As a young man, Frederick Buechner attended a party on Long Island where the hostess found out he planned to go to seminary. "I understand that you are planning to enter the ministry," she said to him. "Is this your own idea, or were you poorly advised?"
The social status of church ministry as an occupation sinks steadily. A disproportionate number of entries in Who's Who used to be children of clergy. Not so much anymore. (Do they even keep track of "Who's Who" anymore?)
Despite this—or maybe because of it—the need for pastors who actually love their work is more important than ever. A wise man once said that the biggest single need pastors have is to experience deep satisfaction in their everyday life with God. And that one mark of those who experience such satisfaction is that they are at peace and that they love what they are doing.
"Peace comes from them. From such preachers I sense something coming to me that is deeper than words. Hearers sense the message opening up possibilities for them to live."
Sometimes that happens naturally. Sometimes that requires intentionality.
Periodically I'll hear folks talk about how difficult it is to lead a church, or how often churches can be difficult on pastors. I'm not sure that it's actually any harder to be a preacher now than it was in Paul's day.
("Five times I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked … in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea … I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked … " Kind of puts difficult elder meetings in perspective.)
But I know that the people around me can sense if I am living in deep satisfaction, or if I'm expecting my job or my congregation or my ministry performance to fill up a hole inside my soul. So I've been reflecting on how those of us who work in churches can tell if we love what we're doing.
1. More days than not I look forward to coming to work.
In Doris Kearn Goodwin's wonderful book Bully Pulpit, there is a fascinating contrast between Teddy Roosevelt's exuberant joy about occupying the White House versus William Taft's steady sense of being defeated by the job. It's not that Taft was incompetent—he ended up becoming the only president to also serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, where he was ideally suited by temperament to work.
Rather, Teddy was born for the conflict and the ambiguities and the volatility that the office of president has to navigate. It elicited from him so much energy that one observer said he shared an attribute that medieval theologians attributed to deity: "he was pure Act." The very obstacles that discouraged Taft energized Teddy.
When people love their work, that love produces an unforced resilience in them. When I walk through the door of my office and sit at my desk and genuinely look forward to what my day holds, I know I'm enjoying what I do.
2. I like it when someone asks about my work.
I don't want to be preoccupied with what I do, and I don't want to bore other people with it. (A scene from the movie Airplane comes to mind where Ted, the pilot, is boring people with his life story so severely they end up doing away with themselves just to escape his prattling on.)