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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

The ideal and the real

I have a good friend who has been in my life since elementary school. When we first met, we each thought the other was wonderful. We didn’t know about BFF back then, so we swore to be “blood brothers.”

Then I remember the fight in our backyard; we both began mad and ended up bloody. I don’t remember what triggered it, but the initial “wonderfulness” had clearly worn off. We no longer thought the other was perfect. Eventually we worked through it, and (with some disagreements but no more backyard fights) our reality-based friendship has flourished and endured over the decades.

That’s a familiar pattern for me and maybe for you, too. I think back on friends, professors, jobs – even ministry or marriage – and can see that what attracted me in the first place usually began with a large dose of idealism. The initial idealism usually didn’t last very long, of course; life has a way of intruding. But when we could work through those early conflicts or confusions, the result was always a deeper, reality-based relationship. I came to treasure those “tested” relationships; they are the kind that endure over time and are truly life-giving.

For those internships that began in August or September, this might be about the time you discover that your supervisor (or lay committee, or congregation, or intern, or…) is an actual human being, rather than the “idealized version” that lived in your head.

You may be having some challenging conversations about now. You may even have fleeting thoughts of “what have I done?” or “who are these people and why am I here?” If so, hang in there. Stay engaged. Whether you are a supervisor or congregant dealing with an intern, or an intern dealing with a supervisor or congregation, I trust you will move beyond the disillusionment of losing the “idealized version” and embrace the real gift of real people in your life.


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