As a church leader, it’s pretty easy to find myself paling in comparison to church leaders of old.
Those stories that many of us have heard of priests of old striding tall and boldly into the wilderness or the slum. The ones who built their own little cabin, and lived on the edge of survival to serve their village or city. The ones who sacrificed so much to serve God’s people.
More recent generations of clergy children will tell you of underpaid and absent parents. These are stories of clergy who were never there, and always lived in poorly maintained rectories. From the perspective of some of these now grown children, these are clergy who were obligated to sacrifice too much.
And so, I find myself reflecting on leadership: recognizing that love requires sacrifice, but that real love and real sacrifice are only found as a result of afree and unencumbered choice.
I know I live in the distant shadow of those heroic clergy. I know I live in the more recent shadow of those other heroic clergy who had to sacrifice too much. I also know that self-care for clergy has entered into our lexicon, and is part of our formation. We recognized that many of the sacrifices of clergy in the recent past have been impositions rather than choices. We’ve tried, as a church community, to rebalance the scales.
But as I reflect on my own leadership, the question of sacrifice as a practice of love remains: in what way does my life reflect the love I have for God, and the people God has called me to serve? Yes, I keep showing up at church on Sundays, and at the office in between. I even manage to go to the homes of parishioners on a semi-regular basis. I preach, and I pray, and I work. It is a full life that requires much the same as a lawyer, or a police officer, or a nurse, or a teacher. It may not be enough, however, for my life in ministry to look like the life of other professionals.
Love needs to be communicated, and I hope that my preaching and prayer and work does that. It is essential to my calling to be an exemplar of Christ’s love, and his love was exemplified by sacrifice. His love was made known by freely giving his life away in teaching, healing, serving, and death: all without obligation or encumbrance. Acknowledging that means that freely striving to make the right sacrifices is part of my calling, and communicates love in a way that very little else does.
Ultimately, that’s what this is about. It’s not about making sacrifices for their own sake, and it’s not about being obligated to give up more than we are called to. It is about making the right sacrifices. That is, making the sacrifices that communicate that our priority is God’s love and the people we’re called to serve.