These folks have such a hard job, and it’s easy for them to get burned out and discouraged. Unlike someone who works in, say, corporate marketing, getting burned out doesn’t mean that you have to fly to yet another industry sales convention in Orlando. It instead means precious souls may not hear the Gospel message and as a result may be lost for all eternity. That’s quite a responsibility.
Many lay-people assume the folks in ministry are so happy to be doing the Lord’s work, they float around the parish and diocesan offices with perpetual smiles on their faces. They approach every task with the joy of Jesus welling in their hearts, and treat every person they encounter with the love and concern of Mother Teresa.
However, we lay-people lose sight of a very important fact: all religious organizations are staffed by human beings. And all human beings, as Scripture tells us and experience confirms, are sinful.
I would venture to say that people who work for religious organizations are far less sinful than the average members of society, but that doesn’t make them perfect. Churches and other spiritually-based ministries still have a fair amount of anger, dishonesty, selfishness, and egoism floating around their offices. It may not be at the extreme levels of places like the U.S. Congress, but sinful behavior is present, as it is in every organization on earth.
But then this new employee starts to witness things the parishioners never see. The priest who smiles all the time in public, but who often scowls and spits our sarcastic criticisms in private. The parish secretary who gossips about the parishioners. The church trustee who shrewdly makes sure his best friend’s construction company gets all the big maintenance and renovation contracts. In other words, this new employee witnesses people being people.
Even though a lot of important ministry work is being done, and many people are indeed being helped, the new, idealistic employee can’t help but notice that a cynical attitude is often present behind the scenes. And that’s when “familiarity disillusionment” can set in. The new employee stops focusing on the real mission of sharing the love of God, preaching the Good News, and saving souls. The new mission is to show up each day, do the minimum amount of work required, collect a paycheck, and actively search for other employment opportunities.
By becoming so familiar with the religious organization’s inner workings, the employee becomes disillusioned. He or she thought working for “the church” would be noble and uplifting and, well, so much different than a regular job. Sometimes the disillusioned employee not only leaves for a new job, but also loses his or her faith entirely. And it’s a fact that disillusioned priests, nuns, and deacons can lose their faith, too.
Pray for them, assist their ministry financially, and most of all, be friendly toward them and cut them some slack if you happen to catch them on a bad day. After all, they’re only human, just like the rest of us.