vocation (and by that I don't mean occupation)

from ministry to profession

There is a debate between schools of thought on ministry that I imagine has existed since the beginning of the Christian church. There are those who see the ministry to which some are called as a full time job, a profession. A 40 plus hour a week work with meetings, forms, committees, and health benefits. It can be all consuming, a mistress (not sure what the masculine form of mistress is). Then there are tentmakers. People who find some other "job" that enables them to do ministry. The term is a reference to Paul in Acts 18. My tentmaking friends work within their communities as both a way of making ends meet and as a means to be in the community they are serving. There is something noble about tentmaking. It removes the "you're only here because you're paid to be here" element of ministry. There is also something practical about it. It is less of a drain, financially speaking, on the ministry. In some ways, tentmaking really is the ideal way of doing ministry...

... and thus I feel like a giant hypocrite. On Sunday I will be installed as the pastor of Oakland Presbyterian Church. This is the public expression that I have been chosen to do a specific kind of ministry within a particular segment of the body of Christ (or something like that). It's my saying "yes, I will work my tail off here, using my particular gifts and skills, in exchange, you will pay me enough to care for my family". I've felt conflicted about this for some time. Not this particular call, but the general call to a church. Should ministry be a profession? A job? Isn't that, in some ways, the source of much that is wrong with the church? It has become a career path. Institutions have sprung up to support those in the career path. Ministry then gets dictated by a flow of money. Wouldn't ministry be done in a more pure way without the pesky burden of people trying to make a living? 

This isn't a conflict I expect to ever go away. In fact, I think I've blogged on this very subject before. I do have some newer thoughts that I hope aren't just self serving, but actually based in wisdom. 

First and foremost, I don't like anything that diminishes the idea of the priesthood of all believers. Everyone has gifts for ministry. I believe that. I feel called to do something pretty specific for which I think I have specific skills, but my ministry is not superior or even more needed. In some ways, I have the least practical skill set of anyone in my church. No matter how I feel about professional ordained ministry, I will never cease to encourage that all find their place in ministry. 

Second, I think churches need full time pastors. Sermon prep takes a long time. Worship planning can be all consuming. However, I don't think we need full time pastors for Sunday. We need them for Monday through Saturday. I've been completely blown away by seemingly non-stop calling at the church office simply because people know I am here. When someone goes to the hospital, they know they can call my office and I will come pray for them. When someone dies, they know I will put my energy into helping them celebrate the life of their loved one. 

I tried to pastor a church part time. It's completely overwhelming. Maybe I don't have the temperament to be a part time pastor or a tentmaker. I don't like having my focus divided. More importantly though, I felt like I was failing the people I was serving. I felt like they deserved more than what I had time to give them. 

I watched another church without a full time minister, which on the surface was doing well because they put so much of their volunteers time into Sunday morning. Don't get me wrong. Worship is important, but that can't be where a pastor puts her/his greatest effort. I know for a fact that people within the congregation felt like they weren't being cared for. To some extent, it becomes key that there is someone on call to respond to the needs of the people.  

There's a lot I don't like about the ways we do church. I hate how at times it feels like I'm trying to run a business, keep the doors open, and increase our customer base. I'm conflicted about the institutional nature of the church. I despise the politics. And yet I see the value in the profession that I have chosen. 

I had lunch recently with a clergy person whose church is near mine. They mentioned the comments of one of their older peers who said that when he had gotten into the ministry the job had more respect and less pressure and now the job has more pressure and less respect. I think it is under more pressure because we're trying to redeem an institution that has gotten away from its original values. If the church doesn't look like Jesus, then it should be failing. I guess I'm not old enough to mourn the loss of respect. I want to see it become a profession worthy of respect. 

This probably seems self serving. I don't want to diminish the work of those who choose to tentmake. In a lot of ways it makes more sense than what I'm doing if you have the energy to do it. More importantly, I think this is the way the church is going. I don't think many churches are going to be able to afford full time pastors much more into the future. Some churches are paying full time pastors they can't afford. My church might number among them. I think that is a reality that seminaries aren't preparing students for. Soon there will be fewer and fewer full time ministry jobs and fewer and fewer ministries that will be able to support candidates for ministry full time. I don't think anyone ever discussed with us in seminary what we would do to supplement our income if we were ever in a church that couldn't keep us alive. 

I feel rambly. I'd love some feedback here. How does the "profession" of ministry effect actual ministry? s tentmaking really the ideal that it's made out to be? Should we treat churches like businesses that are allowed to fail? Am I selfishly holding on to the old fashioned notion of what it means to be a pastor? 


from significance to insignificance (and hopefully back again)

Sorry I haven't blogged in awhile. I know I have a few occasional readers whose insomnia must be cured.

My life has become rather tumultuous lately. My family feels like a load of bricks on my back. My wife and I just had an attempt to buy a house completely fall apart on us. My last semester of seminary is quickly drawing to a close, a fact that is supposed to be bringing me copious amounts of joy, but currently is just bringing anxiety...

On top of all of this is the pesky issue of my role in the world. in a sermon I gave a couple of weeks ago, I described poverty as a lack of options. I am not poor. I have a lot of options, which brings up the issue of responsibility. What does one do with the options they have? How do I contribute to God's plan for the world?

In 2004 when I entered seminary, we were asked a question: what did you leave behind to come to seminary? I was reminded recently that my answer was that I gave up significance to come to seminary. I gave up the significance I had in the ministries Iwas involved in. I gave up the significance that one has in the lives of others when they see you on a day-in, day-out basis. I gave up my own sense of who I was and moved 3,000 miles across the country. In some ways, this has been the best part of the experience. What resulted was that I got to re-invent myself (to some extent) as a version of myself that is closer to what I want to be. The shadow side of this is that I also (unconsciously) drank several kool-aids: the Presbyterian Kool-Aid, the Reformed theology Kool-aid, the liturgical worship Kool-aid, and worst of all, the west coast kool-aid. I've started buying into systems that I formerly criticized. Grantted I still criticize, but I feel like criticism has more credability when you critique from within.

So what was that long, rambly proceeding paragraph about? Well, I left Pittsburgh and felt like I left a  piece of my significance (identity?) behind. In the process of three years of seminary, I have gained new significances and identity markers which I now must leave behind again. I feel like people on the west coast have gotten to know a better version of me. Of course, that "better" version is only better (if he really is) because of maturing that has occurred here. For some strange reason, I have this fear that the things I learned and the places where I have grown will suddenly disappear as sson as I see the sign that read "Welcome to Pennsylvania".

Of course that's ridiculous. No one ever said fears have to be rational. I know that I will be the me that I am, the me that is growing, has grown, and will grow. It feels easier to wear the mantle of leadership out here. No one has baby pictures of me here. No one has seen me do stupid skits. Except my wife (on both counts).

The thing forme to focus on right now is what it is that actually gives me significance. It isn't a title, a degree, an ordination. It is my capacity to love and to be loved. I could certainly use some work on both of those areas...