Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In the Spotlight

Rachel Held Evans has a Q and A up with singer Jennifer Knapp. You may recall that Jennifer was quite popular in Christian music (I fondly remember seeing her open for dc Talk years and years ago), took a hiatus, and then released a new album while also coming out as a lesbian.

The whole interview is fantastic, but I zeroed in on this tidbit that Jennifer shares in response to a question about what she did during that hiatus from music:
Retrospectively, one thing I’d say is that while it is possible to learn from the experience of being ‘in the spotlight’; it is not the most fertile soil for significant growth. The spotlight is where we celebrate and commune with what we’ve learned. The growth, the creation, self-exploration and processing, I just can’t see how we can possibly do that effectively with an audience. It’s too exposed. Being observed inherently shapes the outcome. We usually talk differently when we are being observed. We perform. That’s not bad; it’s just not the entire purpose or the end game.
I see a lot of parallels to my own life here. As a pastor, I spend huge chunks of my time in public: preaching, teaching, visitation, etc. In my experience, ministry is a learn-as-you-go sort of exercise, even though I'd also maintain that establishing a foundation in some semblance of a controlled environment (seminary, lay training, internships, CPE) is important as well. It varies how much time people in ministry take time to do the self-exploration and processing that Jennifer identifies as also being important. If we are only working out our calling in public, then we are possibly crafting a persona that performs well, but that is not necessarily indicative of who we truly are or want to be. And if we never take time to figure out what that is, then all the worse for us.

I've become interested lately in the specific spiritual needs of people in ministry. In fact, I've discerned that that may be the focus of this spiritual direction course I'm taking. I recently led a workshop where one of the concepts I touched on was from author Jaco J. Hamman, who talks about the true self vs. the false self. Our true self is who we really are; our false self is who we put on to please others. As Jennifer observes and as Hamman echoes, the latter is mostly worked out in the public sphere, perhaps with little to no time to stop and reflect on one's motivations, history, insecurities, and desires.

If we pastors are only in the spotlight, we damage ourselves and, by extension, our ministry. It is good, then, to stop, sit, reflect, pray. In those moments we refrain from being observed and are able instead to be our own observers, and to observe what God may be trying to tell us.