My husband and I have been in ministry for five years. While we have had many blessed days in ministry, more recently as we have tried to make some changes, the church just seems toxic and I worry about its impact on our family. How can we learn to survive in such an environment?
—“Learning to Survive”
Dear “Learning to Survive,”
First, let me affirm you for continuing in ministry and for already surviving in a pastorate for a period of time longer than the national average. You are correct that churches can often be healing, but are sometimes toxic. This was an issue I recently addressed in a two-part workshop for ministers’ spouses entitled, “Building an Immune System to the M1N1STR1 Virus.” Let me speak to part one this month regarding the use of prayer.
In ministry, as in life, we are always in the presence of a virus that has the potential to make life toxic. In ministry, as in life, having a healthy immune system is the best way to deal with any viruses. A virus in ministry is any source of stress, conflict, negativity or irritation. Viruses are always present. Viruses only reproduce and take over when there is a “host” cell. With an immune system, viruses are hardly noticed. Prayer is a way of building an immune system.
There are a variety of ways to pray about viruses, whether those “viruses” are conflict situations or have names and faces that we put to them. Imprecatory psalms (e.g., Ps 139:19-22.), prayers for the enemy (e.g., Mt. 5:44), praying in secret in one’s closet (e.g., Mt 6:6) and praying without ceasing (e.g., I Thess. 5:17) are all valid ways of praying about any “virus” in ministry.
However, modern research suggests that certain ways of praying not only build a physical immune system, but also build a way of thinking (the neurons of the brain actually get changed) that alters how we interact with reality and prevents us from becoming a “host cell” to any virus. These deeper forms of prayer help us to develop a life of stillness and move from having a “quiet time” to having a “quiet life.” I will say more about them next time.
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