or complaining? I want to be professional but also convincing of the need for a salary increase.

Trying to Make Ends Meet

Dear TTMEM,

William Willimon, in his book Calling and Character, writes, “Ministry is not merely a profession, not only because one cannot pay pastors to do many of the things they routinely do, but also because ministry is a vocation.” Yes, I would agree that many ministers are underpaid, but Willimon’s words remind us that we are not in the ministry for the money. We do what we do in answering the call of God upon our lives to proclaim and live the Word in and among the people. However, days are wearied when ministers wrestle with the thought of having to abandon their present calling and place of service because there is not sufficient money to sustain their present needs. But those days happen.

Serving the church is a partnership with the people of God, and it helps to be open and honest about your financial needs with your congregation’s leadership. Most of the time, they are unaware of the shortcomings and are unaware of how ministers salary packages are really divided out. I would encourage you first to do your homework. There are resources you can consult, including The 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff and Guide to Negotiating Pastor Compensation from Ministers and Missionaries Benefits Board.

I would then encourage you to sit down with your leadership and carefully explain your financial needs to see if the church is able to rise to the occasion. If not, you will have to wrestle with whether God wants you to remain or move on. Although it might sound religiously trite, God will provide one way or another. For those who are answering calls to serve in the church, before you say yes, do some homework. Know how much it is going to financially cost you to live and serve in the community.

Take courage! Ministry is a partnership with the people of God. Just as you have a calling from God to care for the people in the church who are God’s children, the people have a calling from God to care for you as their minister.

Blessings to you and your church family!

Addie