I was talking with a friend of mine recently who is married to an evangelist, and she was saying how she was not sure she could ever envision her husband going into full-time pastoral ministry. "It's nice getting to know people while we're in town," she said, "but I can't imagine putting up with all the drama that goes with being at a place long-term."
To be sure, there is a lot of "drama" that goes on when you are a pastor. You are intimately involved with the everyday stuff of life. In my short time in the ministry, I have probably seen more drama than many other pastors have in years of pastoring. My dad told me that in his 30 years or so of ministry, he has never encountered some of the stuff I've experienced in my young ministry. This is not to say that I have bad churches. And I hope that the few of you who are from one of my churches that read my blog aren't trying to figure out if you've added to my pastoral drama!
But that is the stuff of pastoring. And it's why it is one of the most interesting - if not the most interesting - careers anyone could ever enter. When you are involved in the nitty-gritty of a hundred people's everyday existence; when they call you with some problem they have with another church member; when they criticize your sermons, or gripe about the way a board meeting went - this is the stuff of life. And it builds character. And it grounds you in reality. And it humbles you.
I've wondered quite a bit if I will ever "specialize" in an area of ministry at some point. You know, become an evangelist, or be a church planter, or become a Youth Director, or - were the opportunity ever presented - be a senior pastor of a 2000 member church, or even get into academia. (The latter option is somewhat attractive to me because I enjoy deeper study and theology.)
But some of these "specialized" positions seem to take a person away from reality. The evangelist meets people, gets to know them moderately, and then moves on. The senior pastor goes to meetings all week, prepares his sermon, and then does it all over again the next week. (The pastoral visitation is usually left to an associate pastor who is in charge of that area.) And the person in academia exegetes his texts, shares it with his students, and bids them adieu every 2-4 years.
It is the district pastor - the one who visits with the people, rolls up his sleeves, and becomes intimately acquainted with the ups-and-downs of his parishioners - who grounds himself in reality. He knows the hurts, the joys, the struggles of people. And life is really about people anyway. It's not simply ideas, or theology, or preaching, or evangelism. It's about people. And in no other calling are you so intimately tied to people as you are in pastoral ministry. Yes, it can be extremely stressful. But there is probably no more rewarding "job."
And that's why, if I do someday go on to get a PhD (as opposed to a DMin), I don't know if I would ever really want to continue on the path that most PhD's follow - that of leaving pastoring for academia. And it's why I think that people who go straight from schooling or training, straight into evangelism or academia, are at a huge disadvantage. They are not as grounded in the everyday stuff of what people are experiencing. The concepts they share are not as "practical," or relevant. And they are missing out.