The Ministerial Excellence Initiative (MEI) is an effort of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to address the pressing financial needs of ministers, including: debt relief, health benefits, retirement contributions and financial advisement. MEI is designed to help pastoral and congregational leaders identify and respond to financial stressors causing anxiety through providing debt relief for qualifying pastoral leaders as well as providing resources and training to manage and maintain financial integrity for the individual and congregation. Learn more at www.cbf.net/mei.
By Merianna Harrelson
For the last three days, I have been a part of the MEI Grant program in Decatur, Ga. As we have talked about the financial burden of young clergy, the changing dynamics of the economy, and the outlook for the role of the church and the minister on the future, I have been overwhelmed with new hope and new vision. It is so easy in ministry to be tunnel vision. We move from one week to another, especially when high holy seasons are so close together. There is always so much to do. I haven’t met a minister who says, “I think I am doing everything I can for the church.” We all want to do more and be more.
Ministers also have the pull of their families and many times other vocations (in fact, 21% of ministers, yes full-time ministers, have another job). This is not unusual to the current state of what it means to work in America, but the role of the minister is different. Whether you are full-time or bi-vocational, the ministry is a distinct profession because you are never “off.” There is no such thing as a part-time minister because of the great weight of walking people through the unexpected and predictable in order to encounter and experience the Divine. There is a reason why burnout among ministers remains so high in the first five years, not to mention that most ministers are in worse health than their congregations. Ministry is an isolated and often isolating call.
And yet it remains essential to the life and work of people and indeed to our country. While ministers carry the weight of being the presence of God through the good and bad, so too do we bear the weight of holding onto hope and holding onto to light in the midst of our current sociopolitical context. We are the ones people turn to in times of darkness and hopelessness. We are the ones offering the invitation to encounter the miraculous, transformative power of the resurrected Christ.
This time to be with other ministers who are working as hard as they can to offer this light and hope into the world has been refreshing and renewing. A certain and definite reminder that we as ministers are not alone that there is a rich abundance in fellowshipping together, learning together, and growing together during this Eastertide season of abundance.
Merianna Harrelson serves as the Pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Columbia, S.C., and the Director of ministrieslab providing tools and resources to clergy, communities of faith, and lay people to connect to neighbors in need. Learn more about her work and ministry at www.merianna.net.