Pottery_wheel_ghost_2
This time next week, the RCP Family will be on an airplane in route to a three week vacation in North Carolina.  Robin is on the planning team for Montreat Youth Conferences, the kids will go to the Clubs program and I am going to sit on my butt and unplug from church stuff for a while. – should the word "unplug" ever follow that closely to the word "butt?" –  I’ll be doing some blogging, reading, and getting back to a past love, pottery – sans Demi and with a shirt on.  I can’t wait. 

As I get ready to take off and make sure that things are covered as well as possible, I have come to the realization that I am REALLY am looking forward to some time away from church life.  I say this not because I am unhappy or feeling burned out, but because I have this sense that no matter how healthy and fulfilled one is in one’s work setting, a break to exhale and allow God to recreate some things is good for the long and short term.  I can’t actually remember the last churchworkless vacation that I have taken.  Now that can’t be good.  In any case, as wonderful of a ride as it has been, especially over the past 18 months or so, I think it will be good to step off for a minute, get my footing again and get back on for the long haul.

Still knowing it is good to take a break and actually being OK with it are two different things.   There is this driven voice in my head that whispers, "Suck it up you big whiner-baby-boy!  You paid pastors have it good. Buck up and get back to work!"   And while I do agree with this to some extent, experience and observation is clear.   Ordained professional clergy are constantly engaged in this struggle between joyful fulfillment of call and the depressing realities of engaging full-time pastoral ministry.*

There are dueling perceptions and realties about a Pastoral life.  One one hand we have the highest job satisfaction rating

People looking for jobs that bring satisfaction and happiness should
concentrate on professions that focus primarily on serving other
people, according to a new report from the University of Chicago, which
found clergy to be the happiest and most satisfied of American workers.

while on the other hand we burn out at an alarming rate

Forty-eight
percent of them think their work is hazardous to their family
well-being. Another 45.5 percent will experience a burnout or a
depression that will make them leave their jobs. And 70 percent say
their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position.
They have the second-highest divorce rate among professions.

Hmmmmmm. 

Let me offer a couple of thoughts from my 6,307,200 minutes of ordained clergyhood, give or take a February 29th or two.  I offer these thoughts from my context as a married, solo pastor of a distinctly young urban hispter congregation of about 125 or so.

Why I love my job/call – AKA What give me joy about ministry

  • I really do have a great schedule.  Because my job is pretty much 24/7 – see below – I can be agile during the day in order to engage with family, friends and community in different ways.
  • I have this incredible privilege to be with folks during the best and worst of their life experiences: marriages, births, deaths, struggles and celebrations.  Such an honor to be invited in.
  • I am expected to use my training, background, personality, tuition and magic fairy dust to empower folks to think theologically and engage in theological discourse that leads to action and  a relevant Gospel life.  How sweet is that?
  • I love people and pastoring allows me to engage with an amazing variety of life experiences and faith stories.  Real people, real stories, real life.  My story is enhanced by the gift of sharing that people bring to church.
  • Fair or not, I am often given the responsibility of being the face of the church and I love the role of deconstructing the ideas that people have about church leadership.
  • Freedom of leading a community within a particular context is pretty darn cool.  While we do operate with accountability, a high level of trust has given me great freedom and latitude when it comes to the leading of the church.

Why I need a break/respite – AKA What makes ministry hard

  • Appropriate pastoral human interaction is messy, complex and gosh darn tiring.  As much as I want to be a "real" and "authentic" person with everyone, being an "authentic" pastor – not just a challenging voice – means I must adapt to multiple and diverse personalities that are present in any community.  The energy it takes to be sure that I am listening and aware of all the complexities of each individual person’s experience and perspectives can be tiring.
  • Expectation are high.  Gone are the days of jack-of-all-trades pastors, but even those who claim not to hold those expectations do, myself included.  Being expected to know a little about everything, while often encouraged by me, creates a lack of focus and dispersement of energy.
  • I am on 24/7 and that time expectation extends to my family, immediate and extended.  My kids know about meetings 5 nights a week, our inability go on weekend vacations and the high expectations that are placed upon their lives, like it or not, fair or not.
  • Every once in a while I need to be reminded that my motivation is not the big bucks.  First I have to be reminded that I might not be able to make the big bucks anyway, but also that ministry that is fulfilling must be fulfilling in spirit and just in compensation.

With all of this said.  I go on vacation not in response to the struggles of ministry, but in the hopes to continue the overwhelming experience joyfulness of the call.  While the congregation I serve does not follow pastoral leadership blindly, I do not take lightly the reality that my posture and perspectives about the church impact the overall congregation’s health and vitality.  So to avoid slipping into unhealthy patterns that come out of being overwhelmed by the struggles of ministry, I shall step away, even if for a brief moment in time and allow God to move in my, my family and the congregation.

So . . . we are off to the south, land of sweet tea, cheese grits and the Huddle House.  For those MBCC’ers that read this blog, I am in town until the 16th and then I’ll see you in a month.  Be well!

* This entire post obviously opens up the debate about the legitimacy and
importance of paid ordained clergy, but I shall save that for another time.

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