Friday, November 7, 2008

Pastoring . . .

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.


Charles said...

Shawn, your words inspire and comfort. I love the fact that there are pastors out there who believe in getting involved in the nitty gritty of life (not that my pastor doesn't...)

I guess, in a way your words reminded me of the Mitford series by Jan Karon about an Episcopal Priest named Father Timothy Cavanaugh. My wife and I listen to these books (read unabridged by John McDonough) regularly.

I highly recommend this series. My favorite book in the series is "A New Song". Few books have elicited so much emotion in me - all aspects - from laughter to tears. And its all about the nitty gritty of pastoring a parish and ministering to the needs of not only the parishioners, but also the community.

Awesome stuff, brother. I will be praying for your ministry.

Timothy D. Lee said...

I am sympathetic to this line of thinking, especially as a young district pastor (young in pastoring, if not so young in age!).

I have a little different perspective, though.

Your friend's comment on the drama in the local church MAY be one evidence that God has not called that family to pastoral ministry, but to evangelistic ministry. (It may also be an excuse to ignore God's call -- but that's between them and God.)

At least right now, you are called to pastoral ministry. But your calling may (or may not) change later.

Reality can be a funny thing. While the evangelist may not see the long-term struggles of individuals that the daily pastor sees all to well, the pastor may get so bogged down with the daily duties that s/he misses the worldwide impact of the church that a travelling evangelist or administrator might see.

The academic is able to study more deeply and see what others are discovering about the gospel, and ways to present the gospel.

To paraphrase Paul, some are called as pastors, others evangelists, others academics, and others administrators.

The church needs all these and more to accomplish the mission of sharing Christ and Him crucified to a dying world (including the ones dying in Seventh-day Adventist Churches every Sabbath morning!)

Anonymous said...

Shawn, I hear what you are saying about pastoring I have never walked in your shoes. But I was a Dean of Men for a number of years and that was very rewarding and humbling!! Keep up the good work.


PS No Perky stories in you sermons!!

Alison said...

Whatever you choose to do long-term in your life - you will be successful for God. I can see you in any or all of those pastoral jobs!! You have multiple gifts. But I can understand how you see your current job especially humbling and rewarding.

Shawn Brace said...

Charles, I'm glad the post resonated with you. I have to tell you, pastoring is a very humbling experience. When you're sitting next to the woman in the hospital, dying of cancer, or you're listening to the couple that is going through marital problems, I often ask myself, "What do I have to offer them that is of any comfort or encouragement? Who am I to believe I can help them?" Thanks, also, for the book recommendation.

Timothy, thanks also for the thoughts. I hope I didn't sound like there is no need for evangelists, professors, etc. I believe there most definitely is. What I am a little uncomfortable with is when such a person has never spent anytime in pastoral ministry. Not only are they a little out of touch with the reality and everyday stuff of life, but they also run the risk of getting a big head! I have heard of some in academia who spend summers engaged in the "nitty gritty" of everyday pastoral ministry. It keeps them grounded.

Perky, I would have to say that being a men's dean is a lot like pastoring! You see a lot of the struggles and challenges of everyday life.

And thanks, as always, Alison, for your words of affirmation!

greenchickadee said...

Shawn your post is beautiful and truthful and wise. When I read your first paragraph, I immediately had thoughts whiz through my head, but you addressed each one in the post and you've got it so right. Our experiences in life shape us, and dealing with difficult people, hurting people, amazing people, trusting people, . . . that is the food of life. You are also gaining lifelong relationships with people who truly love you. My dad was a pastor and has also worked for the church his whole life (dealing with countless "situations" at every job) but our family has incredible friendships with people across the WORLD because of those long-term friendships that developed through time. You are so truly blessed and so are your parishioners. Keep on pastoring because the world needs you.