Have You Become the Resentful Giver?

Clergy often say the same thing: “Why does everyone need something from me?

by Cal LeMon

A long time ago you made a commitment, set in the concrete of time, to make Christ the Lord of your life. This was not a glib confession of faith.

Over the years, you made repeated trips to a quiet altar where your knees ached, but your heart gave a standing ovation when the Creator of the universe arrived with a gift of grace, with your name on it.

You were ecstatic when, in surrendering to God’s still small voice, you received a loving acceptance as an ambassador for Christ. You joined the biblical A-list that includes Elijah, David, the apostle Paul, and Mary Magdalene. You marched joyfully to the beat of a different drummer. God Almighty became the “Giver” and you, happily and gratefully, became the “taker.” Then the Lord invited you to switch roles.

Behind an imposing pulpit, at the bedside of a child writhing with a raging fever, or standing adjacent to a freshly dug grave, you stumbled into the wonderful privilege of giving like Jesus of Nazareth. You related to the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “In giving of ourselves … we receive. And in dying … we are born to eternal life.”

The Grind of Giving

In their book, The Givers and the Takers, Chris Evatt and Bruce Feld make a strong case that the health of any long-term relationship depends on an acknowledged giver and taker. The premise of the book is that each person in a union must become comfortable with his or her role but, when circumstances demand, must also be willing to switch places.

This relationship principle could impact your ministry. Specifically, if you are only permitted to be the giver and seldom, if ever, have the option of swapping roles to become the taker, you may grow to resent the tedium and cost. When your only choice is to smile, comfort, remain calm, formulate pithy prayers and say “yes” to every request, resentment can build.

With the office door closed and the wireless microphone turned off, clergy often say the same thing: “Why does everyone need something from me? I am so exhausted from giving all the time, there isn’t much left on the inside to hand out.”

When I work with a wounded healer, the two of us take a trip back in time to resurrect tear-stained memories of a quiet altar where the presence of God’s Spirit brought hope and humility. As the session ends, I encourage the person to say this prayer: “I receive now the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is already strengthening and healing me.”

The Skills to Become a Taker … Without Apology

Over the past 10 years of coaching and caring for spiritual caregivers, I have identified six disciplines ministers must practice to shield themselves from occupational burnout and resentful giving.

First, make a list of all the words you want to hear from the recipients of your ministry. These comments could include, “Thank you for the hard work you put into regularly communicating God’s Word to us,” “You let me know I am important to both God and you,” or; “You consistently mirror the love of God.”

Instead of waiting to receive these word gifts, liberally give them away. When you begin to speak words that heal and offer hope you will be amazed what you take in return. The faces that light up and the hope that rises will help reignite your passion for ministry.

Second, become comfortable with “I” statements. In all interpersonal communication there are “I” statements and “we” statements. The “we” statements normally spread out responsibility. (“We need to do a better job communicating.”) “I” statements, on the other hand, represent what the speaker is thinking and feeling. (“I am disappointed with our congregational communication.”)

To create emotional stability in a spiritual community, clergy often use “we” as the pronoun of choice. Sometimes, just sometimes, there is no “we” in your ministry. If you are organizationally responsible for a group of individuals, it is appropriate to say, without apology, “I am expecting the final plan for improving our communication by Wednesday.” The language is clear, respectful, and you get to take your rightful place of assertive leadership.

Third, establish boundaries. Can everyone in your congregation or ministry personally call you on the telephone or show up at the door of your home 24-7? Can adherents make derogatory comments about you in public settings? Does your staff have the right, in your regular weekly meeting, to air their frustrations with your leadership? You have the right to establish boundaries with the people who share your ministry and then hold them accountable.

Fourth, space out your pain. Because of our humanity, we experience physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion. There is no value in burning out for Jesus. Burnout is not symptomatic of what it means to make Jesus the Lord of your life.

It is time to be the taker. When you regularly experience exhaustion, close your office door, turn off your cell phone, and assign another competent staff person or a spiritually mature parishioner the responsibility to care for the flock. This may be especially difficult for spiritual leaders who feel they must always be in control.

Fifth, your most important ministry is to your family. Even though they do not give you standing ovations at the dinner table or sign your Christmas bonus check, biblically, they are your first spiritual responsibility.

When your family is emotionally unhealthy, resentful of the amount of time you spend helping everyone but them, and not consulted when making significant family decisions, the bottom will fall out of your ministry. How can any of us, with a clear conscience, parade our broken and dysfunctional families across the platform of our public ministry and expect kudos from the pews? When you need to be a taker, take the responsibility to protect the sanctity of your family.

Finally, go to a quiet place by yourself and ask the person in your mirror, “Is this the way I want to spend my life?”

If the answer is an unqualified “yes,” gather friends and family around you in an impromptu party and joyously proclaim, “I am so blessed that God would call me to my ministry and to all of you. I live an amazing, abundant life!”

If the haunting answer, languishing in the shadows of your heart, is “no,” take a trip back to that altar until the Giver, your Lord and Savior, reminds you that taking from Him at the foot of the Cross has always been His plan for you and those you serve.