I can say “gigs” just among us kids, can’t I?
You know what I mean. You get an invitation to preach, to lead a workshop, to facilitate a board retreat for a colleague, to officiate at a something-or-other. It’s always a compliment to receive such invitations (except when it’s someone who’s using you because they think it’s cool to have a clergy person available to them, but more on that later).
You’re working hard for your church or your primary place of employment, and you know you owe it to them to be available, energized and focused. But you also know that the call to ministry is never to one institution, but to the world, and most especially to the wider community –especially that of your denominational colleagues and congregations.
When you’re new in ministry, you’re probably going to say “yes” to almost every invitation you receive, and that’s fine. You’re excited, you’re pumped to get out there, you’ve got the energy and you want to make a good name for yourself. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have influence in your field, by the way. But it has to be for the right reasons, and not for ego gratification. God gives all of us unique gifts, and if you feel called to share those gifts before you die — to put your unique perspective out there because you feel holy and wholly obliged to do so, you gotta do so. “Every time I feel the spirit moving in my heart I will pray,” goes the old song, and that’s one way of understanding clergy ambition. But if you’re ambitious, kittens, keep a close advisory council around you of trusted and respected colleagues who can speak truth to you when ego needs, rather than vocation, may be motivating you. Keep them close and feed them dinners!
For your consideration, and to tuck away in your own discernment file, PeaceBang offers you some of the questions she asks herself when she receives an invitation to do something outside of her congregation:
1. Is this invitation aligned with one of my areas of expertise? If yes, then it will give me a chance to delve back into a topic I dearly adore (e.g., covenant, mission and image, the New England Transcendentalist movement) and will be life-giving and wonderful. That excitement will benefit me and my church/religious community.
2. Will I receive adequate energy in exchange for the energy I expend if I accept this invitation? That energy may come in the form of money, or time spent in the company of thrilling and inspiring people, or an interesting setting which will provide me with an opportunity to learn something. It has to be worth it.
A word on money: clergy are asked to volunteer their time ALL the time. Does that feel fair to you? Sometimes it might. If it doesn’t feel fair, ask for the fee or honorarium you feel your time is worth. No one can exploit you without your permission.
Be realistic about the expenses you incur when accepting an invitation: child care or a dog sitter for the day. Meals, gas or transportation. Dry cleaning your suit. Paying someone to clean your house because you’re going to be too busy that week to do it yourself, and you choose not to live in cluttered squalor because you’re in demand as a teacher, preacher or leader. Take-out food for the nights you’re burning the midnight oil preparing for your lecture/workshop/retreat. You must think not just of the invitation itself, but of the days leading up to it and the day or so following it, when you’ll be catching up at the office or on e-mail, with the family and with the community. ALL INVITATIONS COST YOU SOMETHING.
3. Is the community or organization that has invited me to work with them one I respect? Does it have a good track record of treating its outside speakers well? Is there good support for me if I accept this invitation, or will the months following up to the event be full of aggravation and the event itself a disorganized mess? Ask around. Trust your gut.
4. Is the invitation clear, or is it amorphous? If it is amorphous, how much time will I need to spend with the person issuing the invitation to nail down exactly what I am responsible for doing? If the person representing the organization can’t fairly quickly come to a clear agreement about what, exactly, I will be doing for them, I thank them, wish them well, and cut loose. If the organization wants to hire me to help them plan the event, I can do that. But there needs to be honesty up front: if you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t have a clear sense of the event, don’t expect me to donate hours of my time and expertise helping you figure it out before I give my keynote address, or whatever I’m doing.
My exception to this rule is when working with seminarians or young adult clergy groups. My expectations for newbies are that they need and deserve lots of processing and figuring-out and back-and-forthing in the planning of an event, and I enjoy doing that with them.
5. Is the gig at a good time of year to take on this kind of project? My parish ministry and family dictate the answer to that question. You must always know with whom your first obligations lie. I have no respect for parish ministers who “squat” on congregations and use them as a home base for their real love, which might be social justice organizing or academic work or anything but actually caring about the vitality of their church.
6. Is this an invitation to be part of something meaningful, or am I religious window-dressing? Like, do I really need to fly out to California to officiate at the wedding of someone I haven’t seen in fifteen years, who hasn’t kept in touch with me, but who suddenly remembered that her old college friend is a minister and wouldn’t that be awesome to have her officiate at the wedding? Or do I really need to be on the planning committee for that graduation ceremony, when really all they want me for is my title and all they really want me to do is a blessing on the actual day? And I have absolutely zero to contribute to the planning process? Or was I invited to join that advisory board because I have some expertise in the field or is it more because the trustees are hoping I’ll get my congregation to make a gift to the project?
Never accept an invitation if you’re dreading the planning process or the meetings. This is the Holy Spirit’s way of telling you that that’s not your work, honey.
That’s the gist of it, darlings. I’m sure I have forgotten a few things, but we’ll talk in the comments section and keep the conversation going. Cheerio.