A Healthy Church Culture
A healthy church culture provides a safe place for you to grow, affirms your gifts and talents, holds you accountable when you are wrong, defends you when you need it, develops you as a leader, inspires you to step out of your comfort zone, tells you that you matter, has leaders that lead by example, and love is the filter by which all decisions are made which should include showing empathy and compassion.
I have always had the dream of using my gifts in the local church. One of my primary reasons for going to seminary was that I would take what I learned back to a local church and help to nurture and develop believers to become more spiritually mature. I had waited half my life to serve in a local church where my gifts were accepted (I am 55). Then it happened. I went to a church's website to find the time of services and discovered a career tab, that revealed my dream "job". My eyes watered; that "job" description was written just for me. I applied. I got the "job," and within the first ninety days, I had preached a sermon, taught Bible Study (people started returning), led a workshop for teachers (people wanted more), and met some of the most loving congregants that I had ever met in a church. I received positive responses for everything I did. To God Be the Glory! I was tearing up or crying every day because of the pure joy of serving God's people and the love and acceptance I had experienced. However, my tears of joy were flowing parallel to my tears of sadness because I had discovered that although the church where I served had a charge to love God and to love people, there was a culture that did not make this a priority.
This was confirmed on Sunday, April 2, 2023, when I was sharing with a close friend, who is a licensed mental health professional, and prayer warrior/intercessor about some of the experiences I was having at work, and she responded, "You know that what you are describing is a toxic work environment right? Don't underestimate the effects of a toxic work environment on your mental health."
On April 7th, 2023, Good Friday, I fell trying to step over a doggie gate. I broke my femur, had to have emergency surgery which resulted in a complete left hip replacement. Four weeks after my surgery it became even more evident that the culture was conflicting with my values of empathy, compassion, and love. I had suspected that I was working in a corporate culture and not a ministry culture and it became more and more evident. I had lost all trust and started experiencing the physiological reaction of fight or flight whenever I had to engage with certain people. It wasn't about a fear of someone causing me physical harm, it was the fear of being provoked for the purpose of causing me to respond in what would cause me to be perceived as a person who was difficult to work with, or someone who was not who I had presented myself to be. I felt they were trying to create evidence and create a narrative that would present me in a negative way. I felt they wanted me to quit. I did not want to get ensnared by their trap.
I went to my doctor about it, my blood pressure was 133/88; I had not had any issues with high blood pressure prior to working on this job. After praying, having a discussion with my doctor, seeing a mental health professional, and talking with my leadership coach, and some wise friends, I discerned that I needed to resign to preserve my mental health so that my physical health would not be hindered.
When I texted my close friend, the mental health professional, prayer warrior, and intercessor, that I resigned, her text back to me was, "I am both sorry about how it ended, but also glad that it ended. Your health was literally at stake". Confirmation.
My tears of joy had turned into tears from a broken heart. Some may think, "Well Joycelyn, you didn't need your job, so you could resign." The truth is, that I did need my job, but I need my mental and my physical health more, so I had to resign and trust God to provide during this season when I am not working. He can do it!
If you are someone who has found yourself working in ministry, but the culture where you work is stressful. I pray that you will have the courage to speak up for yourself. If you fear retaliation, then I pray you have the courage to resign. It is not worth your mental and physical health. Stressful work environments cause mental health problems and physical illness.
I also recommend you see a mental health professional if you are experiencing depression, anxiety and/or even physical illness because of your work environment.