aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be preachers, Part I

I'd like to share some thoughts on the clergy, from an insider's perspective. I was ordained Deacon in the UMC in 1977, Elder in 1979. I've seen my fellow clergy come and go. We share a professional world little understood by the laity of our churches. Some of what I have shared with my colleagues, particularly the beginners, is as follows.

Some people are just not cut out for the pastorate. There are some things that would just drive people nuts who are not prepared to deal with them, especially the three conditions of Incompletion, Ambiguity, and Lack of Closure.


You will never get it all done. The job is just too big. And trying to work extra, extra hard to create a space wherein you can finally relax is just slow-motion suicide. You will never be all caught up. Additional responsibilities will get dumped on any clear dates you manage to create by heroic labor. And when you come back from any time off, the amount of stuff you have to do will be treble what it ought to be. That's just the way it is. Take the time off you need, when you need it; take care of yourself. Don't think you have to work until it's all done. It never will be. This is not a free pass for goofing off -- just a reality check.

Being a pastor is like sitting at a desk with 90 phones on it. At any given time, 30 of them are ringing. You will never be able to get to them all. Some will quit ringing before you can answer them. Some will never call back. By the time you've answered the first five, five more have begun to ring. Answer those you can. Leave the rest to God.


People are like icebergs. You only ever see the tips of them, the part that shows above the surface. You can't know (except in rare, limited cases) how you're being received, or what effect your words and actions have had. This means that you must leave behind all manipulative behavior -- all acts that try to produce particular responses from others. You can only do what you MUST do, and let people do what they will. I'm not much of a neo-evangelical, but I like Karl Barth's advice: "Throw the Word like a stone, and let it break what it will."

Of all those phones that are ringing, not all are worth answering. But you can't know whose calls are important to take, before you take them. (Nor can you know, from an eternal perspective, which calls you did take were the most important.) The people who waste your time SEEM just as important as those who desperately needed you and you never got to.


People come and go, and so do pastors. No matter how long-term your relationships, we never see more than a snapshot of most people's lives. So you cannot know how most of the stories you have played a part in will turn out. Will the damaged person you attempted to help go on to ultimate victory? Will the excited new convert stay faithful? Will the program you began continue on, to be taken up and valued by others (don't hold your breath on this one)?

It is enough to have done something good this day and share it with others. To ask for more is pride.

If you can't deal with these conditions, I recommend you not try the pastorate.
Tags: church, clergy

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