I read recently a pastor suggesting these roles for a pastor: Professional Speaker, Master of Ceremonies, CEO, Counselor, Fundraiser, Human Resources Director, Pillar of Virtue.
While the writer is leaving ministry for many reasons, and points out many real problems with ministry, for me what was stood out was how different my list of roles is. Having a different list or roles would not solve the challenges he has faced. His experience is real. Many are sharing it because it speaks to their hearts.
My experience of ministry is quite different than his. I too am a good “professional speaker” and while I’m uncomfortable with the title Master of Ceremonies, I’m a good, although quite informal, worship leader. I also do some counseling, although I’m not overwhelmed by my parishioners lives. The small size of my churches might explain that feeling, but I think it is mostly that I don’t see it as a primary purpose of my ministry.
Beyond those two items, the rest of the list is simply not my calling as a pastor. For sure, I’m not a pillar of virtue. Of course none of us are, but most importantly, I do not hide my foibles and failures. I refuse this role when people try to hoist it on me.
Most importantly, I’m not a CEO, fundraiser, or human resources director. At every church I’ve served, the board holds all those roles. At my first church I accidentally took over some of those roles, but I learned from those mistakes and have not done that since.
I’m instead the in-house consultant. I give advice. I ask questions. I help the council and the congregation to imagine the future. I read legal documents and notice if there is weird language. I propose alternative ways of looking at the budget. I seek out grants. I ask where they see God in their work. I look for theological foundations to the work. Sometimes I grumble about their choices. But I am absolutely not in charge.
Part of why I am not CEO is because I don’t buy the idea that it is the purpose of any church to grow in finances or in people. In fact I spend a lot of time helping churches to get off the bigger is better bandwagon.
I do think church is a place to grow spiritually, and so spend a lot of time creating studies of biblical texts, theology, public discourse around faith, and more. Small numbers of people join me for those studies. I design worship, speak at council meetings, provide trainings, all with the idea that one of my roles is educator.
And I think that church's primary role is to serve the community, so I spend time hanging out with people who are not in the church. On the top of my list of roles would be Community Organizer. A small part of my congregation joins me in that work.
The thing that makes me consider leaving is the work that is over-the-top-impossible for me: Administration. Clerical work. Details. Emails. The bulletin. Finding artwork. The calendar. The to-do list. Help me Jesus! Like literally, please take these away!
My list of roles: Community Organizer is most important, Educator is most fun. Although Worship Leader is most expected, it is not most important, but also it is where I get the most positive feedback. My roles as Consultant as most meaningful, and most focused on hope for the future. Clerical Assistant is the most annoying of my roles.
I think what keeps me spiritually healthiest is when I remember I’m a Theologian. I don’t do much counseling, but I ask where God is in people’s lives. I don’t do much CEOing, but I ask how God is at work in the church. I don’t run outreach programs, but I search for God in the relationships we build. Not many people come to our faith formation activities, but I love the thrill of looking for God’s way together. Not enough church people are involved in our local outreach, but the work we do makes a difference in our community.
I, like most clergy, am tired. It's a wide diversity of roles, and I can't be good at them all the time. I, like most working people I know, wonder if my work is where my heart is right now. I want a weekend off with my family. I want to prioritize my home. I have great sympathy for those who cannot continue the work they thought was their calling—whether that work is church work or not.
For me, now, the roles fit my skills. I'd say more, but I've got to get the bulletin finished. What are your roles as a pastor?
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.