We agree about pecans, but not about pastors

I learned a couple of very important things over the weekend.

First, most of my Facebook friends agree that the correct pronunciation of the word “pecan” is “puh-CAHN”. There is some slight disagreement as to why it is pronounced that way, but (other than a few outliers) that seems to be the consensus, whether talking about the nut itself or the nut in a pie.

The second thing I learned is that there is little to no consensus on what constitutes “Full Time” when talking about the work of pastoral ministry. In the conversation on my profile, I rediscovered a wide chasm between what we think pastors should be doing, the amount of time we think they should be able to do it in, and the reasons why we think so.

In Open Source Church, I quoted a paper I was a part of writing, “Raising Up Leaders for the Mission of God.” In that paper we said,

The Bible describes a variety of forms of ministry leadership. Evangelists served a critical role as the early Christian church began to organize. In the Middle Ages, the pastor as mediator of sacramental grace became primary. The sixteenth and seventeenth century priesthood of all believers, among other things, elicited the pastor as preacher and pastor as ethical guide models. Around 1900 and with growing literacy new images and metaphors for pastoral ministry began to emerge, especially after the First World War. In no uniform order or pure forms, pastoral ministry models of professional educator, psychologist/counselor, agent of social change, and manager of the church surfaced as ideals. Recent research shows many congregants expect their pastor to master each of these models; to be an expert in each of these roles.

Clearly, we have a disconnect.

In an age in which I believe bi-vocationality will play a greater and greater role, I was interested in what others thought about the question of being a Full Time Pastor. Is it sustainable? Is it desirable? What could a pastor reasonably expect to get done in the time she was expected to work? What kind of work was she expected to do? I didn’t ask any of these questions (I just started the ball rolling and watched it roll down the hill), but they were all answered in some form or another.

There are many conclusions I want to draw from these answers, particularly about larger question of the nature and function of the congregation, but for now I want to center on one basic point:

Our general expectation of the working life of pastors belies the fact that Christians have either not been taught or have ignored teaching on Sabbath.

A few quick thoughts:

We need to both teach and model Sabbath. I’m not sure when we forgot this, but Sabbath is a commandment; a sign to Israel of The Covenant. When the people came out of Egypt, Sabbath was the first thing they were taught. “You are not slaves anymore,” they were told. “Once a week, nothing happens.” That was God talking, not just a good idea.

So we should regularly preach this First Commandment, and work it into our liturgies. We should teach classes on it, specifically, and make sure it infuses anything we say about the Abundant Life.

As well, take your days off and ALL of your vacation! Are we insane? Sustained activity with no break is detrimental to our health and well being. Plus, we kind of turn into a jerk when we’ve not had any time away. You know I’m dropping truth there, right?

Also, we should limit the time we spend on things that other people can probably do better than we can. Because how can we expect to be any good at the One Thing most people assume we’ve been called to do when our brains are mush? We’re the PREACHERS, for crying out loud. For many people in the pews, this is the One Thing we get to offer them. Do we honestly think those sermons we preach after the 60+ hour weeks we’ve had are any good? I’m here to tell you they’re not. That’s our first job and we’re failing at it.

YOU are the Body of Christ whom your pastors are to be building up and equipping to do the work of ministry. The fact has either been forgotten or ignored, but pastors are not the people who are hired to do the work that God has called The Church to do. Pastors are helpers and teachers (in my denomination, they are actually called “teaching elders”) set apart to help and guide.

I know people are crazy busy, but that may be part of the point (and the problem). I’m sure we pastors have not done a good enough job teaching about Sabbath, let alone modeling it (see above). I know that in most jobs, folks may have a harder time achieving work/personal balance. But I fail to see why expecting pastors to endure the same (if not more) crap as they would in a corporate job for less chance at good pay and advancement is fulfilling the promises that congregations make to care for them. If congregations expect the pastor to (at least) show them a glimpse of the Abundant Life, then why make it harder for them to do so?

This isn’t about a better contract or job description. This is about a change of heart and a desire to care for one another, not pawning off our responsibility to care for each other on the MDiv. A lot of pastors I know are willing to go many extra miles to make sure people are cared for. They’ll sit for hours and drink coffee with the retiree, and eat everyone’s pie at the church potluck. But they do these things because they’re loving souls, not because you require it in your employment notice.

Honestly, I have many opinions on how this can and should change, but, for now, at least we’ve established that whenever the pastor comes to a church potluck, she’ll be consuming “puh-CAHN” pie, right?

7 thoughts on “We agree about pecans, but not about pastors”

  1. Landon, what do you think about co-pastorates? Personally I’m not really up for associateships and I think that we could employ more people, prevent more burnout…and ……oh yeah follow the Bible (Jesus sent disciples out by twos remember). The sharing power thing could be tricky, but I think in the long run it would be worth it!!!!

    1. I have seen co-pastors as a successful model. My only hesitation is that it still assumes a way of doing church that I’d like to see change.

      1. True, but we have to start somewhere. I always say Church’s motto are “Change? We’d love to change…as long as we don’t have to do anything differently” I think that being realistic about the part time nature of most ministry is at least a start….

  2. brother, have you been following me around! I have been searching for a way to express this to my congregations (2) and in turn, badly needing to hear it myself. Bless you and thank you

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