A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind

J. Ellsworth Kalas gives some advice to pastors regarding congregations and learning. Basically he says that just because something isn’t commonly known in the culture (Like “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” from “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”) doesn’t mean we simply skip those things. Instead, he says it is an opportunity to teach. In regard to quotes from authors the congregation wouldn’t know he writes:

My second answer is a quite Wesleyan one. If I were in an abrupt mood which I try to avoid I might answer, “If they don’t know the name, it’s time they learned.” To make the point more kindly, part of our job as preachers is to broaden and deepen human minds.  If we believe that we should love the Lord our God with all our minds, we should do everything we can to make our minds as good and large as possible. We’re often told that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  It’s also wicked to waste it. One of Satan’s favorite tools is to fill the mind with so much garbage that anything sane, thoughtful, beautiful and redemptive is crowded out. In our contemporary culture, Satan has developed this practice to a corrupt art.

via The Mind | Asbury Theological Seminary.

There is a lot of garbage going into our minds today. We have access to more information than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that we focus on the beautiful and redemptive. Perhaps it is time to exercise our minds by working out with classics of literature (including spiritual classics) and not shy away from things just because it means we will have to teach.

Sleeping in Church

I came across this in John Cassian’s “The Institutes” in the section on the spirit of gluttony.

“This same old man declared, based on the following indications, that the devil has ever been the promoter of foolish tales and the enemy of spiritual conferences. For when he was talking with some of the brothers about important spiritual matters and notices that they had fallen into a kind of Lethean slumber and could not cast off the weight of sleep from their eyes, he immediately introduced a foolish tale.

When he saw that they woke up at once and pricked up their ears for the pleasure that it gave them, he said with a groan: ‘Up until now we were speaking about heavenly things, and the eyes of each of you were shut in deathlike repose. But when a foolish tale is introduced all of us wake up and shake off the torpor of the sleep that had mastered us. From this you should consider carefully, then, who was the enemy of that spiritual conference and who is the instigator of this vain and carnal tale. It is perfectly clear that it is the one who rejoices in wickedness and does not cease to foster the latter and to fight against the former.'”

As I read this I thought of all the times I’ve fallen asleep in church. I remember as a High School student sitting in the choir (which would sit in the front of the church facing the congregation) and falling asleep during the service. I’ve often wondered why I fell asleep. I don’t think I was overly tired. I’ve said on occasion that it was just a habit. Kind of like when you get in bed your body knows this is where you sleep and that helps you sleep. My body believed sitting in the choir meant it was time to take a nap. Even if I tried to stay awake, sleep would overcome me.

Perhaps Cassian has something here. By falling asleep I was unable to pay attention to what the pastor was saying. By falling asleep I was unable to reflect upon my spiritual life. My falling asleep kept me in the dark spiritually. However, if the pastor told a joke or a funny story I could start paying attention again. What’s with that?

Perhaps Paul has an explanation:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (1 Cor. 4:4)

Either way…if you are a pastor and you keep seeing the folks in your congregation falling asleep, or struggling to stay awake…perhaps there’s more going on than you thought. You thought you were boring….that may be true…however, the “god of this world” has no interest in seeing them awakened to Christ.

Pastors and Expectations

Someone once told me that a pastor is the only person who has two hundred bosses. That is…if you serve a church with two hundred members. The larger the church, the more ‘bosses’ you have. Of course I chuckled at that. It isn’t nearly that bad, but one of the pressures of being of pastor is a sense that you have different sets of expectations that aren’t always compatible, thus the idea of multiple bosses.

In the previous article I listed the expectations the Discipline has. They are varied and many. Yet, there are times when the district has their own set of expectations (that are usually backed up in the Discipline) as does the conference. There are also expectations coming from your church, your community, your family and even yourself. Over and beyond that we have a sense that God has expectations too. So, what is a pastor to do? Who trumps whom? Should we always meet expectations coming from our church, or should it always be the district/conference? Or maybe our family? Where do our own expectations formed in prayer, silence and spiritual practices come into play?

There have been times when I’ve felt like I’m running around trying to keep multiple plates spinning at once. Other times I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope high above the cold hard ground trying to stay balanced. Keeping conflicting expectations (which do occur) balanced isn’t so much a science than it is an art. I believe age and maturity can help us prioritize our lives. Our understanding of worth and where we receive a sense of validation is one of the main factors in how we keep things in balance and decide what we must do and what we can leave undone. If we receive our worth and feelings of validation from being viewed as the pastor who has it all together and can do ‘all things’ then the church’s expectations will probably win. If our validation comes from a positive view of our DS, bishop or other connectional colleague, then we will try to meet and exceed our conference/district expectations.

A sense of worth, validation and esteem are powerful motivators. Jesus even spoke to this. He asks, what good is it to gain the whole world, yet loose your soul? I have to ask myself: What good is it to have all those around you sing your praises if you are empty inside? If we get our sense of worth and validation anywhere other than God, there is a possibility that we will be led to a wrong end.

We will always have conflicting expectations. The question is, will we be able to manage them? I suggest spending time discerning what God’s call is for you as a pastor. What passions has God placed in your life? There will always be expectations surrounding you and ministry, but it is important to spend time allowing God to leading to those one or two things God has called you to. This is not as easy as it sounds. We must first put aside all of our agendas and ambitions. We must stifle the voice of the culture that will try to define what ‘success’ looks like. Success is discovering God’s will for you and following that without guilt or apology. Listening in prayer is important and so is listening to spiritually mature individuals whom you trust.

Once you believe you know what God’s call for you is, then it is time to deal with issues such as productivity, distractions, time management, delegation, etc. I will discuss these things in later postings. The first task is to spend time with God discerning God’s will and praying the prayer that Jesus prayed (“not my will, but Your’s be done”). God’s will is the foundation from which ministry will flow.

On Pastoral Work

Okay. I’ll admit it. I’m a pastor. It is what I do. It is who I am. I can’t get away from it. Every Monday morning I get up and I start the week doing the work of a pastor. I know I’m not alone. There are a lot of pastors out there. Perhaps you are one…or know one. But what does it mean to be a pastor? What is our work really about? How do we know when we are doing the work of a pastor? How do we know if we are doing the work of the pastor?

The Book of Discipline has some things to say about pastoral work. Even though pastors are ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service there are many things that potentially includes. Here is what 2004 Book of Discipline says (I’ve condensed some of this so it isn’t ‘word for word’ but it does include all of the responsibilities listed in paragraph 340):

  • Word
    • Preach, lead in worship, read and teach the scripture and engage the people in study and witness
      • Ensure faithful transmission of the Christian faith
      • Lead people in discipleship and evangelistic outreach
    • Counsel persons with personal, ethical, or spiritual struggles
    • Perform the ecclesial acts of marriage and burial
      • perform marriages after due counsel in accordance with state laws and rules of the UMC.
      • With funerals/memorials provide care and grief counseling
    • Visit in the homes of the church and community, especially the sick, aged, imprisoned, and others in need
    • Maintain all confidences inviolate except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law.
  • Sacrament
    • Administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance
      • Prepare the parents and sponsors before baptizing infants or children, and instruct them concerning the sacrament’s significance and their responsibilities.
      • Encourage reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and renewal of baptismal vows at different stages of life
      • Encourage people baptized in infancy or early childhood to make their profession of faith, after instruction, so that they might become professing members of the church
      • Explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness
      • To select and train others to serve the consecrated communion elements
    • Encourage the private and congregational use of the other means of grace
  • Order
    • To be the administrative officer of the local church and to assure that the organizational concerns of the congregation are adequately provided for
      • To give pastoral support, guidance, and training to the lay leadership, equipping them to fulfill the ministry to which they are called
      • To give oversight to the educational program of the church and encourage the use of United Methodist literature and media
      • To be responsible for organizational faithfulness, goal setting, planning and evaluation.
      • To search out and counsel men and women fo rthe ministry of deacons, elders, local pastors and other church related ministries.
    • To administer the temporal affairs of the church in their appointment, to the annual conference, and the general church
      • To administer the provisions of the Discipline
      • To give an account of their pastoral ministries to the charge and annual conference according to the prescribed forms
      • To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation
      • To promote faithful, financial stewardship and to encourage giving as a spiritual discipline
      • To lead the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative, and benevolent funds
      • To care for all church records and local church financial obligations, and certify the accuracy of all financial, membership, and any other reports submitted by the local church to the annual conference for use in apportioning costs back to the church
    • To participate in denominational and conference programs and training opportunities
      • To seek out opportunities for cooperative ministries with other United Methodist pastors and churches
      • To be willing to assume supervisory responsibilities within the connection
    • To lead the congregation in racial and ethnic inclusiveness
  • Service
    • To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministries and servant leadership
    • To give diligent pastoral leadership in ordering the life of the congregation for discipleship in the world
    • To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world
    • To participate in community, ecumenical and inter-religious concerns and to encourage the people to become so involved and to pray and labor for the unity of the Christian community.

That is quite a list. It is important to notice that while there are many responsibilities, they also vary greatly. For example: Pastors are supposed to be counselors and administrators along with teachers and in some respect scholars. Added to those four roles, pastors are also to be able to communicate, that is preach, effectively. Is it any wonder why pastors can find their task challenging and at times frustrating. I also wonder if there is any one person who can adequately, let a lone successfully, fulfill all of the varied roles.

Yet, there is another aspect to pastoral work. The Discipline can say all it wants about pastoral roles, but most pastors believe they also have a calling from God. One of my wonders is whether it is possible for one person to be all the Discipline calls him or her to be and all God calls that person to be. Is it possible that if a person fulfills the calling of the Discipline they may fail their calling of God? How can one know? How can a pastor know he or she is being faithful rather than shirking his or her responsibilities?

It would be easy for a pastor to get by with doing little or not much at all. Most pastors don’t have anyone holding them accountable for how they spend their time. While some pastors spend as much as twenty hours on sermon preparation, others could just ‘wing’ it. There may be a segment of pastors who know that and exploit it for their benefit. That being said, I find the vast majority of pastors have a strong work ethic and probably do more than their congregation ever knows about. They are diligent workers because they are trying to please their Lord.

I’m planning on posting several articles exploring what it means to be a pastor. I want to explore the ambiguity, difficulties, loneliness, joy, struggle, emotions that are connected with being a 21st century pastor. These articles will be my perspective and opinions. You can feel free to disagree and you probably will. I am also interested in your experiences, thoughts, opinion and stories. How are you doing in ministry? Is it a joy or burden? Are you doing well, or are you struggling? I don’t plan on posting anything you send to me unless you give me specific permission to do so.

If you comment on this article it could begin a conversations.

The next article in this series will be Pastors and Expectations.

Cluster Headaches

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of the new cluster model being introduced in my conference. On the surface it seems a positive move, but I believe in practice it will not be as beneficial as believed. Why? Geography. The idea is that United Methodist churches will ‘cluster’ together to do ministry in their community. While that may work with churches in a large city, it will not with those of us in smaller communities. The closest UMC to me is about 20 minutes away in a neighboring town. The communities are not the same. We are suppose to have four or more churches involved. If that is the case, that means we will have churches from four different communities. I could go on, but basically I feel it will be next to impossible for multiple rural area churches to come together and have a cooperative ministry to each individual community. With the price of gas, and the “time crunch” issues I believe there is a potential that individuals will choose either the cluster ministry or local church ministry, but not both.

I guess Google feels the same way. When I opened up this email from my DS about the cluster kickoff, I also noticed that Google had placed an advertisement to “End cluster headaches.” How did they know??? Perhaps I can bookmark this site for later use…