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Jan '05

Professional Clergy…Is that an Oxymoron?

Most Noble Profession
Noble profession. That is what full time ministry has often been called,. Is it noble be fulltime in a ministry? This is a question that I have recently been asking myself. In the last week I have been facing the prospect of resigning my position at my church, getting a “real job” and planting a church “the old fashion way;” a few people in a small group bible study in my living room. I

don’t know if this is the path God is leading me towards, however, as I have considered the prospect of working in the “real world” and pastoring a church at the same time it has caused me to ask myself some questions I don’t think I have ever seriously considered. In the following paragraphs I use the term “real world” to describe the lifestyle of the average person in America. It is in no way meant to be a derogatory term but as a kind of phrase that most pastors will be able to relate with. Here are a couple of the conversations I have been having with myself:
1. Can a full time pastor really know what the people they are pastoring are facing in “the real world” if they work in a sterile religious environment?
This is a question that has some big presuppositions. First of all it presupposes that there is some kind of disconnection between “the real world” and the environment that most pastors work in. I don’t know if I believe that fully or not. On one hand some churches in America are run just as good as some of the best businesses. On the other hand the average church in America has 97 congregants. How business like is the working environment in the average church? My experience is that it is not very professional. Professional however does not equate to relevance to the culture. The classic example of this is the lifetime professor that knows so much about his or her subject matter that they are highly esteemed but are so socially inept that they rarely leave their own house. They may be invited to speak to thousands at conferences but rarely attend a dinner party among friends. I wonder what the psychological effects of being in a “sterile religious environment” 50 to 60 hours a week are on a person over the course of 35 to 40 years of working. How long can a person work in that kind of imbalance before they become “brainwashed” to the point of irrationality?

2. Do full time pastors develop unhealthy attitudes because of their distance from the “real world?”
How far is the average pastor from “the real world?” I have been in full time ministry for going on 9 years. How far am I from “the real world?” This is a question I constantly ask myself. It is a great concern to me. My observation has been that some pastors that don’t even have the slightest clue about the smallest example of what is going on in current culture. They can tell you the latest example of the way that our government is trying to force God out of the public arena but they think “Desperate Housewives” is a support group for single mothers of troubled teens. What does this disconnection from current culture do to a person’s attitudes about those permanently immersed in it? In an effort to protect their spiritual purity many pastors have isolated themselves culturally. Does this cause them to develop unhealthy attitudes about the current culture and those immersed init? I believe that it does. Taken to it’s logical extreme it leads to isolationists like the Amish. This does not just apply to cultural relevance. I know plenty of disconnected pastors, who, in an effort to grow their church, have manipulated current cultural themes in their sermons, church programs etc. They know all of the latest songs, movies, TV shows, and websites but the reason they know them is in an effort to either look cool or in order to use them as a “hook” in an effort to seem relevant. These pastors are like Steve Irwin. He may know a lot about crocodiles but he will never know what it is like to be a crocodile. Attitudes that develop out of this kind of relationship with “the real world” lead to many, many misconceptions and are then propagated from pulpits on Sunday mornings all across America.

3. Most pastors I know go into the ministry because they have a passion to reach people. Is that passion slowly suffocated as they spend longer and longer outside the “real world?”
If my ideas as to the previous two questions are even close to accurate then this question is almost the natural conclusion. The longer a professional clergyman (or any Christian for that matter) is disconnected from the “majority” of those in our society I can only believe that their “passion” for the lost will begin to turn to disillusionment and cynicism toward current culture. Either this or it will lead to a resignation that we should just focus on the chosen few. I believe that the passion may not be suffocated completely but it will be redirected to something other than it’s original focus.

4. Would churches be better off if all pastoral staff were required to have some kind of job outside the church (jobs in the Christian community don’t count.)?
I am beginning to wonder if it would be a good idea for churches to require all pastoral staff to have some kind of job (at least part time) in “the real world.” This would do several things. It would first and foremost force pastors to confront what real people, that are not steeped in church, are facing every day. It would cause them to look differently at people who make decisions they may not agree with. It may even cause them to develop a compassion that many full time ministers will never know. One side benefit to this would be the relief to church budgets. This is a side issue that is fodder for another article. The answer to this question is: I don’t know. I have never seen a church try this for this reason. Most bi-vocational pastors are so not because they want to stay in touch with the world but because they have to be bi-vocational in order to financially support their ministry and/or families.

5. Is it possible to maintain a grasp on “the real world” and still be a full time minister?
I think it may be, but it would take some real determination, planning and desire in order to do so. I think of people like Bill Hybles who recently started a small group in his home ONLY for unsaved people from his neighborhood. The purpose is solely to develop relationship with these people. I think of my good friend Wes Davis who has purposely placed himself in a position of being in the world in order to develop a relationship with people not just that he might be able to lead them to the Lord but also to show them love. From his realtor, to the men on his park and rec basketball team, he has made a conscious decision to get out of his office. This, however, came out of not having an office to begin with. That is another story. So, yes, I think it is possible but it has to be a real desire that becomes something you commit to until it becomes a lifestyle.

6. Does there come a time when the size of an organization dictates full time staff? If so how do they maintain their grounding in “the real world.”
The answer here may depend on the leadership skills and support staff of each individual pastor. There are some pastors whose skill level would allow them to run a church of 2000 people in their spare time even if they were working 50 hours a week outside the church. Other pastors need every minute of every workday just to keep up with the demands of the job. This, may actually be the heart of the issue. I think a lot of pastors, because of their skills, find themselves having to immerse themselves in their church just to keep it afloat. Remember that just because someone has the call of ministry on their life does not mean that they have the gift of leadership. Skill level, although immensely important, is only one reason why they may find themselves immersed. The demands many churches make on their pastors can lead many to have to immerse themselves. Business meetings, counseling, budgeting, vision casting, teaching, preaching, guiding, recruiting, fundraising, hiring, firing, staff meetings, administration; these are the things most pastors face on Monday mornings alone! No wonder they find themselves immersed in church life.

The position I find myself attempting to take is: What can we do to force pastors to be connected “to the real world?” And what are we requiring of them that may be keeping them from doing so? The answer to these questions may be a more effective solution than getting a part time job…but I don’t know. Starbucks has a better retirement plan than 90% of pastors.

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