aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

So, what is it that you clergy actually DO?

That question arises from time to time: sometimes, with a hint of sarcasm, sometimes, with a bit of befuddlement. For those inquiring minds, here's a partial description of how I fill my time.

I preach sermons and lead worship services weekly, which requires a fair amount of thought and preparation. Right now, I'm working on the sermons and services for the next 13 weeks. After 39 years, I'm pretty efficient at this, so I'm rarely stuck on Saturday night trying to get a sermon going, but still, it's a lot of work. One lady, years ago, told me with a snarl, "I don't like the way you preach. Everything sounds like it's coming off the top of your head." to which I replied, "Thank you. You don't know how many hours it takes to make it sound like it's coming off the top of my head."

In addition to preaching and leading worship, I also do some teaching. I lead Bible studies, teach confirmation classes, design and lead workshops and retreats. I have written for publication some (and need to do more -- I have at least two books in various stages of completion). And I've been blogging for ten years. Some people do on-line journaling as a vehicle for self-discovery; for me, it's mostly an extension of my ministry of explicating the Christian faith.

When I'm not addressing myself TO people, I'm usually working WITH them. As a pastor, I spend a lot of time meeting with people individually. I go to hospitals to comfort and pray with the sick. I call on the shut-in members of my congregation regularly. I call on new folks and talk about the Church. I drop in at people's homes and places of work to check up on things or pass along information. I work with happy couples preparing to marry and with grieving families preparing to bury a loved one. I do pastoral counseling with people occasionally. I wander about the community, schmoozing people, "touching base" with them; when I go to the County Fair, e.g., it's really just to talk to the youth showing their animals, to demonstrate they're important to me by spending a little time with them. In recent years, I have found social media to be increasingly important in keeping in touch with my flock.

In addition to all this face-to-face, meet-people-where-they-are kind of activity, I also spend a LOT Of time in meetings of various sorts. "Death by committee" sometimes seems like the only form of capital punishment the Church does not consider cruel and unusual. There are program committees and administrative committees of the congregation; District and Conference meetings I'm more or less obligated to attend; community agencies and boards I am a member of or expected, as a community leader, to show an interest in. Don't get me wrong; some of what we do in meetings is exciting and fun, and I look forward to working with people on the things we're engaged in. But other meetings, even when productive and important, are more a matter of have-to rather than want-to. And a fair number of meetings are neither productive nor important. Fun or not, worthwhile or not, all of them spread across your calendar like kudzu.

The pastor is also the Chief Operating Officer of the congregation. We have some great staff and volunteers here who keep things running well and facilities in repair, so I don't have to be too hands-on in running what is basically a small non-profit corporation, but still, I'm expected to keep a watch out for the rocks and shoals of such an enterprise. Even among experienced people used to dealing with the world of business or property, I am often the only one who is used to dealing with the legal and procedural peculiarities of church administration, so I have to pay attention and keep up with things.

I'm expected to engage in what is called continuing education. I read a lot of scholarly stuff, and not just in the fields of theology and ministry. I go to training events. I'm expected to cultivate my curiosity and broaden myself through travel and personal discovery. And, of course, all my professional activity does NOT take the place of the ordinary duties of a Christian to keep up my daily devotions and to engage in personal prayer.

Most pastors also have various specialties that they pursue, and would pursue even if they were not in the pastorate. Every Christian is called to ministry of some sort, and pastors have personal ministries above and beyond what the job calls for. I do a lot of work with Scouting and other forms of youth and camping ministry.

Every candidate for ordination in The United Methodist Church is asked if one will follow this historic advice, which is ultimately derived from John Wesley.
Be diligent. Never be unemployed: never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.
One can argue than fun and recreation are as important to one's health and productivity as work; one could also argue that a great deal of what we are expected to do (and would be heavily criticized for not doing) is a matter of trifling away time. Both are valid criticisms of the instruction to candidates; nevertheless, most of us do all that we do because we feel called to do it and are conscientious in doing it. We have more trouble deciding what NOT to do (out of all that we want to do), than in deciding how to fill up our time.

The old joke goes that a preacher called up his bishop and said he just saw Jesus walking down the street toward his office. What should he do? The bishop replied, "Look busy!" Most of us don't have that problem. We just wish we had more time (and more energy) to do all that we want to do, in order to serve Christ more effectively. That may sound crazy, but as the Man himself said, "I have meat to eat ye wot not of."

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