Thursday, October 12, 2006

What's a Pastor Like 2: Electric Boogaloo

I suppose I've long held a negative impression of pastors. My personal experience has varied greatly - I've been a part of eight churches, including several Christian Churches (not Disciples of Christ), a Presbyterian Church, and now, the United Methodist Church (during college, there was that brief flirtation with the International Church of Christ, otherwise known as the Boston Movement, but because of the nature of that organization, I won't even go there).

Of the churches I was involved with, I'd describe several of the individual pastors simply as bland. They were likeable enough, but they didn't inspire much within the congregation. To my (then) untrained eye, they mostly seemed like they were doing just enough to get by. I've known many who mail it in week after week; I hope that if I get to that point, that I just quit. It doesn't fool anyone.

Some pastors don't seem to have anything "else" to talk about. They get together, and after an uncomfortable surface conversation about sports ("How about them Buckeyes?"), they lapse into pastor-speak ("So, how many you running?" "Oh, yeah, well, we're running (x+10) these days").

My personal opinion on why both of these are true (yeah, it's my personal opinion -- this is my blog and I'm entitled to put my personal opinion here) is based on the expectations of pastors. Where again was it that we were supposed to have any time to renew our relationship with the Lord? Our bishop has stated that every pastor needs to take one day a week for spiritual renewal (that's in addition to the day off), something like an additional 3-day retreat every quarter, and a full week every year. OK, maybe that's possible for a bishop, but with all the requirements of pastors, and the amount we are (or aren't) paid, when's that really going to happen? And, I'm sorry, but to take that kind of retreat, any pastor who has a family at home must go somewhere. It just doesn't happen at home with kids running around needing attention. And if you are a denominational leader and you're planning a clergy spiritual retreat, don't over-fill it with empty, unfeeling, high liturgy. How about this: instead of overplanning, give us space. Allow us to take time and listen. How about some planned solitude (instead of the unplanned solitude I usually get - you know, the kind where there's supposed to be sharing time, but nobody talks to you).

Many pastors answered a call and know the importance of the job we do, and thus it's hard to make boundaries. All too often I've heard stories of how pastors' families have taken second billing to the church, how vacations are a distant memory or a pipedream, how there is no life outside parish life: no hobbies, no friends, nothing to do on a day off, so why even take it?

That's a clear path to burn out, and too many have walked that path so long that they don't even remember where they started.

Our conference has tabbed "clustering" as a helpful remedy to this (and other problems), but for it to work, the entire cluster has to be on the same page. I've met with "my" cluster once, and I can already see that there are going to be issues. The entire cluster has to give itself to the process; otherwise everyone will keep everything surfacy and guarded and that's no way to live.


Dr Chuck Pearson said...

...everyone will keep everything surfacy and guarded and that's no way to live.

That's one of the most profound things I've read in ages. I'm not totally convinced that surfacy and guarded isn't taking several relationships I have and killing them.

the Sister said...

Back in those halcyon days of old (in other words, college) at Cedar Campus, I was introduced to the Retreat of Silence. I asked myself "How in the world am I supposed to go off by myself for THREE HOURS and PRAY?!?! We were given a guide and suggestions of how to spend the time, and I was shocked, when I finished the guide, that more than TWO AND A HALF of those hours had passed without me talking to anyone but God. It was amazing. And filling. And awesome.

Mary Beth said...

Hmmm, spiritual renewal. Self-care. My dilemma was always that if I took a day for self-care or spiritual retreat it would mean that I'd have to stay up really late some other night to write my sermon. It wasn't worth it to me to sacrifice sleep since during my entire year of serving my church I was either pregnant or living with a newborn.

At the beginning of my appointment I was very clear about my day off, and I still got phone calls from parishioners who wanted to chat.

I think you've hit the nail on the head regarding the causes of burnout. We can talk about spiritual renewal all we want, but until there's a way to really honor it then we're only paying lip service.