It’s the parking spot we were sure we’d remember, then spent 15 minutes hunting for only to realize it was one aisle away the whole time. It’s a person we were looking intently for in the crowd only to find them less than ten feet away. When our senses are overwhelmed, we easily miss what we’re looking for.
Mark’s gospel is an overwhelming blur. Its pace, its repetitive descriptions of the disciples generally confused reactions, and Jesus’ seeming irritation at their blindness can numb the senses. Chapter 8 is sometimes observed to be a turning point in Mark’s telling of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, and it contains a small detail easily overlooked in Mark’s fast-paced march to the cross.
[Jesus] took the blind man and led him outside the village. Mark 8:23
In one telling of the story, the blind man serves as a metaphor – someone who was once completely blind had now become able to see, though poorly. Only through Jesus would the blind man be able to see clearly. Likewise, the disciples had come to Jesus blind, seen him imperfectly, and were now being asked to see Jesus’ mission more clearly. Though they had been so often confused by Jesus, the story represents the disciples’ progress in Mark’s narrative.
But the blind man is more than a rhetorical device. He is as overlooked by readers and commentators as he was by those in the story itself. Making the blind man useful without assigning him value also overlooks the place where the miracle happened: outside the village. Jesus took a man with little hope and low expectations to a space where he could see again. Then he told him not to return to the one place he had known.
I suspect the blind man never returned. It would have never been the same with the good relationships he had. There were many toxic relationships he now had the opportunity to leave behind. Some Bethsaida Jews had no doubt profited from his presence, stealthily taking a coin or two as they passed or requiring that he pay a tax for which he had no money. Some had a sanctimonious self-perception of how much they helped him. Some were likely impressed at his resilience or claimed to have known his name. Some used him as a scapegoat; clearly, he had brought his blindness upon himself. Whatever others may have done to or for him, new life began the day he went from blind to blurred to clear.
Learn More About Eleven28's Work with Departing Ministers
Ministers are like this blind man – they spend each day navigating healthy and toxic relationships. In their case, ministers are sought after for their influence. They are often paid too little. They may be treated as pawns for others to accomplish their own purposes, someone’s means to their own end. They may be celebrated for the outward appearance of dedication and resilience in the face of difficulty or conflict. Some are scapegoated for problems not of their making. Some are cogs in a church machine. We should not be surprised when men and women who’ve been in ministry say, “Enough.”
To be fair, some ministers have brought their post-ministry circumstances on themselves. Poor judgment, conflict-filled relationships, ethical failures, and unwise decisions can and do contribute to the departures of ministers.
All things being equal, under whatever circumstances the minister leaves, it is the minister who is more vulnerable. While a church keeps its small groups, classes, service opps, and dinners, a minister has now lost her community. While a church keeps the lights on, the minister must rapidly navigate towards safe financial waters. While the church maintains whatever relationship it has with other churches, the ministers’ professional network will soon run dry. While a church still has its corporate assembly full of familiar faces and comforting presence, the minister is now adrift without a place where he is known.
The church is wounded. The minister is wounded AND alone AND blind to what lies ahead.
Wounded, isolated, confused women and men need intentional care. Our first call is not to wonder where she went, call a friend to help him find his next job, make harmful assumptions about the circumstances of his departure, or refuse to move on once she leaves. Our job is to make space outside the village where Jesus can sit quietly with those whose past needs attention. Outside the village is where Jesus has space enough to be heard. His instruction may be to not go back. If departing ministers need to leave the denominational tribe, let’s bless them on their way. If they need to leave their circle of friends, let’s embrace them on the way out. If they need to leave ministry, let’s help them use their gifts in new ways. If they need to leave organized church or even religion, let’s grieve with no expectations about when or if they return.
We must not move so quickly to the next church “thing” that we miss the one who was wounded. We need “outside the village” spaces where Jesus can point wounded ministers in the direction of healing and new life. These might be
- Group Therapy
- Spiritual Direction
- Couples’ Counseling
- Support Groups
- Informal House Churches
- Career Coaching
- Staff Search Companies
- Professional Networking
All in the context of the question, “Where is God in this?”
Whether chosen for them or by them, more and more ministers are headed outside the village. No matter how distant their destination, when we’ve nurtured space outside the village, we can have faith that Jesus has pointed them the way they’ve chosen. We must trust that Jesus is pointing them towards healing.