What I wish church personnel committees understood about their pastor’s desire to do her job

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-directed, and connected to others. And when that desire is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

Daniel H. Pink, Drive

Here’s what I wish Church Personnel Committees understood about the pastors who have been called to serve them:

Big theological words aside (call, faith journey, testimony, etc.), 99.99% of pastors became pastors because they are creative people who are willing to give of themselves to see a group of people thrive. They are willing to put a lot of time and energy into other people, helping them to see their full potential as Children of God. They are willing to deny their own needs (to a fault) for the sake of others being able to experience the joy and comfort of being the center of someone else’s attention.

And, yet, many get treated as if they are a bunch of juvenile babies who are lazy and want to goof off.

To be sure, there is often a gross misunderstanding of what it is that pastors do, but I think there is a deeper culprit behind this desire to micromanage the pastor. Like most HR folks, personnel committees operate with a conviction that people don’t like to work.

As a result of this perspective, we do crazy things. Things like requiring 50 hour workweeks in the belief that, if we don’t, the pastor won’t visit us or prep for Bible Study or… Or we insist that the pastor’s butt is always in their office chair in the belief that, if we don’t, they will skip out and go drink coffee and goof off.

I know a lot of pastors, and I don’t think there is anything further from the truth. If anything, pastors are workaholics.

The book I’m reading, Drive (which I quoted above), holds as its main thesis that a) people have an innate inner drive to do creative and meaningful things with other people, but that b) our standard system of rewards and punishments actually negate the intrinsic motivation we all possess and cause us to accomplish far less than we otherwise would. Once basic needs are satisfied, people have a drive to work.

And we can’t stop. Why do you think a lot of retirees “work” more in retirement than before? Why do you think a man who has not had any vacation for a year spends his Christmas break compiling an ebook full of sermons?

Pastors want to do a good job and want to care for the people they’ve been called to serve. But, too often, they are treated like children.

How can we structure a pastoral relationship that liberates the innate inner drive to do good and meaningful work?

Oh, the places I don’t really want to go…

I have a friend who uses big words. He uses them on purpose and not in a way that makes you feel stupid when he does it. The other day he told me he was “facile” in regards to something. I had to go look it up. I learned something.

But guys like him are becoming rare.

Knowledge is easier to obtain now than in used to be. There is no shortage of information. If I want to know something, Wikipedia is just a browser away. “define:[word]” is one of my favorite Google searches ever.

I don’t need some smarty-pants to tell me things any more. I can go find it myself. And, yet, I often don’t.

There is an overabundance of information at our disposal. We don’t know what to do with it all. There have been studies after studies done that show that the more choices we have, the less content we are.

Do you remember when you first began shopping for yourself and stood in the aisle looking at all the different kinds of spaghetti sauce you could buy? It’s overwhelming. A few nights ago, I spent 2 hours trolling Bandcamp, looking for new music. Any kind of independent artist you could want is there, but I was having a damn hard time finding anything through the crowd. There’s just too much. I have this fear that I’m going to miss something good, that I’m going to spend my hard earned cash on something when the thing I really want is one more click away…

It seems to me that pastors have a unique opportunity in this moment. We have an opportunity to recognize our role as the new Public Intellectuals.

An Intellectual is a person who concerns herself with the life of the mind. She is passionate about ideas and the ways those ideas shape the way we live. She is concerned about her thinking being “critical” in nature. Rocks must be overturned, doors opened, avenues explored. She does not shy away from hard truths, and goes where information leads her. She always knows that deeper and deeper realities are discoverable even when her colleagues stop.

What makes a pastor a Public Intellectual is that she does not have the luxury of this exploration being private. By the very nature of her calling, a pastor is asked to do this wrestling in public. In front of other people. Where she might be criticized.

And this is the rub.

Pastors succumb to doing a lot of things they should not, but they often shy away from being the primary person in a community asking questions that have no destination for certain. The truth is that we have been given tools that a lot of people do not have in order to navigate the questions that a lot of people are asking. But we still have to ask them. We still have to give our best answer, and then ask people what they see.

There is a lot of religious information out there, and with a populace that is not slowing down in their drive to be “spiritual,” the need for someone to authentically help navigate all that information is at an all time high. Folks don’t need to be spoonfed the answers, but they want to watch us run the obstacle course of faith first – complete with tripping and falling – because watching us run it will give them courage to run it themselves.

This isn’t easy work, but it’s fairly straightforward. It requires that we steel our spines and go places we might not otherwise want to go.

But it is important work, and our people need us to do it. Pastors, we can no longer afford to be facile about our work as theologians. (See what I did there? 🙂 )

Pastor AND Friend

A few years ago, I showed up on a back porch with a six pack for a little commiseration. My drinking buddy was having a helluva time with life and I was there to “place share” (h/t Andrew Root). About 15 minutes into our time together, after the niceties, he looked at me and asked, “Are you here because you’re my pastor or because you’re my friend?”

Time stops for a pastor when that question is surfaced. In a split second, a pastor needs to discern what the asker is after, what the answer is that they hope you give and how that squares with the answer you’re naturally inclined to give. The pastor needs to be hyper-aware of power dynamics since the asker is allowing you into the vulnerability of their life. Not to mention the normal relationship dance of making things explicit, and the awkwardness that goes along with that.

There are a host of other variables to consider as well, but the moment is a terrifying one.

The Holy Spirit must have been on my side, because I gave what I think was the right answer to my drinking buddy: “I’m here as your friend, but I guess you can consider yourself lucky that you have a friend who is a pastor.”

Pastor, not friend

Yesterday, an article by Princeton Seminary’s new president, Craig Barnes, started circling around that clearly made the case for maintaining the classic distinction and distance in the pastor/parishioner relationship.

For over 30 years I’ve struggled with the question of befriending parishioners. I realize that I’m supposed to maintain healthy friendships outside of the church, and I’ve taught this for years in seminary classes. The professional literature supports this call to maintain a distinction between relationships of mutuality and those of service as a pastor. I get that. But there’s a math problem—there isn’t enough time left over after serving the church to have healthy friendships. Or at least that’s what pastors tell themselves.

I suppose I could have pulled back from the church and tried to meet more people through the PTA, the Little League, a political party or the volunteer fire department. I could even have convinced myself that this is part of my local mission as a Christian. But I love being a pastor, and I love the churches I’ve served. And they are demanding lovers.

I have a lot of thoughts on Barnes’ article, and pastoral health in general, but there’s something that I want to name first: This makes me sad.*

It makes me sad because it so clearly resembles what I hear a lot of the folks I counseled say when they were trying to justify the benefit of being worked to death in the corporate world. God wants more and better for all people, and saying that we’ve been called to be lonely is just…well…wrong. Call me a slacker, call me a flake, call me selfish if you want, but this is a problem and it has to change.

We have to shift our expectations

I’m certainly playing fast and loose here (it’s a blog, so I can get away with it 🙂 ), but if this problem has a chance of being solved then there are a number of variables that must be addressed:

The Church rests on power and cash. A Facebook friend helpfully pointed out that much of this issue has to do with the fact that most congregations do not allow their pastor to be any kind of friend because of the power they hold over their employment and the subsequent cash they pay. I’m on record that the whole project of what the church is needs revising. This only adds fuel to my fire.

The Church expects its pastors to be extroverts and chaplains. This has been the hardest one for me to deal with, but if you look at the job description of most pastoral positions, it reads like an introvert’s nightmare. You must be at everything, do everything, and care for everyone all the time.

The Church is organized for efficiency, not relationship. As I wrote yesterday, we have generally lost our grasp on “community” in favor of mutually beneficial “associations.” Being a pastor has become just another job. Your average CEO isn’t friends with employees and customers, so why should the pastor be?

So what to do?

Pastors need to develop a clear, differentiated sense of self. This is not simply a pastoral issue. This is a human-being issue. Every psychologist will tell you that knowing who you are, what you are capable of, and how you operate are some keys to a healthy life. The number of pastors out there who don’t know who they are – because of ignorance or age – is astounding to me.

The Priesthood of All Believers needs to become functional. Yes, I know that the PoAB is a theological doctrine and not an organizational one. It’s time for it to be “both/and.” At their best, pastors are equippers. Church folk gotta step up, and pastors gotta back off.

Many Things should be preferred over One Thing. In order to maximize efficiency, economies of scale need to be accepted as common practice. Yet, we are not all the same. I don’t want to do that thing, but I also don’t want to rock the boat, so…let’s have the pastor do that.

I’m sure there’s more to this than I’m seeing, but these ideas feel like a place to start.

*I actually get to begin working with Barnes on one of our national denominational committees. I’m under no illusions that he and I will ever talk about this, or that I would be able to (or even try to) change his mind if we did. He’s an astute man and surely has put a good amount of thought into this. And yet…I want better than this for him and the seminary students he will now be charged with training.

Some churches care more

A recent blog post from Alan Cohen about business startups has caught my attention. In surveying what “experts” say is needed to have a successful new venture, the author found evidence of what he calls “the start-up trifecta”:

A brief (and perhaps little unfair) survey of recent entrepreneurial literature boils down to what I call the “start-up trifecta”:

  1. Doing your homework about the market/having a brilliant insight about technology
  2. Gaining sufficient investment and strong investors/advisors
  3. Finding great talent: hire “A” players.

These are the things that most companies focus on, with the belief that, if they have them in abundance, everything will be okay. Not so, he says.

In his experience, companies that succeed want it more.

The Church Planting Trifecta

In the Church, we are guilty of this same line of thinking. Whether it is about starting new churches or saving old ones, we believe that if we just get our trifecta straight we’ll be golden.

In my denomination, whenever one pastor leaves and the congregation is searching for a new one, a usual practice is to do a demographic study of the community. They download data on median income, political persuasions, crime rate, age dispersement, racial/ethnic breakdowns, etc.  They do all of this under the assumption that knowing this information will help them to know what kind of ministry they should be about and, therefore, what kind of pastor is needed to lead the community going forward, given that information. It seems sound, but I have yet to find a congregation that has actually had that research impact their search process.

Likewise, there is a big push going on now about using new media as a part of your ministry toolbox. My friend Bruce Reyes-Chow is the best at this that I know of, and I think his insights are some of the more nuanced around. But he will be quick to tell you that he’s just helping folks gain basic competency with social media. He will be quick to tell you that this isn’t a panacea.

We also think that if we can attract the right group of people, we’ll be set. I address this at length in Open Source Church, but the idea that we can bank on “experts” to show us the way is a flawed notion.

However, finding “experts” is often a secondary concern. The primary concern is finding givers. Yep. We want cash. I’m convinced that part of the reason we do demographic surveys when planting new churches is that we want to gather a congregation in “growing areas.” You should read that as “young, middle to upper class families.” If we go where the cash is, we’ll be able to have a successful ministry.

And, finally, my uber-pet peeve: We want to hire the perfect pastor, the “local resident church expert.” Everyone in my age range (in particular) has heard it: “We’re looking for someone that can attract young families” or “We’re looking for a person with a lot of experience and vision.”

Yes, of course, we don’t want a dolt in our pulpit, but this will not save our church. Intelligence is not fungible. We’re not hiring a CEO. We’re hiring a teacher. She will not save us from ourselves.

Some churches care more

I agree with Cohen’s point, in that the trifecta will not ensure any measure of “success.” I have seen congregations with the trifecta in abundance, and ones that are severely lacking. But the ones that are the acknowledged leaders in the Missio Dei are those that, quite simply, care more.

These congregations, their members, and their leadership never seem to let the lack of an “ideal location,” wealthy giving base, or rockstar staff/volunteers inhibit their ability to offer tangible care for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. I see this in small and large congregations; rural and urban ones. The congregations that make an impact simply care more.

There is a palpable feeling of concern for the other over themselves. There is a distinct lack of infighting. There is nowhere present the need to preserve the organization. There is a mindset of sacrifice and action.

In my denomination, there is one job requirement for being elected as a leader: A leader must demonstrate the New Commandment to love as Jesus loved as a matter of course. There is nothing that says they must be world renowned (or even passable) theologians. There is nothing about possessing a certain skill-set. They need to love. That’s it.

I spend a lot of time delving into and parsing the philosophy of ministry. However, at the end of the day, the things I write about are just tools and tips and tricks. They are not the solution.

If you want to be a vibrant disciple of Jesus, and if you want to be a part of a congregation that vibrantly participates in God’s Mission, forget programs and worship styles and whatever else. Just be Love and be a part of Love.

The 80/20 Rule, or “How to be a Pastor in 8-10 hours a week”

If you want to know what it’s like to have a 4th kid. Just imagine you are drowning and someone hands you a 4th kid. @JimGaffigan

Four and a half years ago, Lady was about to give birth to Quatro. As you can imagine, I was a little nervous. As the solo pastor of a bigger than average Presbyterian congregation, I knew that I had better get my rear in gear and figure out some form of time management or I would be sunk. Four kids, full time pastor. This could be a problem.

I routinely spent about 20 hours of my week preparing my sermon, and I have always been a stickler about Sabbath and rest (Yay for introverts!). Sundays were always good for about 5 hours, leaving me between 3.5-4 hours during each of my other four working days to get everything else done.

Everything else.

No wonder people have started saying that 50 hours a week is normative.

How is one supposed to prep and lead Bible Study, attend committee meetings, prep and lead Session/Vestry/Council/Board meetings, visit homebound members, make hospital calls, administrate the logistics of mission projects, participate in ecumenical gatherings, serve the broader church, and on and on and on…. in about 16 hours?

You can’t.

I knew I couldn’t do everything I was doing, and I needed to make a change. I needed to get a handle on my workload or I and my family were going to implode.

The 4-Hour Workweek

The year before all this, a book was published that changed my life. It was The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. To be sure, the title is cheeky (it was meant to be so), but I was drawn to its theme of having control over your life; of living a life that is satisfying and rewarding. As Ferriss states in the book, not everyone can do their entire job in four hours. The point is not the number, but that everyone can have more time to do the things that matter to them. He wants to help his reader gain more control over their lives and have more time available to them to do things that matter.

I was about to have another (!) baby. I need more time to do something that mattered.

Ferriss is a bit of a human science experiment. In approaching anything, he first begins by breaking down a task/skill/etc into is constituent parts, figures out which ones are vital and which are not, and then reconstructs a plan of action. In order to do this he applies two well known ideas to his life.

  • The Pareto Principle. You most likely know it as The 80/20 Rule. The principle states that 80% of all output is achieved through only 20% of input. 20% of the people do 80% of the work. 20% of the clients contribute to 80% of the sales. 20% of what goes in produces 80% of what comes out.
  • Parkinson’s Law. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you have 10 hours to do a job, the job will take 10 hours. But if you have 20 hours… the job will take 20. This is why students cram at the end of the semester to complete that paper they’ve had weeks to be working on; why sales associates scramble to close deals at the end of the quarter.

For me, getting a handle on my workload was due to the realization that these ideas absolutely applied to my situation. I realized that 40-50 hours a week was not what was actually at stake. Accomplishing the tasks of ministry were. If I could find a way to make sure no balls were dropped and still have time to be with my family and attend to personally fulfilling things* (like writing) then I would have won.

How I won (so to speak)

The first step I took was to follow Ferriss’ lead and break down my workload so I could accurately assess what particular inputs were contributing to the output. Specifically, I asked “What were the 20% of my activities that resulted in 80% of my accomplishments?” I found that, of everything that was officially and unofficially expected of me, the following things contributed to roughly 80% of my “end product”:

  • Worship (preparation and execution)
  • Governance (resourcing the board and its committees, facilitating meetings)
  • Christian Education (preparation and execution)
  • Pastoral Care (as needed hospital visits, 2-3 home visits per week)

Of everything that took up my time during a week, these were the four things that represented my “20%.” If I just did these four things, I was 80% of the way home. But these four things could also take up a ton of time if I let them. So I applied Parkinson’s Law.

For instance:

Someone told us in seminary that we should take an hour of study for each minute of our sermon. 15 minute sermon; 15 hours of study. 25 minute sermon; 25 hours of study. Really? Why did we buy that? Do any of us really take that long? Is this that hard? I’m not sure it is.

I started by reminding myself that I am not a biblical scholar, a christian historian, or a researcher in any of the fields of behavioral science. My job was to help the text “make sense” to a community as they were living their specific lives. After I had spent just an hour or so with the text and a few interpretations, I had a pretty good idea what the Good News for my congregation could be. Did I actually need 22 more hours to write? No.

I limited myself to just 5-6 hours, and you know what happened? I got a lot of time back, and I actually became (I think) a better preacher. I forced myself to not try to say everything, but to say one good thing that would offer Hope into the community I was to serve.

I applied this same logic and analysis to Governance, Christian Education, and Pastoral Care (it didn’t work as well on this one 😉 ). I learned how to delegate, and I learned how to say “No.” I also got off the damned internet and didn’t lie to myself that I was working as I trolled Facebook and Twitter. I know I’m not alone there, am I?

* * * * *

Some of this may not apply to your situation, and that’s fine. But the ultimate lesson I learned was that I was not focused at all. I was lying to myself about how long it took me to do most of the ministry tasks I needed to accomplish. After the initial learning curve, if we aren’t becoming more efficient in our work then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I encourage you to take a hard look at what you’re doing. Determine your 20% and assess whether you really need that long to complete it. I think you’ll be surprised at what you find.

*This is a topic for a another post, but there seems to be an overriding sense that our congregational leaders have one – and only one – interest in life: performing acts on behalf of the church. If interest is expressed in anything other than wanting to “help the church succeed” then loyalty is questioned and the pastor then has to spend her time in damage control.