(Update: Maybe I need to point out that I’ve been in contact with a few churches in the last couple of weeks. None of them have given me a job description. And for that I’m glad. Maybe that’s how it should be. The search committee should hear from the candidate about what he thinks his calling is and then either it matches what they are looking or not. Perhaps they will even like what he says more than what they have articulated. It’s possible.)
“The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.”
— Eugene Peterson
So I’ve been looking at pastoral job postings. I usually look at only the ones in my denomination, which for the most part, are pretty good. But I’ve started looking at all of them. Just to see what churches are looking for in a pastor.
It can be depressing. Especially since I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor. One of themes of the book, as well as all of his books on pastoral ministry is we have reduced church life to a consumeristic enterprise and the pastor is a hawker of spiritual goods and services. The pastor, who is supposed to be the one who introduces the people to God and directs the people toward what he is doing, has in America, become a businessman.
So Peterson has in some ways ruined me. His picture of ministry which places prayer in a prominent place seems so at odds with the way we think. And honestly, even at odds with the way I’m prone to think sometimes. Prayer doesn’t look busy. It doesn’t seem to make things happen. And we are a culture of busyness and making things happen. We want quick results and prayer vitiates against that. I see this with my family. And myself.
One of the reasons Peterson has been so helpful, is that I tend to look at Pastoral work and my desire to return to it as what I want to do and what I will do. I suppose that’s a natural way of thinking. But he gave me a picture of pastoral ministry where God is the one who effects growth and change. I know that sounds ethereal and possibly cliched but hang with me here.
Peterson says we are too impatient. We do not really believe in the power of prayer, the ministry of the word (and sacrament), and patient spiritual direction. We want to fix problems. And we want it now. My own heart does. I look at my kids and see things I don’t like and I see them “as problems to be solved and not stories to be entered into.”
We start with thinking these things will work and then we leave them off because we cannot see the progress we expect. It’s too slow. And again, I cannot help but but smile as I type this, because I do this with my kids.
So obviously I can’t be too hard on people and search committees for thinking this way about pastoral ministry. We’ve all breathed an ecclesiastical air that has pastors swooning with the idea they are there to fix what is wrong. And churches often look to them to do it. And even more often than not they cannot deliver what is needed. And then everyone is frustrated. And severance packages are paid out and new committees are formed to find the answer.
Guys like me aren’t frustrated merely because they want to do and be something other than what is expected of them. They are frustrated because the work of ministry they were initially called to has evaporated or been suffocated under a lot of other work. It’s not what initially made their hearts break for the souls of men and women.
And now there is a palpable fear that God could draw himself away from the work they are doing and no one would know the difference. Everyone is still busy. Everyone is fixing problems. But really the glory has left.
My wife says I’m the weird one. Maybe it’s because I left and I’ve had time away to reevaluate what I was as a pastor previously and what I want to be. I’m now too acquainted with my own weakness to want to go forward with anything but my weakness. So I keep coming back to Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth when he reminds them that God has chosen what is weak and appears to be weak to make his strength known. They have the ring of good news about them.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose what is low and despised int the world,
even things that are not,
to bring to nothing things that are
So that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
That sounds like a good pastoral job description to me.