Eugene Peterson wrote a book entitled, ‘Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness’ which I just finished…and really liked! (Yes, it’s the same guy who wrote ‘the Message’)
This book is about being a pastor…and this is something that I have been wrestling with…well, since becoming a pastor. He uses the Jonah story to help illuminate many of the same issues that pastors go through in discerning their vocational calls. I think he would also be quick to point out that this book, and the Jonah story, are not just about pastors, but about anyone who sees him or her self in ‘ministry’ in the larger context.
What I really found to touch my heart was his conflict between becoming the ‘professional’ and the ‘spiritual director’. If you look at the job description for many church openings, you would see that many ‘responsibilities’ of the pastor include fund raising, membership growth, programs, …and maybe towards the end of the list you may see items like preaching, pastoral care, and spiritual leadership. This is about the time when I start thinking of another career path:). Peterson also writes about his experience of living his daily life in the aforementioned expectations of the congregation of a new church development, and how this led to his pastoral burnout. I’ve felt similar feelings, even with all of the idealism, energy, and charisma of a new pastor. There has to be something more to being a pastor than being a ‘program director’. Otherwise, I could very easily be doing the same stuff working at a community center, or even volunteering with my condo development’s HOA!
I discerned a call into ministry because I’m passionate about sharing the presence of the Divine in the world with those who are interested in hearing about it, talking about, experiencing it, and living it. I like working with people to make the world a better place. I love worshiping God. I got into ministry because all I do, from the time I wake up to the time I fall asleep, is walk in God’s presence…and if there is a job that allows me to get paid to do that and to share in that with others…then sign me up:).
‘Vocational Holiness’ helped me realize the unease that I experience in pastoral ministry when I am asked to not function in this way–I am not alone. We are not alone. It also helped me realize that there is a guy who genuinely was able to ‘dance’ with these sometimes unrealistic expectations of pastors put on by the congregation, other pastors, and ourselves–and he danced faithfully, meeting the ‘work’ requirements of ministry, but more importantly, embracing the ‘pastoral’ call to serve as ‘spiritual director’ for the congregation.
Thank you, Eugene Peterson, for giving me the space to experience such holiness, even if it is from the pages of a book. And for those in ministry who are feeling a bit disillusioned in your present call, there is hope.
While I’m understanding some of the expectations of ‘church work,’ I’m making it a priority in my life to be a ‘pastor’ first, and a ‘program director’ second, even it meas risking something like a ‘job’. And I think the reality is that most congregations will go along with this if they only were educated enough, oddly as it may be, by the very pastors that are being burnt out through this cycle of ridiculous expectations and inevitable disappointment. And all of this comes from a simple story about God, a man, and a whale:)