I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

The hardest thing about being in ministry is the overwhelming desire to do ministry well—to minister to others effectively and consistently.  Basically, what I’m talking about is the desire to do ministry like you do almost any other job, focusing on deliverables and achievements.  Ministry does not work that way.

And all the ministers reading this immediately exclaimed “Oh yes it does!” because every minister in the world produces reports about how many people they baptized and how many families joined the church this year and how many newcomers attended worship this quarter, etc.  I swear some of us are drowning in paperwork that aims to quantify the impact of ministry.  But this is not what I’m talking about—what I’m referring to is the desire to be effective in ministry with the person standing in front of you, right at the moment you are speaking to them.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am both a licensed mental health counselor and a pastor.  Both jobs require me to be with people quite a bit, and to be present to their needs and their distress in order to help them.  I have noticed something very strange about my jobs: I do my best work when I have no idea what I’m doing.

Let me clarify: it’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing.  I have two Master’s Degrees and a license to practice counseling in Arizona that I’ve had since 2005.  I can tell you my theological orientation as a pastor and my theoretical orientation in counseling, as well the eclectic set of interventions I use to help my clients achieve their goals and what theoretical background those interventions come from.  I know what I ‘m doing when I’m doing it.  That isn’t my point.

My point is that when I try to be a “good pastor” or a “good counselor”…when I’m all up in my head, well aware of my theoretical orientation or the intervention that I’m about to introduce…I’m good, but never as good as when I have no idea what I’m doing.

I’ll give you an example:  the other day, I was talking with someone at church.  She was sharing her concerns about her ministry and how it was going, what her next steps would be, and how unsure she was of what those next steps should be.  We started talking about the interesting coincidences that happen in life that later on turn out to be God-inspired, and how God gently guides us along the way in our ministry and how long it can take us to catch on to what God is doing.  It was a great conversation, and I really enjoyed hearing about her ministry because this is a very talented lady that has been sharing her talents with our church for a long time…it’s about time the rest of the world got a share of the joy, you know?  The best part was getting to share in her achievements and the happiness they bring her.  It’s not often that I get to hear all the good stuff—people usually contact me when things are going wrong because it’s my job to help folks when things are going wrong—and so I really enjoy it when people share the good things God is making happen in their lives.

Later on that day, I got a text message from this same lady thanking me for my words and telling me what a God-centered person I am and I thought “Really?” because I couldn’t remember saying anything meaningful to her.  I’m embarrassed to admit it.  It’s not that I don’t remember the conversation; I remember quite of bit of what she said to me…I just don’t remember anything I said in reply to her.

And this is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that I do my best work when I don’t know what I’m doing.  You see, it gets really easy to get caught up in the whole ROLE of being a pastor or a counselor (or a mom, or a wife, or a good friend, or…you get the picture.)  When I get into that space, I start trying really hard to be a good (insert name of role) and then I get all up in my head and start thinking about what I should do or what I should say.  I suppose that this has its value in my counseling office where I do have to be aware of what intervention I’m using to help my client…I can’t just bumble through the session and then charge the insurance for an hour of “I listened…isn’t that enough?”  But the truth is that even in my counseling office, the best stuff happens when I’m busy being Tina, not “Tina the good counselor.”

I suppose that I could start talking about mindfulness and the power of being present…and that’s a blog entry for another day.  What I want to say right now is that we do a lot more for each other by being present than we do for each other by being a good (insert name of role.)  God didn’t create “Tina the counselor” or “Tina the mom” or “Tina the pastor”…those are things that I chose to be and do with what God created.  God just created Tina—plain old untitled Tina.  And while I don’t represent the gold standard of anything (trust me on this, and if you don’t, try asking my kids or my husband) I do know that nothing I could attempt to be can exceed the good that exists in what God created.

This shows up when I accidentally do good ministry by simply listening to another person share their story and then share my unedited, authentic reaction to what they had to say.  My authentic reaction to their story is often exactly what they needed to hear…whether I’m their counselor or their pastor or just a friend.  I know you’ve heard this before, but God didn’t create human DOINGS or human ROLES…God created human BEINGS. Our greatest value is not in our doings or in the roles we fill, but in the power of simply being with other people; being real with them and sharing our truth.  We have more to give and more power to give it when we stop trying to be anything other than who we are, even when we feel that we aren’t enough.

And that is all I have to say, mostly because that’s all I have right now, and it happens to be my truth.

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2 thoughts on “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

  1. Ann Greenberg

    I can really identify with what you’re saying about not knowing what you’re doing. I especially felt that way the first year I taught special ed. I had taught preschool, K, and 2nd grade for a total of 15 years. I had NO training in SPED and little exposure to working with kids with disabilities. Add to that, I had a hard time finding an aide that would stay with me for more than 2 weeks AND I had foot surgery over fall break and was in a wheelchair through Christmas because I couldn’t put weight on the foot. But with the grace of God I made it through that year, and the next 6 as well. (I did get certified in cross-categorical SPED.) I realized I was relying on my intuition to get me through that first year, and the years after (and the years before, too!) My BEST memory of that first year is a 4th grade girl with cerebral palsy. She was the sweetest child, and small for her age. She was the only girl for awhile, and the boys were very protective of her. She couldn’t read, so I looked and I worked and I looked and I worked to find a method that would work with her (and all my students). One spring day in March, she started reading “Go, Dog, Go!” by P.D. Eastman during our reading period. When it was time for recess, she wanted to keep reading, so we took the book with us. She wanted to keep reading when we returned to the classroom, and I let her. It took a good 2 hours for her to get through it, and she never stopped, except when we were walking. I was so proud of her! We went to tell her homeroom teacher and the principal, and they were just as excited as we were. That afternoon I had a parent-teacher conference with her parents. I told them the story and mom began crying. She said the teacher the previous year told them their daughter was mentally retarded and would never learn to read. That teacher had taught SPED for a number of years and here was this rookie helping a child to read! Let;s hear it for not knowing what you’re doing!

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