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Monday, October 25, 2010

So, You're Thinking of Becoming a Pastor...

There are many people in churches across the world trying to discern whether or not God is calling them to serve as the pastor of a local congregation. This calling is not, in most cases, easy to discern. I remember struggling to figure out whether or not I was called to the pastoral vocation. In addition to praying, I sought the counsel of people who were seasoned pastors. Their advice was helpful to me as I discerned the call. Now that I have had fifteen years of experience as a pastor, those with a potential pastoral call are seeking my counsel. Here is what I tend to communicate to them and will share with you:

3 Reasons not to Become a Pastor
-Egotism: There will be times when our pastoral ego gets stroked. “Great sermon…you are so authentic…you are the best pastor ever” are, let’s be honest, nice to hear. However, if we begin to rely upon these comments to keep us going in ministry we will discover that no amount of affirmation is enough. Ironically, if we seek ego strokes we often find ourselves wanting more and more, even when we are receiving them. What is more, God is ultimately after the crucifixion, and not the stroking, of our ego. Pastoral ministry, in time, is divinely designed to strip us of egotism. And, if we don’t submit to this stripping we will either resign or become a pastoral monster. Resignation is the better choice. Simply put, do not become a pastor to have your ego stroked.

Ease: Lay people sometimes say to their pastor, “it must be wonderful to have a job where you just work on Sundays.” I always shot back, “and don’t forget about Wednesdays too!” Lay people don’t say this to hurt us, but the fact is there are some pastors who do get into this racket for ease. Let’s face it, lazy people can hide out in pastoral ministry for a long time in some churches. However, the pastors who seem to most effectively lead their congregation to embody the values of God’s kingdom in the world are among the hardest workers I know. They care deeply about the local church living up to its calling to make disciples who make disciples. They care about resourcing not just the stuff that happens on the church campus but community development as well. These hardworking pastors lose sleep over these concerns. Some of them get ulcers. Every one of them will be called to go into challenging ministry situations at the most inopportune times, usually after they finally fall asleep at 1:00 am. While pastors must seek to live balanced lives, most long-term effective pastors will admit that leading a local church is anything but easy.

Equity: Do not become a pastor to get rich. In most cases, it is not the most lucrative career choice you can make. Pastoral ministry is a calling and not a career. A calling is chosen for you and a career is chosen by you. Most of us, if we were making the call, would choose a lucrative career. Why not? This is not to suggest that pastors should not be paid for their work; they should be paid a livable wage. But, if making lots of money is your goal, don’t become a pastor. I recently spoke to a pastor friend who said he hasn’t had a raise in seven years and has only had four raises in the twenty years he has served his congregation. What an outrage! My friend is among many pastors who have had similar experiences. The point is, don’t become a pastor to get rich. However, if any local church lay leaders are reading this article, for the love of God and your pastor pay a generous wage to your pastoral leaders.

3 Reasons to Become a Pastor
Commitment: If you are the kind of person who has a hard time making or keeping commitments, I would advise you not to become a pastor. If you do, you will quickly quit and seek out a safer kind of job. There are so many joys in this pastoral line of work to keep us going, but there are also overwhelming challenges. People who lack commitment will quit during the intense challenges and, therefore, miss out on some immense joys of pastoral work. In the apparently non-committal culture many of us live within, “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully committed to Him [and his work]” (2 Chron. 16:9). To borrow from the recruitment phrase of the Marines, God is looking for a few good women and men with the commitment to be pastors. Similar to marriage, pastoral ministry requires a “for better or worse” level of commitment. If you are not completely committed, when the going gets tough, you’ll quit.

Compassion: Several times in the Gospels we read “Jesus was filled with compassion.” The Greek word for compassion is splagchnizomai. The word does not mean sappy love. Instead, it is a deep pain in the bowels that results from empathy toward another person and causes one to act on behalf of that person in need. If you are considering becoming a pastor you must have the capacity to be moved with compassion for people. You might say, “well, I’m just not an affectionate and tender-hearted kind of person.” Compassion for people has nothing to do with personality type. Whether you are more of a thinker than a feeler or more introverted than extroverted, if you are called to be a pastor you are called to feel such deep compassion for people that you are moved to act on their behalf. If you become a pastor you can expect to experience, to some extent, the heartaches, frustrations, and disappointments of the people you lovingly lead. In other words, be prepared for some pain in your bowels!

Courage: Leading a local church through the wilderness of status quo and into the promised land of their potential for missional impact takes lots of moxie. Think about some of the tasks of the pastoral minister. The pastor is expected to go into a hospital room and comfort parents who are watching their six year old son die of cancer. A couple you married comes to your office, without appointment, broken by marital infidelity and seeking your help. Every week on Sunday morning people gather desperately hopeful that you will have the courage to invite God to speak a word to them through you. An influential lay leader is trying to lead the congregation back to “Egypt” and away from the “Promised Land” of missional fulfillment. It will take a significant amount of courage to confront this person in love. Pastoral leadership is not for pansies!

So much more could be said. Faithful pastoral practice is not simply the avoidance of three E’s (egotism, ease, equity) and the embodiment of three C’s (commitment, compassion, courage). These considerations are, however, good guides for the person who is contemplating saying “yes” to this frightening, adventurous vocation called pastoral ministry.

© 2010
Lenny Luchetti

Monday, October 4, 2010

What If God Was One of Us?

What If God Was One Of Us?
In 1995, Joan Osborne asked us to consider, through one of her songs, “what if God was one of us”? Here are some of the lyrics:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

These words may make us cringe. Insinuating that God might be a “slob” just like sinful humanity gets our hackles up in a hurry. Osborne, to her credit, is at least willing to explore what the church has too often ignored. She seems willing to wrestle with the implications of the incarnation of God as one of us.

The truth is that God not only was one of us but, I believe, is one of us and one with us because of his incarnation in the flesh. There is, to this day, an embodied member of the Trinity who looks an awful lot like a first century Jew but with a glorified body. The incarnation not only cost the eternal Son something over 2000 years ago, as detailed in Philippians 2, but perhaps the incarnation of the Son as Jesus Christ has an ongoing cost. Whether or not you agree with my conviction about the ongoing cost of the incarnation, you will no doubt agree that incarnation is costly. God’s willingness to come “from heaven to earth to show the way” by becoming one of us and one with us cost him greatly. And, since we too are called to incarnational ministry, we ministers have a price to pay as well.

What does incarnational ministry entail? For Jesus Christ, it meant laying aside divine privilege to take upon himself all of the pain, angst, sorrow, temptations, and trials of the human condition (See Isaiah 53). He did ministry by getting close enough to the people he sought to serve that he became one of them and one with them. He served primarily through solidarity. Clearly, he gave up much of his privilege and power in order to elevate those without either to a new level of living. He went from heaven to earth, from Son to servant, from eternal King to peasant Jew. That’s incarnational ministry!

Thank God we will never have to travel as far south as the Son did, but we too are called to Jesus-style incarnational ministry. Christian ministers visit those in prison to incarnate good news. We are called to roll up our sleeves not only to serve the poor and homeless but to share life with them. We must be willing to resource under-resourced communities even if it means spending less money on important, but unnecessary, audio-visual worship service enhancements and fellowship hall renovations. We need the courage to be a voice for the voiceless even if it means putting our own reputation on the line. Pastoral leaders use our position and power not to build our ego but to build up the culturally undignified. Incarnational ministry is costly!

There were two internal questions that surfaced in me often during my 15 years as a pastor no matter the context. First, how can my ministry incarnate the realities of Christ and his kingdom? And the second question was, am I willing to pay the price necessitated by incarnational ministry? To be perfectly honest, there were days when I chose to play it safe in the confines of my ivory professional tower. I regret those missed opportunities to incarnate good news. But on my better days, I got it! The more I got it, the more the people I served as pastor began to get it (though some of them “got it” long before I did), and once we got it together there was no turning back. The pendulum had swung and we became a church that existed to make Christ known through incarnational ministry that cost us time, energy, money, personnel, blood, sweat and tears.

Incarnational ministry is costly, but the ultimate price was paid by the God who became one of us.