By Rev. Aimee Baxter
Most people don’t leave the job; they leave the management and/or the staff.
That rings true often in our ministries as clergy and lay people. Most of us, on most days, love the job, but can find the people we work with challenging. These working relationships can either be the greatest source of life, or they can suck you dry making life miserable for all parties involved.
It is a gift to have colleagues and staff that you work well with in any season of ministry. To be in the company of great colleagues in the midst of a pandemic? Well, that is a God send! Truly.
What makes for a positive and affirming experience with your partner in ministry? Here are a couple of things that spring to mind solely based on my experiences in my current context.
A Generous Sense of Humor
The first Sunday back in March after we were thrust into the live-streaming world with absolutely no experience was a bit of a comedy of errors. We were using an iPhone because the Wi-Fi wasn’t strong enough in the sanctuary to stream. The tripod that we thought we had was broken. We had the phone propped on a music stand to record. On our test run, the phone fell with a sweeping thud for our whole Facebook audience to see. We ended up resting the phone on two copies of the “Book of Common Prayer”. It worked. Voila, we had a live-stream broadcast!
This whole situation could have been a total disaster. I’ve been in settings where it would have been tense, and the expectations for perfection would have outweighed the people in the moment. Instead, when the phone fell we laughed so hard we had tears streaming down our face. We knew we were novices and the ability to laugh at ourselves got us through that stressful moment better than anything else.
The expression, “you have to laugh to keep from crying,” has taken on new meaning and been the foundation of a healthy working relationship and pandemic survival.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,”
These words from Brené Brown have carried deeper truth for me over the last six months. The ability to be vulnerable with the person who you are in the trenches with on a daily basis produces better outcomes for everyone involved.
While we have certainly had these moments in the most traditional sense, trust me, my pastoral colleague and I have shed tears and expressed frustrations pretty frequently. These have been the times when I have seen the gift of vulnerability turn into creativity.
When it comes to ideas, we have put some doozies out there.
We thought of new ways to see our people while keeping them safe through monthly drive ups where inevitably it rains every single time we do it. Go back to a good sense of humor on this one.
We made a Flat Frank (think Flat Stanley) to commemorate the ordination of our new bishop whose name is Frank and filmed our people dancing with it to a rap song during the previously mentioned drive-ups.
We made an Easter TikTok video and then made more TikToks. If you want to feel vulnerable, put yourself out there dancing through your church in your Easter vestments. It’s pretty “next level” on the vulnerability front.
Some of our ideas never make it to our congregation because my colleague and I look at each other and say, “Yeah, I don’t think so.” (Oh, wouldn’t you like to know what those are?) Vulnerability is the vein that runs through all of it. Being willing to take risks has proven to be life-giving.
I am a planner by nature. While I’d like to think I am naturally pretty flexible, the truth is I am not. Being open to change requires work. Knowing that we won’t be able to plan as usual requires a true spiritual discipline of surrender.
I threw away my yearly calendar at the beginning of April. I couldn’t bear to visually see all the things that were not going to be. We started over from scratch. Letting go of what was, having the flexibility to plan in shorter increments of time, trying something out and knowing it may or may not work, saved us.
This kind of flexibility only works if everyone is on the same page and there is a lot of communication. Perhaps more than ever, there’s a need to over-communicate with our co-workers and be ready at any moment to drop back and punt.
Knowing Your Strengths, Limitations and Boundaries
Boundaries are extremely important. Without them we lose ourselves and burn out quickly. With them, we feel as though we can ask for the space we need when we need it. For a people pleaser like myself, boundaries are not only life-giving but essential to me thriving in ministry.
I’m fortunate that in my current context there is a mutual respect among our ministry team as to the importance of clear Sabbath time and self-care. We all recognize that when we give each permission to rest we are better for it.
Having clear boundaries helps us to be honest about our strengths and limitations. As a result of good soul care for one another, we can see when one of us needs to step in and let the other walk away. We are free to let each member of the team pour into the places of ministry that are their sweet spot and be cognizant of when we are asking them for too much in the places that are harder for them.
It also helps to really know what makes the other person tick and to have open dialogue about your passions and calls to ministry. The Enneagram has been an incredible tool for our clergy team. I’m sure for some the Enneagram feels a bit overrated, but for us it’s been a game changer. We are a team composed of a 1 and 8. We like order and control. A pandemic pushes up against our biggest desires. Knowing that these needs for structure and authority are what motivates each of us makes it a whole lot easier to process the world around us.
Trust is the glue that holds all of these things together.
Trust allows us to hold a generous view of each other.
Trust acknowledges that even when we mess up, we still have each other’s back.
Trust accepts us for who we are and makes room for each individual.
Without trust, relationships don’t work. Instead of a practically perfect partnership you end up with perpetually prickly people.
About the Author
Rev. Aimee Baxter is an ordained Deacon in the United Methodist Church. She is married to Shannon who is also a Deacon in the UMC and has three children ranging in age from 6-16. Aimee’s passions are family, the church, Auburn football and Duke basketball.
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