Brothers and Sisters, We Kinda Sorta Are Professionals
A call for boundaries and the danger of rooting our identity in our ministry.

If there's one issue that all pastors must wrestle with, beyond how the Gospel applies to their own lives and ministry, it's the issue of rest and Sabbath.

Wait—scratch that. Those are actually the same issue.

There was a time a few years back when I was working in a support staff role doing media design for a local church. It also happened to be the first year of my marriage, and as far as first-year-of-marriage jobs go, I couldn't have asked for a better one. I came in the morning, did my work, went home and didn't think about it again until the next day. The computers I worked on were there at the church office—I couldn't take work home with me, and I was very, very okay with that. When I was off, I was off.

Fast forward a couple of years and to when we planted a church. Suddenly, that's all I could think about. Early morning, late night—I was working on the website, writing posts on our forum, answering emails. I was always on.

What was the difference? I was working at a church in both situations. Both were "ministry." The difference was that one was a job, and the other was my identity.

Many of us view ministry as a calling, and we purposefully push back against the idea that ministry is a job or a profession. Usually that thinking is helpful. But the unintended side-effect has been that the natural boundaries that usually come with a job simply aren't present, or present enough, in our ministries—often to our own detriment and the detriment of our families.

Like I said, for the last few years of church planting and pastoring, I've been "always on," answering the phone when it rang, working on sermons on my weekends, packing my schedule with ministry meetings and events, and just generally being a pastor all the time. Through it all, I've watched with a bit of envy as friends go to work and come home; as they turn it off and enjoy their nights and weekends without always thinking about work.

And as I became more tired, less effective and increasingly frustrated with my decreasing ability to be present when and where I really need to be, I've realized that the issue isn't so much time-management or being more productive (though those help) but rather a shift in thinking and belief.

I need two things.

First, as always, I need more fully to embrace the Gospel at a personal level. My failure at turning off ministry and making true rest a part of my weekly rhythms reveals within me a basic disbelief of the Gospel truth that Jesus is enough and that my identity can and should be rooted in his finished work for me–not the results I get, the church I pastor , how well (or poorly) it's doing, or whether I think people are approving or disapproving of me based on the amount of access I give them to myself and my time. The only way we pastors will ever find sustainability and longevity in ministry is if we do what we tell other people to do ALL THE TIME: Rest our souls in the finished work of Christ. Stop getting our identity from our job/ministry. Take some time to unplug, unwind and, more importantly, connect with God, our families and our own souls again.

July 13, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 12 comments

Bill Williams

July 15, 2010  5:16pm

Sheerahkhan: First of all, forgive me because I sense there might be a larger point in your question that I'm not getting, so if my response doesn't address the larger point, please feel free to let me know. With that caveat in mind... First of all I think we need to distinguish between pastoral work and what is known as "ministry". There's many texts in the NT we could look at, but for the sake of brevity we can focus on Eph 4. God gave certain offices, and among them the office of "shepherd-teachers (ESV, alternate reading)" to equip the saints for the work of ministry. So my work as a pastor is to train/teach my church members to visit the sick, preach and teach from the pulpit, lead the local congregation, etc. Like you said, not to be the "go-to" person or the "solo" leader, but to train the saints. Needless to say, part of that training involve taking them with us as we do these things. I believe we are both in agreement here, so I won't dwell on this point other than to say that if I weren't paid as a pastor, would I do things like visit the sick and exercise my gifts in preaching and teaching for free? Of course, because that is ministry, not pastoral work. Which leads me to the question then, if I were not paid as a pastor, would I train others to do ministry for free? And my answer is, quite frankly: I don't know. I've never been in a situation where I've had to make that decision. I would like to think that if I felt called by God to the Pastoral office, and yet was not provided with a salary for doing so, I would still do it, even if I had to do it for free, and even if I had to take another full-time job to pay the bills. I actually don't disagree with Tim's major point about pastors who refuse the right to be paid in order that more money may be freed to be used outside of the church. Where I believe he is mistaken is that he turns Paul's practice into a "law", and thus his teaching leads ultimately into legalism. Paul also, apparently, chose to refuse the right to be married–should I, as a pastor, refuse that right, too? I think Tim is right to lament the large percentages of a church's income used to sustain the institution. I agree that there are centuries of traditions and assumptions that we need to untangle ourselves from in order to become the church God has called us to be. But the answer is not legalism!!! All of us who have been called by God to be his disciples, whether or not that includes a call to the offices of Eph 4, need to wrestle with these issues and with the Spirit, and figure out how this works in our particular context, and respect the fact that others who have also wrestled may have come to different conclusions. Like I said, if I completely missed your point, please let me know. But for what it's worth, those are my thoughts at this stage in my life.

Report Abuse

Leonard

July 14, 2010  5:02pm

Sheer... I guess it is hard not to take personal when word like clique and entitled and victim hood and humility that resembles those less than humble. Words like expectation of privilege... These are also attached to the writers in this thread, not to the pastorate in general. Maybe another read of your words would help you see your wards are accusatory. I know hundreds personally and been in association with thousands of pastors, very few fit the description you gave. Most are people who serve because of a deep and profound sense of calling. They serve Christ in places where no one will know their name on a national level and in ways where no one sees. These are mostly people who are underpaid, who give their time, talent and treasure for a piece of the body that is the church in which they lead. Most of these people serve with a leadership team as well. Your post drips with generalizations and disrespect.

Report Abuse

Bill Williams

July 14, 2010  3:53pm

Sheerahkhan: What you don't know is that I agree with every single one of the points you just made. And the reason you don't know that is because you never took time to engage in a conversation with me. You did what I mentioned in my first post–you made generalizations and cared about proving your point more than about getting to know me. The truth is, my first post was not really in reference to your points, it was in reference to the harsh context in which you presented your points. I minister in a denomination where most of the pastors are in charge of districts consisting of multiple churches. Here in North America, most pastors have districts of two to four churches (I have three churches). My brother-in-law, who serves as a pastor in the same denomination in Mexico, has a district of about fifteen churches. The result of this arrangement is that each local church is led primarily, not by a pastor, but by the elders of the church and by the lay members who are in charge of the different ministries. Another result is that we are not the lone preacher/teacher in the pulpit. I don't preach in all three of my churches each week. I rotate among the churches; and when I am absent from one church, I have a teams of elders and others who are gifted who share that responsibility. Our system is not perfect, but it is an attempt to take seriously the biblical teachings of the priesthood of all believers and the role of the pastor as an equipper rather than a performer. So, yes, I am asking the questions you asked and I am wrestling with the issues you've brought up. Are there false premises concerning the pastoral profession that need to be challenged? ABSOLUTELY! I said as much in my first post. But the WAY the challenge is made is just as important as the challenge itself. You say that I took this far too personally. I understand what you're saying, and it is not my intent to be defensive. But from a different point of view I say that you're not taking this personally enough. Because in the end, we're not dealing with abstract theory here; we're dealing with PERSONS! We're dealing with people, real human beings who don't always "get it" and who feel unappreciated and lonely and get frustrated. And what they need is NOT an attitude that implies, "Man, those silly people, they just don't get it, I'm glad I have it together, etc." What they need is a vision of what it really means to be a man or a woman called by God to something far larger and more glorious than anything we could ever imagine, a vision communicated by someone who loves them and has listened to them and cared for them down in the valley. Why are we here on this blog? I thought we were here to form a community where we encourage one another and to open each others eyes, through the diversity of our perspectives, to what it means to live in the largeness of God's kingdom. Instead, I feel we're just here to prove that we are right and everyone else is wrong and just "doesn't get it." I don't know; maybe I'm asking too much from a blog. But if so, then what are we all doing wasting our time here?

Report Abuse

Chapp

July 14, 2010  3:25pm

I understand your point of correction for us pastors–not to confuse our job with priest. I agree...and yes, visitation, preaching, and shared leadership are all functions of the "priesthood of all believers". I think Bill's point is that you guys harp on this all day long...we get it! Many of us are empowering gifted congregants for those ministries and more. It is your "tone" and dismissal of the office of pastor that also needs a reprimand from time to time. Your inability to recognize that "conventional church structures" with payed pastors and staff can be used to the glory of God.

Report Abuse

Bill Williams

July 14, 2010  1:11pm

Jn 2:24-25 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for HE HIMSELF KNEW WHAT WAS IN MAN (emphasis mine). Sheerahkhan: I'm hoping that perhaps I misunderstood the tone of your post, but it seems to me a rather harsh judgment against those who feel called to full-time paid pastoral ministry. Jesus was able to speak harshly to the religious leaders of his time in places such as Matt 23 because HE KNEW WHAT WAS IN THEIR HEARTS. For those of us, on the other hand, who DON'T know what is in the heart of another person, a little humility is more in order: "Judge not, that you be not judged (Matt 7:1)." Do you really KNOW the contributors from this thread? Do you really KNOW the hearts of those whom you characterize using phrases such as "clique of exclusivity", "hubris", and "expectation of priviledge (sic)"? Or do you simply make that sweeping judgment of them based on a few lines on a post in an internet blog? If I were to make the same assumptions about posters like you or Tim, I would easily think that the both of you were rather judgmental and cranky. But I know that you both are so much more than what you portray on your posts. I'm sure that if I met you in person, I would find you to be much like me: sinners saved by God's grace and doing the best we can to love God and our neighbor. Like I said, please forgive me if I misread your post. But I have read posts from you and others like Tim for quite a while, now. The truth is, you both make excellent points at times that have positively contributed to the conversation. And I'm not saying that full-time paid pastors should not be criticized. We need to be challenged often on our assumptions. But that's the key: we need to be CHALLENGED, not JUDGED. Your challenges would be better received if you were to move away from generalizations and stereotyping and actually started to engage in conversation with us, listen to us, and demonstrate that you care more about us than about making your point. Or at least, try to do that as much as is possible on a blog. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the internet can cause us, if we are not careful, to forget that the names underneath each post belong to actual human beings with actual emotions.

Report Abuse

Phil

July 14, 2010  9:24am

I see many of the same negative or debilitating characteristics Bob mentions in business professionals too – those who own businesses. The owner's employees can leave the job when they go home. The owner, on the other hand, often eats, sleeps, breathes, the business. I wonder then if part of the problem is that so many pastors view themselves as "owners" of the church. Many do not truly view Jesus as the "owner" or fully trust him to guard and guide his own. As a result they feel they must always be on the job. Nor, for that matter, are they willing to share "ownership" with the congregants. Instead of treating them as ministers also gifted for ministry and leadership, they treat them paternalistically. They don't trust anyone but themselves to manage or lead, and thus stand alone.

Report Abuse

John L

July 13, 2010  7:14pm

The problem arises not so much when professional ministry becomes part of one's identity, but when it becomes the whole of one's identity, or even the more important part of one's identity and function. Family, friends, rest and recreation should be no less a calling or part of one's identity than the professional part of ministry. Everything has its place and none are lesser or less sacred than the other. All are gifts from God. captcha: bottled under

Report Abuse

James

July 13, 2010  6:58pm

I appreciate your post. We pastors need to "turn off," and rest from the responsibilities laid upon us by the church. And I totally agree that central to applying the gospel to ourselves is rest (Sabbath). After all, if Jesus is Lord over heaven and earth, and is actively building his church, I can probably afford to take a breather. More importantly, as you noted, is the question of whether I am rooting my identity in Christ or in my pastorate. As Keller once asked, "are we justified by our preaching?" But I'm not sure I agree with your framining it in terms of a "profession," particularly as set in contradistinction to Piper's book. I am called as a disciple, but in particular I am a Christian who is a husband, father, and pastor. I never take the "pastor hat" off, anymore than I can take the "father hat" off (at least as long as I have a congregation and children entrusted to me, respectively). When I puruse time with my wife, I don't cease to act as father. I act, rather, as a good father. And as a pastor, I must take time off. It's critical to my pastoral ministry. It's critical to my leadership. It's critical to the moral example set for the flock, etc. What are we modeling to our congregation when we don't take a sabbath? But I don't come home and cease to be a shepherd, called to give account for the soul's entrusted to me, but I do spend focused time with my children and wife - as a pastor, as a father, as a husband, and as a Christ-follower.

Report Abuse

Melody

July 13, 2010  5:03pm

Bob, this is a great post and a sermon you might want to preach to congregations other than your own. One of the problems that pastor's are always having to face is congregations that wonder what the pastor does all week other than write a 20 minute sermon and visit folks in the hospital. Many people think the pastor is highly paid for little work. The pastor is the last person who would be able to tell his own congregation what he actually does since it could be construed to be complaining. I agree with you that you must be at ease (as much as humanly possible) with who you are and what God wants you to do; like the old saying, "Do your best and leave God with the rest". Then, know who to listen to and who to ignore.

Report Abuse

Jarrod

July 13, 2010  5:00pm

Just curious–there are times I feel the need to get away from IT ALL. Church, family, Bible, prayer list, everything. Just have some ME time. Is that wrong?

Report Abuse