In this post, I suggest 7 reasons your pastor doesn’t talk about your work life. Before I begin, three caveats.
- This is not a cheap shot from the sidelines against pastors. I served as a pastor for 20 years, continue to be active in a local church, and part of my current work is encouraging pastors.
- Your pastor may talk about, validate, and encourage you in your daily work. There is growing interest along these lines. So in your case, the shoe may not fit. Great!
- My hope is that this post contributes to more work-related preaching, teaching, and coaching by pastors, priests, and other “professional” clergy. My method is to uncover the roots of avoidance.
Seven Reasons Your Pastor Does not Talk About Your Work Life
- He’s/she’s focused on “building” the church. This is their job after all. Building the church involves catalyzing life-change. This is assumed to happen by engaging people in church programming, teaching, and providing pastoral care. If we track anything, we pastors measure the life-change stories that come our way, baptisms, attendance numbers, the budget, the number of missionaries, etc. We don’t measure the number of people we’ve equipped to make a difference out in the world.
- He’s/she’s ignorant about the realities of your work-life. Leading a church is like herding cats. It’s hard. With church participation becoming less and less important to Americans, it’s getting harder. This dynamic makes it difficult to remember that most people’s work is hard. Few pastors understand how globalization, increased efficiencies, M&A, the financial crisis of 2008, and technological innovations have radically reshaped the workplace environment. There is a “sweat of the brow” element to everyone’s work and the practice of empathy could change these dynamics.
- He/she views the clergy calling as spiritually superior. For many the plotline of being called into the ministry goes like this: “I got serious about my faith and then joined the ‘ministry.’” In this narrative, the financial sacrifices and social marginalization of being a pastor are compensated for by having a superior call. Since the pastoral call is superior, by extension, the work (activity) of the local church is superior as well. But what if you can be just as much a disciple and be in business, education, or medicine? Could this threaten our pastoral egos? Perhaps Jesus’ admonition to Peter in John 21 would free us from this assumption.
- His/her theology doesn’t tell them to. “A great church is about the great commission and the great commandment.” The cultural mandate (reign over the earth, be fruitful and multiply, tend the garden) is left out of our paradigm. Under-realized concepts of the kingdom diminish our clarity on the purpose of life here in this world. The underlying question is this: How does work fit into God’s will for each of us here and now? Pastors, we need an answer to this.
- He’s/she’s threatened by the topic. Talking about the world of work, particularly for those who have had little experience in non-church employment, is wading into an area where they lack expertise. No one likes to display their ignorance. Treading lightly already, what if one steps on the toes of significant funders? Here’s a place for us pastors to show real humility, childlike curiosity, and courage. Leading with questions could go a long way to healing this divide.
- He/she struggles with envy. This was an issue for me. I felt that I was stuck out in the land of domesticity (the bedroom community with the women and children), while many of our most interesting congregants were traveling globally, chasing deals, and switching positions to advance their careers. Some of my more successful peers did not have to worry about money: nice vacations and paying for college were not a challenge. This issue of envy has required personal work on the contentment-producing power of Christ (see Philippians 4).
- You don’t want him/her to. Truth is, many pastors would gladly wade into the challenges of your work life. Yes, it may take some tenacity to school them in the dynamics of work life and some diligence to push past pat answers. But the sense I have gotten as an outspoken advocate for the spiritual significance of one’s work is this: a number of churchgoers don’t want their pastor to meddle. The status quo of work-life compartmentalization works for them. Humility and courage on the side of listeners would contribute to more synergistic dialogue and open up whole arenas of life to the transforming power of God.
What do you think?
- If you are a pastor, have you hedged from talking about the work your congregants do every day? If so, why?
- If you are a churchgoer, what’s your reaction? Could you encourage more input on the work dimension of your life? Do you want to?