This morning I did something I have done more times than I like to think about. I moved into a new Pastor’s Study in a Church building. The funny thing is that I am always excited when I do this. I look forward to the new pastoral ministry. I always do. There are a few reasons for this.
Being Wounded in Ministry
Pastoral ministry is comedy meeting tragedy and attempting to define one another. We are all counseled at one time or another to read Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer. It’s a good book. I recommend it to many people. You don’t have to be a pastor to profit from reading it.
Usually I get excited by a new ministry because of the wounds that still hurt from my previous appointment. I have been sent to some pretty tough situations. None of them have been cakewalks. Some have been more difficult than others. Two were downright impossible. And to make matters worse they were back to back.
I was once introduced to a Staff Parish Relations Committee where a lay person spoke up. “Did the Superintendent tell you we are a church that has had problems?”
The Superintendent went off on her and the committee. He was done with that committee. I waited for the storm to abate. My reply was simple. “It won’t be the first time.”
I mentioned this exchange to my SPRC chair at my church. She laughed and asked, “Did you tell them where you are working now?”
The Adversarial Relationship
I don’t know why it happens. But many congregations engage the pastor as though they represent the enemy. I have heard it all from congregations. Sometimes the comments are simply mean. Sometimes the concern over the future of the congregation is overwhelming. Pastors in The United Methodist Church tend to move frequently. Congregations wonder if we really care about them.
The churches are largely victims of some parachurch groups. Recently, Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy complained that many conservative churches were being assigned “liberal pastors.” I want to explain that it is no picnic for the pastor when it happens.
Church growth ministries are just as bad. I have more than once sat through a presentation on how to help the churches where the presenter decides to be an absolute jerk. “The only issue your church will have,” the jerk begins, “will be your pastor not liking losing power.” This sort of pandering is harmful. It is done to sell not to increase the number of disciples for Christ.
Being Excited For Ministry
I have spoken with many of my brothers and sisters in the clergy who suffer from moral woundedness. I despise the word burnout. Clergy and lay leaders in the denomination usually look to secular models for church life. It’s not hard to understand. Lay leaders know their world. They know how businesses work. They often resent that too. Clergy leaders will know these things as well usually by studying it. We each forget how one deals with a practice and the other a theory.
I think bi-vocational pastors have an advantage in this situation. They have the knowledge and the experience. But they also understand the resentment felt by their church members. I definitely understood my resentments when I worked in the secular world. The superintendent said my experience would make be a better pastor. I think I was helped by it. But it wasn’t until I got into a twelve step program where a person is required to deal with their resentments. Hopefully, I will be a better pastor for that.
Ministry In A Pandemic
Sycamore Tree closed their church building when our Bishop wisely closed the churches. Worship went online. Pastoral care was more distant than usual. But everything “non-essential” shut down because local hospitals would not be able to cope with the needs of so many people needing lifesaving care. We are still being cautious.
Now my new ministry includes the process of reopening for in-person worship. Later, we will tackle the issue of reopening to community groups and their meetings. I set the manual for that on my new-to-me desk for quick reference. Then I did something I always do.
I set a copy of the Bible on the desk. It sits on my desk for quick reference too. It also is there for study, devotion, prayer, and simple reading. Across the room are my other copies of the Bible in a variety of translations. With them are the books of my professional library. The wisdom and knowledge accumulated by many people in many different times and places. All of these are there to help me minister to the people of God.
The ministry is new. And many of us are praying, cracking our knuckles, and tightening our belts for the godly tasks ahead of us.