Clergy Burnout with Mandy Smith | Podcast Season 02, Episode 03
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In this episode of our Clergy Burnout series, we’re joined by Mandy Smith, pastor and author. Mandy talks about the importance of limitations in ministry. Co-hosted by Kate Rae Davis, MDiv, and Rose Madrid Swetman, DMin, this discussion provides special insight into the ways that female church leaders in particular may be subject to additional pressures in their profession that can lead to defensiveness or exhaustion. However, the conversation always comes back to the hope, grace, and rest to which God is calling us.
We hope that this is a space where pastors and clergy will feel seen and known. For those of you who are not pastors but perhaps are part of a faith community or congregation, we hope these conversations will be enlightening and give you a greater understanding and empathy for the leaders in your community, and prompt questions as to how we can support these faithful leaders.
Each episode, we’re asking our guest to highlight an organization that is doing good work. This week, we invite you to learn more about BLOC Ministries, a neighborhood organization in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a myriad of offerings to their local community including art programs, sports training, a jail ministry, and youth homes. BLOC was created to build connections and safe spaces for students, families and adults to thrive and succeed in spite of difficult circumstances. They are a faith-based non-profit that focuses on healthy, personal relationships and activities that help to build hope, purpose, and vital life skills. You can learn more at http://www.onebloc.org/
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About our guest:
Mandy Smith is pastor of St Lucia Uniting Church, Brisbane, Australia and the author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry and Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith Beyond the Baggage of Western Culture. Mandy and her husband, a New Testament professor, live in a little house where the teapot is always warm. Learn more about Mandy’s work at www.TheWayisTheWay.org and find her on Twitter and Instagram @MandySmithHopes
Kate: Welcome to Transforming Engagement, the podcast where we have conversations about changes that serve the common good and a higher good. Today, Rose and I are joined in conversation with Mandy Smith, who serves as the pastor of St Lucia United in Brisbane, Australia. Mandy is the author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry. Welcome, Mandy.
Mandy: It’s so good to be with you.
Kate: So glad to have you with us. Is there any more that you wanted to say about your work as pastor, as author, regular writer that I missed in our introduction?
Mandy: No, I think probably anything else will unfold in our conversation.
Kate: Great. So as a starting place, obviously, this season is all about clergy burnout. We’ve had a few conversations about clergy burnout and mental health and about systems. And because of your knowledge and especially your book on vulnerability and pastoring, I wanted to ask you about exactly that, the importance of limitations. Why are limitations so important to ministry?
Mandy: That’s a big question. And I think in a culture, in a world that makes us ashamed of our limitations, you know, (we) most advertising is based on shame about limitations. You know, you know how you can’t control the future. You know how you can’t control your kids. You know how you don’t like how your body works or you’re too tired or you get sick. Then here’s the thing to fix that. And there’s an underlying shame. And so I think the solution to that is not to overcome our limitations so we don’t feel the shame, but to choose not to embrace the shame. It’s hard. Even yesterday I was wrestling with the Lord and feeling so bad that I was feeling anxious because I feel limited and I have so much to do and I never feel like I’m getting it all done. And then I almost felt like, well, I think I did feel a little bit of grace from him that he was like, it’s not your fault, Mandy, that you have these voices in your head, that you should always have no limitations, that you should be able to fix and control and understand everything because it’s in the water, you know, that we swim in, even if our parents are very gracious and we grew up in a great church context, just all around us, we are encouraged to to feel ashamed and to try to overcome those limitations. I think if we respond right, instead it’s an opportunity for us. Every time we feel overwhelmed, every time we can’t control everything, every time we have no idea what to preach on Sunday or how to answer this person’s question or how to, you know, solve all their problems, I think that’s a moment of just remembering once more. That’s right. It’s not all up to me. God is strong in my weakness. But it’s still something that I’m learning even every week, you know, to just know every day, every moment to feel that weakness and choose. I’ve tried to tell myself:, connect that feeling of anxiety, that feeling of not enough-ness, connect that with the prompt to pray. That is the invitation to pray and to reach out to God in that moment. But it still is a hard thing to do in a very driven, very unkind to humanity, [very unkind] to humanness culture that we live in, in the West.
Rose: You know, I think a lot of clergy and leaders continually blow past their limitations. And so, Mandy, I would love to hear you talk about even like how to listen to your body. Like when we just start paying attention to the tyranny of the urgent. Always, always, always. Like in your experience, what happens to bodies when we just keep blowing past?
Mandy: Yeah, absolutely. And then actually that’s a part of the unhealth, I think, is that we are encouraged in Western[-kind of] culture to compartmentalize ourselves and to think body is here and emotion is there. And intellect is over there. And spirituality somehow, you know, is somewhere else. And I’ve found myself kind of pushing through, you know, sometimes I’m just tired. And even today, I’m just this is something that’s just like, oh, it might be the weather. It may be because I didn’t sleep well last night. I don’t know, you know, what the reason is, but I probably could use a nap this afternoon. I actually think naps are really sacred, but I often find myself thinking, unless I can explain why I need a nap today, I shouldn’t take a nap, you know, and to just like you said, listen, to it and to trust it and to think my body knows things that I consciously am not conscious of, you know, that it’s processing. You know, there’s some grief going on in my life right now, that maybe it’s feeling that I’m not even consciously thinking of right now. And so I’m choosing to – I actually made a note, like after this podcast, I’m going to take a nap, even though I have so much to do because there’s never an end to how much has to be done. Right? Yeah, I think it is really important – our bodies are very wise. And we often don’t pay attention.
Kate: It’s lovely like a little mini Sabbath right in the middle of your week.
Kate: I so appreciate your response to the limitations piece, that you’ve framed it as kind of a cultural formation. It’s something that we in the West are all swimming in. It made me think about how often our church spaces can really mirror those cultural values, and I think about my conversations with often recovering evangelicals, exvangelicals who have a lot of anxiety around like the flat tire scenario, where it’s on you to go get people to pray, to say the prayer, to save their souls from eternal damnation forever. And if you get a flat tire, then there’s souls that you’re not saving, because you had plans to save souls that day.
Mandy: Goodness, that makes me so anxious.
Kate: And it’s so, you know, it’s kind of a baptized version of the same thing that we’re in culture. I’m like, oh, we’re not actually saving people from anything. We’re just creating a theology that totally mirrors that same driveness and productivity that’s in our culture. It just feels so baked in to your point Yeah.
Mandy: And it doesn’t feel like good news at all. No (unison with Kate, Rose), there’s no grace. There’s no space for the fact that there is a God who ultimately is on mission in the world and who is leading the church and doing good work in us and through us and in people around us and inviting us somehow to partner with him. It’s really quite a secular perspective, living as if there isn’t a God who is powerful at work, in us and through us and around us. But I get it: we’re steeped in it.
Kate: Yeah, I think you just offered exactly. I was hoping, which was like, what’s the ultimate theology? Like, what’s the theology that confronts this shame-driven ministry? And it is, oh, God’s working through me. It’s not all on me.
Mandy: Yeah, absolutely.
Rose: And in that, you actually talk about Sabbath. You rediscovered Sabbath in the midst of noticing: if I take 24 hours off, my whole ministry won’t cave. And so can you talk a little bit about that?
Mandy: Yeah, I actually think that we learn something through the discomfort of that because it’s never easy to just stop our work. And Scripture even says in the Old Testament even in the harvest, they had to have Sabbath, which we can understand for an agrarian culture. If the fruit is rotting on the trees, you only have a limited time to actually pick that stuff and your whole livelihood is based on it and your ability to get through the winter or whatever. They still took the day off on that day and it wasn’t just a day to rest. It was a day to remember that they were beloved regardless of their accomplishments. And I see how God even invited the people of Israel to take Sabbath before– this was new to me, to notice – before the Ten Commandments, he invites them to take a Sabbath. And I think it’s to break them of the slavery habit, because slaves don’t get a day off, but children do. And I think we could use some breaking of our slavery habits, too. And so I would say it has been the most life changing, transformative experience of my life to step into Sabbath keeping. I’m still learning it. I’ve been doing it for maybe ten years now, but I’m still figuring out how to do it. It’s not easy, but it teaches me in my bones, not through my brain, but through my bodily experience. I actually heard somebody say there’s a Jewish tradition. I think Pete Scazzero cited this in a workshop I went to with him where he said, “You’re practicing your own death in two ways when you keep Sabbath. One of them is that after this life, we will be in God’s presence just for the pure joy of it. And if we don’t like the idea of that, then Sabbath gives us an opportunity to just be in God’s presence for the sake of it and practice. Secondly, we practice our own death in Sabbath keeping because we have to leave the world in God’s hands and all of the work that we think we’re doing that’s so important, we have to trust to him. And after we’re gone, whatever we’ve been building so carefully is left, you know, to him.” And so I think it’s deeply humbling and good work to rest. That’s good work to rest. That’s funny.
Kate: It’s almost touch. It’s like we don’t really have language: it’s good rest to rest. It’s good.
Mandy: Sometimes doing nothing is doing something.
Kate: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You almost have to start talking in paradox, talking about rest. Our language is so built for productivity.
Kate: Activity. Yeah. Well, maybe that’s a good transition moment from talking about the human ministry more broadly and into a clergy burnout particularly. And I want to touch on some of the cultural factors that contribute to all of our overwork. Are there pieces that are specific to a clergy person’s work systems? Social structure? What are factors that you see as really contributing to clergy burnout?
Mandy: Yeah, that’s good. It’s interesting. As I was reflecting in preparation for this conversation, I realized I don’t actually use the term burnout, and I think it’s because it’s almost like going on a diet and thinking about what you’re not going to eat. Like, I’m not eating cake for the next six months. Instead of saying I’m moving towards health. So I don’t want to be motivated by trying to avoid burning out. I want to be motivated by moving towards thriving, which actually is moving towards God, you know? So to think about moving towards God all the time is, in itself, I think, a way of avoiding burnout. But I also want to be careful to say: we can work really hard to be really well connected to God and to rest well and all of that and still get to a place of what we might call burnout, just from grief or difficult situations that come our way. I think as much as we talk about self-care, it can become another kind of work, another works, and I have a tendency to think like if I could just find the perfect amount of balance and rest and connection to God, then I would get to a place where I never suffer. And so in everything, yeah, Rose is shaking. So in everything that I say, like, I think we do have choices to make that are healthy choices. And at the same time, life is just hard sometimes. And so what, you know, I often talk and in The Vulnerable Pastor, I write about how God uses our weakness to reveal his strength, as Paul talks about in Corinthians. But and sometimes that means pushing through doing things that you don’t think you can do because you trust God’s strength. But sometimes it means trusting God’s strength to carry the church because you are gone for six months or you’re moving to a different situation entirely because you just need to, you know, rest or recover. So I don’t think that necessarily answers your question, but I think it’s kind of the foundation of a lot of what I would say in response to your question. And I guess I would say that one of the things that does disturb me about the language of burnout with pastors especially is that we do, while we as pastors do definitely have responsibilities to keep ourselves healthy emotionally and spiritually and physically, when a pastor burns out, it’s often it’s often about the pastor’s burnout and not about, well, what structures did we create, what systemic issues were in place, what cultural issues were in place that just made it impossible. And so many times, whether it’s through exhaustion and health issues or, you know, moral failures on the part of the pastor, I think it’s a good moment for that, for just reflection, for the whole congregation, for the lay leaders or the elders or whatever the congregation or that is, or the denomination to reflect like what what did we all do to contribute to this situation? How can we create a healthier context? And given that our entire field of, you know, if you’re looking at fields of careers at the moment, not many people right now are in a place where everything that they learned in university is just like thrown out the window. You know, most people, if you learned it in university, ten or 20 or 30 years ago, it’s, you know, we’re still, most people would be evolving in that field. But for us, it’s like rethinking everything we’ve ever known, we can’t assume that we’re going to have a full-time job in this forever. And, you know, so much is just in some ways for good reason and to what are moving towards health, where everything’s being reconsidered. But at the same time, it’s exhausting to just be always so self-aware and always so thoughtful about everything being in upheaval. And it was hard enough when things were stable in the church to be a pastor or church leader. But I think this moment, we just need some grace for one another and for ourselves.
Kate: So much of the pieces that you named around the congregational contributions to it makes it challenging especially isolation in a post COVID context and fragmentation socially, polarization, especially politically here in the U.S. I think it’s really hard for an individual congregant to see how they’re participating in conversations in a way that makes the entire system unbearable for the pastor, because, you know, we think of ourselves as very individual entities, and I’m not the problem. Those people with that other belief about masking, about politics, about whatever– they’re the problem. I’m wondering if you, I know, I think I feel some of the stuckness of pastors. We talk about how to help your congregation see themselves as the crowd that’s shouting “crucify” and as contributors to that. Even in their good intentions
Mandy: It’s a really tricky spot
Mandy: Because the way that the pastor is doing in some ways, we’re canaries in the coal mine. You know, if we’re not doing well, sometimes it’s not to do with the congregation necessarily but it’s a it’s a great moment to investigate. And I’ve had times where, you know, I was with a trusted lay leader, an elder who was you know, somebody behind the scenes and shared over the course of several conversations, situation in the congregation that was really, really painful to me, shared it with some serious emotion. And it wasn’t really taken seriously. It was taken as, oh, Mandy’s having a hard time. We should probably get her, have her make sure she has a break instead of like if she’s not doing well, maybe we need to really pay attention to this dynamic that’s affecting her and not just to take care of her as a pastor, but for the sake of this community. There’s some structures here that are not working and she may need to learn and she may need to grow, but maybe there’s other things that are not healthy, you know, and it’s really tricky to talk about, to talk about our needs as people without making it about ourselves and to think about. Yeah, it’s messy, isn’t it? Yeah.
Rose: Mandy, I, I like what you just touched on because it’s, it’s both about the congregation, but also the system, the structure, depending on the denomination or if you’re non-denominational, the structures just the way that our, our churches are structured. It seems to me that we’re in a moment, just as you’re saying that so many things have converged that people are more open now to look at. Wait, maybe we need to, like, even look at the systems and instead of putting on the pastor, you see what I’m saying? Like, do you see that happening? Do you see people actually looking at the bigger denominations? Like, wait too many of our pastors are whatever like, yeah, leaving, I will say burning out, having a moral failure, whatever the thing is. Right. Do you see that happening that people are seriously looking?
Mandy: I do. Yeah, I think it is. You know, they say COVID kind of accelerated so many things that were already happening. And I do think that’s the case. And just the scale of the number of pastors who are moving, like stepping away from ministry entirely or going to just changing, I’d love to see a map of all the people who’ve moved during the last couple of years, myself included, because I think things have just come to the surface. It’s that kind of shaking up of everything they who was that, who said every 500 years there’s a rummage sale?
Rose: Phyllis Tickle
Mandy: And I think she was right on that. You know, this is already happening a little bit to some degree, but I think COVID really accelerated that and heightened it. So I am seeing that conversation happening, which is a good thing. But yeah, it’s it’s – such some of it is just so deeply ingrained in culture, in systems, in traditions and denominations that we may never really figure it out. So I think we’re just yeah, it’s one of those things we have to be working as you’re even figuring out what it means to be working, but thankfully, the grace of God is at work in all of this. And, you know, we often study people at different moments in church history and we really admire the things they said and did. But I don’t think we realized how exhausted they probably were most of the time because the real change makers were still, were still leading the systems as they were while reimagining what could be. And they probably were frustrated. A lot of that probably came from their own frustrations. So not that I’m saying I guess this will be seen as a moment in the church’s history. Whatever is coming next is going to you know, this is going to be a big part of whatever it is. So I guess it’s an honor to be a part of that conversation right now. As tiring as it is and as confusing and frustrating as it can be, God somehow is working in all of that mess and reshaping something.
Kate: Yeah. And I find it so helpful to remember like, oh, yeah, we have these texts that survive people that are so thoughtful and so beautiful and the works that survive them that we remember our saints for. Oh, yeah. There are also people with bodies who sometimes had to give themselves permission to take a nap and struggle to give themselves permission to take a nap because they were always more hungry people to feed or birds to preach to or whatever the case may be. Yeah, are there. So I’m adopting your frame a bit for our ideals of thriving. Our ideals of living to the life that God most desires for us, and then the challenges, the barriers that get between us and that, some internal, some external. Do you think that there are challenges that are particular to women, women religious professionals in some of that, whether that’s through socialization or the way that their congregations perceive them? Can you speak to that a bit?
Mandy: Yeah. It was an interesting dynamic for me because the congregation that I was leading in the States up until recently is an independent congregation, but part of a fellowship of about 6000 congregations. And I was the first female lead pastor among that fellowship of 6000 congregations. So, and that was not a popular thing. My husband and I both were, got in quite a bit of hot water over that. I thought he was going to lose his job as well because he was connected to the same gathering of Fellowship of Churches. But my particular congregation, because the congregations were independent, mine was, was supportive of having me as their first female lead pastor, and I felt so seen and so welcomed. You know, there was really little conversation about it – there wasn’t pushback so much. And so I know that they embraced me as a person and felt like it was a really good place to be in many ways as a woman. And the previous lead pastor had been very proactive in helping them walk through that decision and was very supportive of me. And at the same time, there were just historic dynamics from the culture, from the way church has already been done, that I didn’t really anticipate, that it wasn’t any person in particular’s fault. And even things like when I during COVID, we started meeting in the park and something about preaching outdoors, like, I loved our church building. I thought it was beautiful and it was such a wonderful, safe space and had a good feeling about it, but I didn’t realize how much it still was shaped primarily by a tradition that has that has been led by men and still assume one person’s up the front, you know, so many dynamics that are connected historically through even the architecture that I didn’t have a problem with until I was preaching in the park and thinking, oh my goodness, like wow, I just like my sermons, I don’t feel like there’s as many ghosts looking over my shoulder as I used to feel, of all the history of all the preachers I’ve ever heard who all happen to all be men and all the people who’ve told me I shouldn’t be doing this, and I just was free from that when I was in the park. And so it wasn’t until that happened that I realized that. So there were lots of little dynamics and even things like people who– In some ways it’s easier, you know, when I’ve I’m sure most women in ministry have had obvious attacks are obvious. People saying, you know, your gifts must be from Satan because God doesn’t actually gift women this way. Like I’ve literally had those kinds of things. In some ways that’s better because you can point to it then just the lack of understanding or the lack of space for who you are and what you bring. That’s it’s actually more painful when somebody you know, some people that I love dearly who really are encouraging me to be in this role at the same time just don’t understand what it really means for me to be in this role. And want to fix me or want to kind of manage me and or ask me to defend myself or ask me to explain myself on a regular basis. And that’s more difficult in some ways that there’s just not to be actually helping people shape their own imaginations of what it means for a woman to lead while you’re shaping your own imagination of what it means for a woman to lead is just pushing against something constantly that takes a lot of energy, and I find myself being having to having to be very self-aware so that I can explain to other people, oh here’s why I do it this way, because there’s not a default that people have seen before. Oh, this is just how leadership happens, you know? And some of that may not be gender, some of it may be my personality because I’m an introvert and an artist, which is not typical of what people expect as leaders as well. So I think that’s just a dynamic in general. I’m in a context now that is very affirming of women and has lots, many of my peers in this new denomination are women, and that’s wonderful. And even in that context where it’s been in the water for a much longer time, we still have to be thoughtful of how we’re always figuring through some of those dynamics and hopefully doing so with grace, you know, understanding that oftentimes it’s not the intention of people, it’s just a lack of experience for all of us in what it means for women to be leading.
Kate: I so appreciate you touched on the complexity of sometimes it’s maybe because I’m a woman question mark, but maybe it’s also just character, or maybe it’s the gifts I bring.
Mandy: It’s so confusing. Yeah.
Kate: I feel like that’s like a kind of an unrecognized privilege that some men have in their role is, the questions are just is this a matter of character, a matter of leadership style, a matter of gifting to have the extra layer on top of that of is this about the way my body looks? It casts a different shadow on all those other questions?
Mandy: Yeah, yeah. And I want to be careful. I don’t want to assume all women have the same experience and I also don’t want to come across as bitter or assuming the worst of the men in my life. So even knowing how to communicate that, I do think it’s important for us as women to communicate how it’s painful, hoping that people will empathize and not take offense or be defensive, you know, to just say like, oh, that’s hard. We need to do something about that. But as much work as we do sometimes to just say, hey, listen, this is really difficult, let’s figure this out together, I assume the best of you. You’re not doing this on purpose, but I assume but because I assume the best of you, I assume you would like to know if something is really difficult for me. But still, it takes a lot of, a lot of work to communicate that well.
Rose: I have found in in many of the women that I’ve worked with, and through my years of being a woman in ministry, when you said that, you felt like sometimes you were being managed. I have talked to so many women that feel that same way, because if, like, back to back, like if there was a male pastor doing what they were doing, this is the part where I can see the gender plays in. And then you have a woman do that same kind of thing. She gets pushback. It’s he doesn’t. So I don’t know if you can speak to that or not or if that’s been your experience. Even if it wasn’t your experience. Have you seen that happen with other women?
Mandy: Yeah. Yeah, I have seen that. And I have talked to a lot of women. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to lead a lot of workshops and do a lot of webinars with women. And it is sad how often that’s the case. And I think the people who are doing it don’t even realize that they’re doing it. I think, yeah, even in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some experiences where it’s hard to even put my finger on it, and I get tired of just feeling like it’s my job to explain myself all the time. And I have wondered if sometimes we actually train people to expect that from us and and I am feeling led by the Spirit these days to just kind of say like, Yeah, it’s different, isn’t it? We’ll figure it out. Yeah, or, you know, to have the confidence in myself to not be belligerent and defensive, but just and, you know, one of the trickiest parts about this for me is I personally often don’t have a clear sense of what we’re doing because we’re following the Spirit. And yes, so the best kind of leadership in a Christian context is for us to be discerning daily and listening and adjusting and taking. And I I don’t know how God is giving five-year plans to some people because he is not giving me five-year plans in my personal life and in my leadership. It’s literally like, you know, of course, there are goals and it’s good to look ahead to the future, but it’s such a stretch of my faith. Every single day to say, OK, God, what am I spending my time on today? How am I listening and what am I talking about? And so why am I talking about this? Oh, and so if people come to me as a leader and say, why are we doing this and tell me where it’s going to head and I’m not jumping on board until you can prove to me that it’s going to be successful, then it’s it’s actually been a process for me to even stop and say, well, it’s not a failure on my part that I can’t give them all those answers because I’m just listening to the Lord and he is not giving that information. And I refuse to try to fill in that space when he’s not filling in that space. And so that can sound like a real cop-out but I, every place where I see flourishing in my own life, in ministry, and every place where I see flourishing in the church is coming from listening in that way and not having that top-down ”I don’t know what’s going to happen so I’m just going to come up with an answer here”. But I understand I think this is one way, whether we’re women or men, this is one way that God teaches people to follow him through practicing on us. That he leads us in that way so that then we have to lead others in that way. So that by saying, I don’t understand what Mandy’s doing, but I trust she’s following and I’m going to listen with her and I’m going to start moving. I’m going to start walking with her and say, why are we going in this direction while we’re moving in that direction? Instead of saying, I’m not taking a step until I fully understand where we’re going. And so one of my favorite thinkers and writers about pastoral work is David Hanson. And he says we get to be parables of Jesus. And I experience that and I feel I feel maybe that is the way we can empathize with people because I feel that pain too. I’m like, Yeah, I know. I wish that I understood as well. It’s all mess and mystery, you know? And the more time I have in this work, the more comfortable I have with, Well, I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable. I’m getting used to the discomfort of all that and inviting other people into the discomfort and not making it about me, but saying like, Yep, that’s what it feels like to follow God, so let’s do it. You know.
Kate: I am so attuned to my women pastor friends’ experiences where there’s such a fine line between being flighty or flaky or, you know, all the words we can put on women that way or being bossy or pushy. And I mean, in some context, there is no fine line. There’s just which one of those words are you going to be called? And as I’m hearing you speak about your discernment and following the spirit it’s and I’m really hearing the integration with the limitations in ministry that you have to be so certain of. This is what we’ve heard so far, and this is what we haven’t heard. And yeah, I’m committed to what I have heard, and maybe that makes me bossy. And I’m also committed to not pretending that I don’t know, something that I don’t and if you want to call that flighty, then, yeah, I mean, the spirit is a dove. Let’s take flight. Yeah.
Mandy: I like what you did there thanks.
Kate: That just came to me.
Mandy: Good. That’s, that should be a t shirt.
Kate: Call me flighty. But yeah, I’m listening for that because there’s both, I think a setup in vulnerability for women in leadership and the way that that can be perceived whether that’s by the congregation or over or appears in our denominations, but there’s also so much freedom there in the way I’m hearing you process how you understand that in your role yeah.
Mandy: One thing I wish I had added to the book– I learned this after I’d finished writing it –is just about the nature of authority. I think our culture in general is very anxious about abuse of power, as we should be. And so we sometimes go to the opposite extreme of saying it’s all just very flat, nobody is in charge, nobody gets to have a say over anybody else. And I think that actually is not doing justice. It’s not acknowledging the fact that some have just lost more sleep and prayed more and given up more for this thing. And their voice has more authority because they’ve listened and followed and sacrificed for this, and I think we, in all of our watching Jesus’ beautiful submission and emptying and selfless service, we forget that he also astounded people with his authority. And that is not being bossy– like I think the difference between – I would say bossy leadership is worldly leadership because it is just telling people what to do. And Christian leadership is discerning carefully with the Lord laying ourselves out before God and being prayerful and opening our own, you know, emptying ourselves of our own agendas, which is really hard work, and then being open to what we receive from God in that place, humbly so, and with confidence, being able to say: here’s what I am sensing from the Lord, discerning that with other people. And then and presenting that –and that’s not to say that we just browbeat people with it. You know, we don’t want to manipulate people. That’s, I think that’s another thing we’re concerned about is speaking from that authority in a way that’s like, well, God told me, so that’s the end of the conversation.
Kate: Yes. No.
Mandy: So it’s a very, it’s all been abused in so many ways. But I want to somehow, I hope that we somehow find a way to redeem that narrow place of you know, overuse and underuse of power are both power abuse and I think probably will take our whole lives to discern the best place to navigate there. But, um, but there have been times where I have felt the Lord really challenge me that deference and silence can feel like submission and can feel like Christ-likeness. But sometimes they’re disobedience and as someone who’s a peacemaker and likes to just avoid conflict, um, stepping into that authority has been terrifying. But also really purifying.
Kate: There’s such a distinction between emptying of agenda and emptying of authority. And to own our authority is something that is ours to use that we have been entrusted to us by our community in order to care generously for people in our community. Yeah. Sorry, Rose. You were going to say something.
Rose: It’s okay you know, I just, I just, I think that was really important because I agree. I see people go to the opposite extreme, like, OK, there’s all this spiritual abuse that’s being uncovered right and left, right in some of the most popular places. Celebrity pastors are, you know, so I think the extreme is. Well, there shouldn’t be you, you can’t have any authority. So I really like what you said because I think it is both: the underuse and the overuse are flip sides of the same coin. And then you said something earlier about how you’ve learned to be yourself and I think you might have said, I mean, this is a lifelong process I’m living into who we’re created to be and I think that might be so important, especially for women in the ministry, because they’ve had that extra sort of in most of the evangelical world at least they’ve had that, you know, they’re like this. I’m making a motion with my hands where men are over women rather than coming in, having equally walking along and serving in this kingdom of God together. So I think women learning how to live into who they are with confidence, I think they might get afraid that they are coming off too confident. And do you know what I’m trying to say Mandy? Can you just speak to that a little bit. Yeah.
Mandy: Yeah, it’s interesting because as you were talking, I’m remembering a moment where an older woman who I really admire, she’s done this to me two times now. She just held my face in her hands and kind of rubbed with her thumbs, you know, and said, Oh, you’re just so beautiful. And it was a transcendent moment for me that I just felt so seen by God. And it was so powerful because she, just from the relational perspective that she loves me and sees me as beautiful somehow. But also, I started to realize how much it was hard for me to imagine that God could use me. Like I would say in theory, I understand God can use me. But in practice, I think I often feel like I’m too emotional, I’m too, you know, easily overwhelmed. I’m too this, too that. Like he can use me when I figure out all that stuff and when I fit the norm of what people expect a leader to be, then I’ll really be doing God’s work. But the fact that God used her like this, I think, like, this 55-year-old Christian leader who’s a woman, was God to me. Like she was the her hands on my face, you are so beautiful. And so it wasn’t just me being seen through her eyes. It was me seeing how, like, if she as a woman had that kind of power and that kind of ministry in just 10 seconds in my life, I suddenly saw my own ministry in a different way because it was a nurturing embodied experience that I had with her. And I think she was wearing some essential oils, Like it was just this whole, this whole, attachment, you know, healing moment of just really connecting with another being, feeling seen and feeling known and being welcomed. And God moved powerfully through her in that. And I just suddenly thought, what if my whole ministry is like that? And I suddenly remembered like how many times on a Sunday morning I you know, you don’t want to be holding people’s faces all the time. But like when I hold the Communion Cup and I say the blood of Christ, like sometimes I’m in tears just like because I feel God’s love so much for people, and when I say hi to people I know I am a toucher, I know I, like touch someone on the back or on the arm and like, what if God is showing himself as powerfully through the person that I am as a woman, but also as a deeply emotional person and as an artist and as an introvert and as a writer and as all that that makes me who I am. What if there is a unique way that God reveals himself to the world through me that nobody else can be? And that’s true for each person. For every one of us. If we, you know, we’re so busy trying to live up to some ideal of what a leader should be, which nobody actually is. Because I’ve actually said, this is an amazing exercise. I’ve sat with groups of Christian leaders across the country, across the world, and said, you know, how are you too-this or not-enough-that to be a pastor or to be a Christian leader, according to your understanding of what that is? And if you do it long enough with any group of people, they’ll start to actually cancel each other out. So it’ll be I’m too young, I’m too old, I’m too educated, I’m not educated enough, I’m too quiet, I’m too loud, I’m too cool, I’m not cool enough. Like and then you start to say, like, who is the person that we think we’re supposed to be a 35 and a half year old white man with two kids and a wife. Like even that person is only that age for a short time and, you know, an extrovert or whatever. Like, who is this caricature of a cookie cutter Christian leader that we’re all thinking we should be? And how are we missing the beauty of all the, all the ways that God wants to reveal himself to the world through us? It’s incredibly humbling and also incredibly freeing at the same time to imagine that this very clay vessel is a place that God wants to fill with his own spirit and reveal to the world his nature and his character and his presence in a unique, beautiful way. You know, so I think I’m preaching now and I can’t even remember what the question was.
Rose: Amen. Yeah, you got me. I’m with you.
Kate: Um maybe as a kind of transitioning us towards, towards ending, coming down from the mountaintop, of that sermon, which was beautiful. I want to sit in that service. Yeah, what are practices, would be like to bring the ideas down to something really practical, embodied and lived? What are some practices that you would hope other clergy would adopt that might help them to embrace limitations or to live into the thriving that God wants for their lives? Practice or just words? The message that you would want those clergy people, fellow clergy to hear.
Mandy: I mean, we said this before, but I think rest is, this is a very radical thing. And it started me actually setting myself an alarm for 10 minutes at lunchtime because I just would work through lunch and that didn’t seem like a very big deal that every noon for the season of Lent, I said, I’ve got to stop whatever I’m doing, whenever the alarm goes off, take 10 minutes to just attend to my bodily functions, you know, to eat something, to drink something, to go to the bathroom. Every single time, at the beginning, I was overriding those basic human needs which I think is a very bad theology. Basically, my theology was Mandy is a superhero and does not have a body, and is singlehandedly solving all the world’s problems. And I wouldn’t claim that with my mouth, but I was claiming that with my actions. And so I would just encourage other Christian leaders to just kind of mess with the lies that we have been steeped in by just saying no to that. And I think like I want to – that’s spiritual warfare, like I want to speak Jesus’ name over those lies and send them back to the place where they belong in Jesus’ name, because they, they just make us into robots and do not acknowledge just our human limitations, our bodies that need to rest, our hearts that need to weep and to dance and our spirits that just need to be in God’s presence and delight in that, so yeah, whatever that looks like, even if it starts with a ten-minute break a day, to just mess with your own productivity, I think it’s really radical. And I think my next book we’re talking today about The Vulnerable Pastor but Unfettered is, is kind of the theology behind The Vulnerable Pastor. It’s talking about power abuse in general and how childlikeness in Jesus says we can’t into the kingdom unless we become like children, which is a serious major statement which we have not really spent any time talking about. I found one serious theological investigation of what on earth that means in all of my asking all of my friends. And so I wrote a somewhat serious theological investigation of it. But the only way to do that in a childlike way is to reimagine what it is to be serious even, you know, and so I think rest is not just stepping away from work, but that, but it might need to begin with a literal stepping away from work. But I think it is a contemplative kind of posture of just being able to pause at any moment and acknowledge that God is holding the universe and that we are not responsible. And when we were children, we just woke up and someone else was singing in the kitchen and making our breakfast and the world was already humming, without our having to make it. And that is still somehow the case, even now that we’re grown-ups and.
Rose: That statement is so, feels so Eugene Peterson, to me, I just had to say that. The world was humming.
Mandy: Maybe it is. I’ve read quite a few of his works recently so it’s possible is that somehow coming from him. But so so that exploration of those deep, childlike kinds of instincts that we had which is so much more. It includes whimsy and wonder. But it’s just I think as children, we were just honest and we were just present and we were very courageous and something about learning those habits, I think, will be a big part of the way forward.
Kate: Hmm. Thank you. I’m expecting Lent groups to pop up of people who are giving up 10 minutes of productivity for Lent, which is a nice, nice circle. Closing our conversation to go back to that, the shame that can come from whenever we’re not producing every minute, is not living into that ministry. Thank you. I wanted to end with just our gratitude for the time that you’re spending with us and how much you’re sharing with us about your experience and your reflections and wanted to give you space to talk about an organization that you see doing good work, and we will make a donation to them and encourage our listeners.
Mandy: The first organization that came to mind is called Bloc Ministries. It’s in Cincinnati, Ohio, and within the neighborhood where I live there, they’re actually also starting some other planting some other places in other cities at the moment, too. And the website is one block b, l, o, c, no k just b c dot org. The thing I love about them is they’re in, they’ve committed to a particular neighborhood that’s in need in various ways. And it really grows kind of – I think I learned from the leaders of that organization that not to have this top down like I had an idea. Now I’ve got to tell people to make my idea happen. Instead, they they look and say, what has God provided? What gifts do we have among the people here and how can we use those to bless this community? And so if you look on their website, you see they have like a screen-printing place where they teach people job skills. They have a coffee shop, they have a horse, a horse therapy place. It’s just like taking in a really creative way, taking whatever gifts and resources God has provided and using them to bless the community. And it’s just a really beautiful, flourishing, flourishing ministry that blesses people in need in a city kind of context.
Kate: Thank you. I just looked up their Web site, and it is just like a whole page of scrolling various ministries, because look at all these assets they’ve found to highlight and share. This is so exciting. I’m going to dig into them more. Again, for listeners, that’s onebloc.org. It’s o n e b l o c dot org. I will also put that in the show notes. People can find it and we’ll send them a little check and encourage our listeners to go find joy and contribute in whatever way makes sense for them. Yeah. Thank you so much for being with us and I look forward to seeing your future writings be released and continuing to learn from you and hopefully connect with you more in the future.
Mandy: Thank you.
Rose: Thank you. Mandy.