Here Comes a Happy Minister | Forum for Theological Exploration

Here Comes a Happy Minister

By: Nicole Lamarche
March 09, 2011

Reporting from the lively events at Transition Into Ministry’s Leadership Summit at the IUPUI in Indianapolis, sponsored by the Lilly Endowment. Photos from the event are below.

Apparently like most clergy, I joyfully report that I love my job. Clergy, according to studies done by Matt Bloom at the University of Notre Dame, report being happier than the average American. Bloom divides happiness into two categories: the first being, what he calls hedonic and the second he labels eudaimonic. Hedonic happiness is easily attainable- simply grab a few friends, a good bottle of Cabernet and you are well on your way to hedonic heights. Eudaimonic, however, is a bit more complicated and requires the depth and breadth of joy found only in contentment that isn’t fleeting. According to Bloom, clergy can more easily report that we are happy in the deep sense, yet we often can’t say that we are happy in the laugh-your-butt-off-lovin’-life kind of sense. And when you talk to our spouses, those faithful people who put up with night meeting upon night meeting, few raises and lots of frustration, they report that we clergy are even less happy than we say we are. Maybe they know the truth- that the pastoral life is just a damn hard job, or maybe clergy spouses themselves aren’t all that happy. In a way, clergy spouses share the burden and struggles of the pastoral life, they pray with us, cry with us and walk into the trenches with us, but they do not necessarily share the call. I would never do this work without absolute clarity that God wants me to do it. It is simply too difficult.

Happiness, I suppose wouldn’t be the reason someone would consider serving God in a church, but it seems to me that God wants us to be happy. I keep thinking of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, “I have said these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” So maybe clergy aren’t jumping for joy with happiness because we forget that this work isn’t about us. We put in the kind of hours typically found on Wall Street and we wonder why our people don’t tell us to go home. We tend to difficult person after difficult person and wonder why our energy feels zapped. We sometimes grumble about the fact that our beloveds don’t trust God to show the way, when we ourselves have trouble doing the same. Perhaps the pastoral life lacks happy zest, not because of the work itself, but because we forget that if we miss a meeting or fail to preach a sermon that transforms, God will still be God, the world will still turn, the sun will still rise and set. What if we stopped assuming that it was all on us and started making time to have fun? What if we approached this work as if happiness was what God wanted? This is not to say that we will love every part of the job or be happy with all that we are called to do, but it seems as if lots of clergy live as if God doesn’t want them to be happy. Can’t we take this work seriously and still be happy? I plan to take Jesus’ words about joy to heart. Look out world, here comes a happy minister!

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