“Pastor” Part Two: The Bad

Sometimes I feel like the word “pastor” in our day has the same effect that “christian” did in Paul’s day when he testified “to some we are the aroma of life, to others the stench of death.” Where “pastor” can be a welcoming and inviting word, it can also erect barriers that are almost impossible to overcome.

When people find out that I am a pastor, I can almost see them mentally shift gears. Some topics that were previously appropriate are now taboo and a certain level of distrust enters the conversation that wasn’t there previously. I went from being a friend to an outsider in an instant.

I understand this to some degree. Many men and women have made a mockery of the profession, using it for their own financial gain or abusing the relational power and authority they have in people’s lives. Many now view pastors with the same suspicion that they reserve for used car salesmen… ‘What are you trying to sell me now?’

Finding ways to disarm such people is a fun way to pass the time, but I find that Jesus’ methods of eating and drinking with people seem to do the trick. Conversing with someone over a pint of Woodchuck seems to rattle their assumptions enough to at least get me the benefit of the doubt. If nothing else, it almost always causes them to ask “Now what church are you a part of?”

Usually “the bad” parts of pastoring happen with family, friends and non-believers. But as long as I continue to follow Jesus in a non-hyped, non-legalistic manner, things seems to take care of themselves. It is a trickier business when believers get goofy ideas about pastoring, but we will cover that next time.

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“Pastor” Part One: The Good

The title “Pastor” produces in me an almost constant tension. The tension between what the person calling me “pastor” means and what I understand pastoring to be. This mini-series scratches the surface of the good, the bad and the ugly parts of being called “pastor.”

“Pastor” is a beautifully relational word when taken in its own right. Like its near synonym “Shepherd” it indicates comfort, care and protection. It is a title of both authority and endearment, much like “grandfather.” It speaks of respect and love, a tendency to heal and reconcile rather than to drive apart. The title “pastor” indicates that the individual is intimately involved in the lives of their people, frequently walking in and amongst the congregation. “Pastor” frequently creates nostalgic feelings of a world gone by.

At its best, “pastor” expresses a feeling more than a function. The all encompassing word “pastor” seems to mean: someone I will follow because I know that they sincerely care about my well-being and who never uses their authority as a cudgel to berate people into obedience but uses wisdom and the bonds of loving relationship to guide people down the path they should go.

In the best possible way, pastors are those who model what should be, as opposed to what is. People crave an encounter with God and often look to their pastor as the one who can facilitate that event. In fact, this is my favorite part of being a pastor, being one who can lead others into an encounter with God, linger with them for awhile in His Presence and then quietly withdraw, leaving them with the One who loves them most and leads them best.

At ease with the work of pastoring

Every once in a while I will have an interaction with someone that reminds me that I have a different definition of happiness than other people. Our cultural definition of happiness leads one to think that only overly energetic and/or sickeningly positive people are truly happy. I suppose that the Bible would use the term “joy” to describe my understanding of happy, but no one really understands what that word means nowadays.

The best way to describe my understanding of happiness is found in the title, at ease with the work of pastoring. This is a nod to one of my role models, Gene Logsdon, who wrote “The Contrary Farmer” and whose insights into life and culture continue to give me hope for the future.

Pastoring is inconvenient work. Life happens wether or not it fits my schedule and it is my joy and privilege to care for God’s people in those moments when life doesn’t seem to make sense. Being at ease with the work of pastoring, happiness as I understand it, is not grumbling or complaining when people come to call on me, but being flexible enough to meet their needs without sacrificing my own health, the health of my family or my relationships.

I am so militant about schedules because having a rigid schedule makes it possible to be more flexible, if that makes any kind of sense. Perhaps an example would be more helpful. If my wife knows that every Tuesday is “her” day and I diligently guard that time from any distraction, she is more likely to be favorably inclined whenever a crisis situation comes up and I need to leave to minister to someone. She knows that I have set aside time in the past to be with her and that I will continue to do so in the future, this is a “one time” situation.

Contrast this with a theoretical example where I never scheduled time with her and we only had date night sporadically every couple of months. Our schedules never meshed and the only time she could count on with any regularity was the 10 minutes before bed when I am weary and only half paying attention. Now lets say it is a Tuesday and we are planning on being together that day, but something comes up and I get a call. Can you see where bitterness might set in? How many ministry families have suffered this fate?

I advocate schedules because they allow me to regularly invest in my most prized relationships. But the truth of my profession is that people may need me at inopportune times. Having relational capital built up allows me to make a “withdrawal” without seriously endangering my relationship with that person.

I love my job. I love “my” people. Being able to minister to them and be fully present, knowing that I am not jeopardizing my health, family or relationships, is, to me, what being a happy pastor is all about.

A Tale of Two Doctors

I would like to end this week of talking about time with a modern day parable, adapted from a story I heard years ago.

Once there were two doctors, Dr. A and Dr. B. Both were highly intelligent and skilled and each cared deeply for the wellbeing of their patients.

Dr. A absolutely loved his job. He would come in early and leave late and all the while would be at his patient’s beck and call. His bedside manner was impeccable and he was dearly loved by all of his patients. When Dr. A had to go home, he would often leave his cell phone number with his patients in case they needed anything.

Dr. A was so devoted to his work that he rarely had time for anything else. He would eat food on the go or not eat at all. He was so fully devoted to his patients that he even came in on his “off” days, just to make sure everything was O.K. Every once in a great while, Dr. A would run into his long-time school mate Dr. B.

Dr. A harbored a certain level of distain for Dr. B that is hard to explain. Dr. B appeared so lazy and disconnected from his patients. While Dr. A was scarfing down his cafe food in 10 minutes, Dr. B took an entire hour to eat food that he had prepared at home. When Dr. A was in the midst of hurrying from one patient to another, Dr. B was taking a forty-five minute break to go exercise. Dr. B never came in on his off days and only rarely gave out his cell phone or house number. Whenever there was a family emergency, Dr. B would rearrange his schedule. Whenever it was date night with his wife, Dr. B wouldn’t make appointments and would decline to see anyone else. Dr. A saw this as totally unprofessional and frequently reminded his wife and children of how important his job was and how these people needed his help. Whenever someone needed to be seen, Dr. A would clear his schedule of any and all previous appointments so that he could meet with the person. Dr. A felt superior to Dr. B in almost every way.

There was just one problem, Dr. B seemed to be just as good of a doctor looking at the patient’s recovery. Even though Dr. B was there for fewer hours, he was fully present. He wasn’t distracted by the previous patient or the one coming up. He cared deeply for his patients and gave them his full attention.

This carried on for several years, each doctor doing their own thing until something dreadful happened – they each lost a patient. Dr. B took it very hard, he hated losing patients, even though he realized that some people were simply beyond his help. He grieved for several days, but with the help and support of his family and friends he soon recovered. Dr. A, however, was devastated. He constantly bemoaned this loss and saw it as a personal failure. Not wanting to wrestle with his inner turmoil, Dr. A through himself into his work with even more vigor. He worked longer and harder hours, trying to prove to himself as much as others that he was still a good doctor.

But the pace was unsustainable and shortly thereafter, Dr. A burned out. He left the medical profession condemning it as too taxing, consuming and invasive. He switched careers but frequently battled frustration and un-fulfillment.

Dr. B continued his work as a doctor, retiring only after giving 50 years of his life in service to others. Over the course of his career, Dr. B saved hundreds of thousands of patients and was instrumental in the training and education of a new generation of doctors. His legacy survives him in his students and patients… and he never did miss a dinner date with his wife.

Busy-ness

So much of healthy pastoring is learning how to be “unbusy” as Eugene Peterson calls it. It is the ability to minister from a place of sureness, identity and peace. Richard Foster would call it otium sanctum or “holy leisure” – the ability to slow down and be fully present in everyday life. This slowness, this timelessness, is the distinguishing feature of a saint who has lingered in the presence of the Loving Father. There is no need to rush, no compelling need to prove oneself to others when you are grounded in Reality.

So why are we (pastors included) so busy? I like what Eugene Peterson has to say in “The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.” On pages 18 and 19 he says:

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself and to all who will notice — that I am important… I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.

I would add to Peterson’s insights, I am busy because I am afraid. So often busyness becomes an anesthetic. When I am busy I don’t have the time for self-awareness and evaluation. When I am busy I don’t have to think about or deal with my past hurts and brokenness.

Silence is the bane of our age it seems, for in silence, in unbusyness, the Holy Spirit begins to speak, gently bringing to mind all of the things He would like us to turn over to Jesus. But we are uncomfortable with such an intimate and invasive God who earnestly desires every aspect of our hearts – so we drown Him out with iTunes or find something more “productive” to do. But we stunt our spiritual growth, and greatly jeopardize those under our care, when we refuse to slow down and surrender our schedules to God.

Have you ever met someone who embodied holy leisure? What impact did that have on you? Can you imagine what life would be like if you let God rearrange your scheduled priorities?

Yearly Schedule

Continuing with the idea of Sabbath, we need yearly breaks as well as weekly ones. In the Old Testament we find the notion that every seventh year was supposed to be a year of rest for the land, the animals and all of the people. God promised to sustain the nation during this time if they would be faithful not to work. We don’t have any biblical record that this actually happened, but we know that God thinks it is a good idea.

My current schedule has me taking a one week vacation in the spring followed by a two week vacation right before the school and church year pick up in the fall. I haven’t been in ministry long enough to have my seventh year completely off, but I think scheduling sabbaticals is a brilliant idea. I would think that after 6 years of ministry a three to six month sabbatical would be a wonderful thing for the church as well as the pastor. The church would find that it can maintain and even grow in the pastor’s absence and the pastor gets a chance to seek the Lord in an intense and rejuvenating way.

What do you say? Have you ever taken a sabbatical? How was it and will you do it again?

Weekly Schedule

Yesterday we talked a bit about breaking up the day into thirds – 1/3 sleep, 1/3 work, 1/3 re-creation. This has always been a helpful mental model for me, but it doesn’t account for the realities of life. Thus, we will examine some critical components for a balanced and healthy schedule.

I was always taught to schedule the most important activities first, because if I don’t make specific time for them, they never get done. So the first thing I schedule in my week is rest. Yes rest. I schedule time where I don’t do anything work or church related. This is my sabbath, a time to be with my family and “recharge” my emotional batteries. You must guard this time as your top priority. No one else is going to guard your time for you, so make it a point to not schedule anything during this time. It sounds crazy, but it is so valuable once you get into the rhythm of it.

My next important piece is solitude (can you tell I am an introvert!?). I schedule a whole day to just be alone with God. Whereas my sabbath is family oriented, by solitude is God oriented. I read the bible and pray a lot. I sit and think. I don’t listen to music or the radio, I simply “be”. In the words of Blaise Pascal, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Cultivating silence and solitude is essential to effective and healthy ministry. As pastors, we must be ground in the Reality of who we are before God, we must be “unbusy” as Eugene Peterson calls it. Pastors must minister from a deep well of identity and peace or else we are liable to be swept away by the emotional currents of our congregants. Solitude and silence are where we hear the “still small voice” of God.

Our week is quickly diminishing and we still haven’t “done” anything yet! You see, when we orient our lives around the values of the Kingdom of God, the lions, tigers and bears of our culture come out. American culture values people by what they produce. Kingdom culture values people because of who they are. To quote the old cliche, “We are human beings, not human doings.” Therefore, our next order of business is prayer.

‘Prayer? I am too busy to pray! After all, I just spent two whole days being with God – I am ready to go!’ Oh foolish pride. Perhaps it is because of my youth and inexperience, but I am keenly aware of the fact that I have nothing to offer people on my own. I am not wise enough to counsel all circumstances and I am not strong enough to carry all burdens. This makes a vibrant connection to God the lifeblood of my ministry.

God has set a standard for me of 20 hours a week in prayer. I am not saying you need to do the same, but I am saying that you need to ask God how often you should be in your prayer closet. As for the busy-ness component… “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer,”  Martin Luther. Prayer is unique in the way it energizes the minister. I accomplish more on the days I pray than on the days I don’t, even though I should have more time.

Next comes exercise. I can’t explain it fully here, but I minister better when I work out regularly. I have more energy and am more at peace. This isn’t a huge time commitment, maybe 30 minutes 3 times per week. I guarantee that those 30 minutes of exercise will give you several more hours of productive time each day and week.

If you have scheduled the above and are committed to sleeping 8-10 hours a night, I now release you to work and play. You should have approximately 60 hours left in your week to split between work and re-creation however you choose. Remember that prayer is part of your “work” so you already have a good chunk of work time accounted for. My experience is that you don’t need much more than 25-30 hours a week in the office to keep things running smoothly if you are diligent about raising up lay leaders and delegating. This gives you plenty of time for relational ministry, home visits and pick up games of ultimate frizbee.

Try this out for a month and let me know what you think. Best of luck to you!

 

Time

This week’s blog focus will be on time. Time is the great equalizer – rich or poor, strong or weak, we all have only 24 hours in a day. My purpose isn’t how to maximize your efficiency or effectiveness, though they are lovely by-products. My purpose, rather, is to explore and examine how we can best steward our time resources to best promote health and longevity in ministry. Remember our idiom, Healthy = Happy.

I like to break up my day (mentally) into thirds – 1/3 sleep, 1/3 work, 1/3 re-creation. I will briefly summarize below.

Sleep – I think all American’s, but especially pastors, are notoriously lacking in sleep. Below is a summarized list from webmd about loss of sleep: it causes accidents (who has ever regretted that late night email?), it inhibits thinking and learning (not good for teachers), it leads to serious health problems (heart disease, diabetes, stroke), it kills sex drive (bad news for married ministers), it can cause depression (which many of us already have) and weight gain. Eight hours a night is minimum in my opinion – I have found I am better rested, healthier and happier with 9 to 10.

Work – Yes, “work” should only take up a third of your day. Work is in quotes because most ministers don’t consider what they do “work”. An email or phone call here or there adds up and needs to be seen as what it is – caring for your people. I’m not saying you need regular business hours, but you do need to establish set times for work. When those hours are over, I recommend “unplugging” – no phones, smart phones, ipads or laptops. It you need the time, buy a watch. If you need to write a message, use a journal. Email is a life-sucking abyss and nothing that goes on at your church is really that important – it can wait. Remember that time when you forgot your phone or your laptop died and you didn’t have a charger? The church kept trucking along just fine – your people know you are busy, they will cut you some slack.

Re-Creation – What do you need to literally re-create yourself? I include meals, exercise, family and fun in this category. It also includes personal time such as getting ready, reading books or just sitting and being quiet. I don’t personally watch television, but if you do, this would be the place to fit it in. I consider two things to be absolutely vital to health, happiness and longevity in ministry – prayer and recreation and pastors rarely do either! A recent study I saw indicated that pastors only pray about 5 minutes a day – no wonder we are so burnt out! How can we have anything of value to offer our people if we aren’t connected in a vital way to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Teacher and Guide? I include prayer as part of my work hours (see the apostles’ job description in Acts 6:4).

Obviously, each day has its own flow and some days are more work or recreation heavy than others. We will cover a weekly approach to looking at time in our next entry. Until then, how do you use your time? Do you have a similar model or something different altogether?

Who is The Happy Pastor?

In hind sight, this should have been included in my first post, but such is life. I am new to the blogosphere and have a huge learning curve ahead of me. I appreciate your grace.

My name is Ben and I am the 25 year old senior pastor of Vineyard Community Church in Waverly, IA. Wait a second… the 25 year old senior pastor? No, it is not a joke though it may be an oxymoron, it is simply my life – strange and seemingly upside down. I am sure we will cover my story more in depth as we go on, but for now I would like to answer a few questions even the most gracious of you are asking.

Q: You are 25, what on earth do you know about ministry?

A: I think the question you mean to ask is, ‘What makes you think you are qualified to pastor people twice your age?’ My answer to that is very simple – I’m not. But nowhere in scripture do I ever find God calling people who are equipped and qualified, I only find Him calling those who are willing and obedient. Moses wasn’t qualified to lead the people of Israel when he met God in the desert, but he was (reluctantly) willing to follow God’s call and was equipped as a leader in the process. The vast majority of Jesus’ disciples were uneducated fishermen, yet they were the most dynamic leaders the Church has ever seen. God equips the called, rarely does he call the equipped.

Q: But still, what do you know about the Bible? Why should I believe what you say?

A: Before I answer that question, I want to address the underlying assumption – namely that knowledge is the sole qualification for pastoral leadership. In the Western world, we operate from a medieval mindset, not a biblical one. Especially in America we uphold knowledge (facts and intellect) as supreme, not experience and character. But the truth of the matter is that spiritual maturity has more to do with obedience to Christ and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit and less to do with being able to parse the pluperfect tense of koine greek.

Still, I am ministering to people of Western culture, so I do need some sort of “credibility.” I spent 4 years in undergrad as a pre-seminary major. During this time I studied Hebrew (4 years), Greek (3 years), church history, world religion, Old Testament Studies, New Testament Studies, etc. Following my undergrad I spent 2 years in intensive self-study and one year in internship with the church I now pastor. My overseers deemed me competent enough in church doctrine and study to assume this post without having to seek further certification or credentials. I am a licensed and ordained minister in the Vineyard church.

Q: What allows you to speak with any authority into the lives of other pastors?

A: The majority of the posts on this blog will be my reflections upon the writing of Scripture or leaders in the Church. As a student of Church history, I have learned to draw heavily upon those who have gone before me, men and women much wiser and braver than I who have had terrific victories and equally terrific failings. I don’t believe that I need to make those same mistakes to learn from them and I don’t believe that you do either.

As for reflections upon Scripture… well, the Word is living and active and I have God’s Holy Spirit inside of me. I think reasonable exegesis will allow you to rest securely in the authority of God’s Word and not of man’s opinion. That said, I am a teacher and leader and I take full responsibility for the content of this site. If anything I say is in error, I trust that you will be quick to point it out humbly and graciously.

I think this concludes our opening mini-interview. Is there anything else you want to know? What questions do you have about church leadership and what content would you like to see addressed on this blog?

What is The Happy Pastor?

What is The Happy Pastor? I’m so glad you asked. The Happy Pastor chronicles my foray into full-time pastoral ministry. It is meant to be a candid, albeit sensitive look into pastoral ministry and church life – from some who loves the Church and refuses to become disgruntled with American church culture. The Happy Pastor is an all encompassing blog including, but not limited to, devotionals, bible studies, critique of church culture, insights from books I am reading and ramblings of various sorts. Above all, The Happy Pastor is meant to be an encouragement to those in full-time ministry. It is possible to be a full-time ministry professional and not hate your job… or the people you serve!

What is a Happy Pastor? Another insightful and poignant question – this blog is off to a good start! To be quite honest, no one really knows for sure. Happy Pastors are sort of like snow leopards – mythical beasts that we have heard about but very few have actually encountered.

It is my experience that many pastors are depressed and burnt out from full-time ministry. Many are workaholics who never take breaks, control freaks who find a perverse pleasure in being the “only one” who can do their job and people kept in bondage because of their fear of man. That sounds incredibly harsh, but I think a critical review of pastors in America will find it to be the case.

The Happy Pastor is designed to address these issues head on, from a pastor’s perspective. A proverb that we will come back to time and again is this “Healthy = Happy”. “Healthy” runs the gamut from emotional and relational boundaries to physical health and anything else I think qualifies. I want to pioneer a pastoral culture where it is O.K. for pastors to not be on call 24/7, to have regular (meaning set) hours, scheduled family time and uninterrupted sabbath. I want pastors to be free to unplug from technology and cultivate a passionate devotional life that will keep them burning hot for a lifetime, not just a few years. Our churches need leaders who are fiercely in love with God and who will defend that relationship as their top priority. If we cannot reclaim pastors from the emotional abyss they currently find themselves in, then I fear that greater tragedies await the American church.

But I have great faith in our leaders. I believe that no one becomes a pastor because they want a cush job or an outstanding benefits package. I believe that people become pastors because they genuinely love God and want to compassionately care for His people. These lovers are unprepared for the battlefield ahead of them, however, and were not taught to navigate the minefields of having to say “no,” having to discipline to their flocks and how to care for their families and marriages as a top priority.

The Happy Pastor seeks to address these issues from real life experience in the field. It is possible to set healthy boundaries that allow one to have a thriving marriage, quality and quantity family time, personal health and rest. Let the journey begin!