Ministry Expectations and the Life of the Mind

Jesus With the Elders in the TempleJust read a nice entry in Brian Jones’ blog about having a Sermon Induced Meltdown. He’s a regular contributor to the Christian Standard. Anyway, I can identify with, as he says, being sick of “writing sermons half asleep” and “not deeply reading the classics.” While I am not (yet) writing adult worship sermons weekly, I have been writing sermons for youth ministry for almost 9 full years, often delivering them twice a week, once each to middle schoolers and high schoolers (for 4 years.) I often am up late at night (or early morning) feeling like I don’t have much to say or I have too much to say (read, paralyzed by the options) and I’m too busy and, therefore, too dry to have much to give anyway.

So, here’s what I think, and it’s only indirectly related I suppose… The church today allows its members to have expectations for its pastors that don’t bear much resemblance to the biblical call to be approved unto God, “a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2Tim. 2.15, NIV). That is sometimes toward the end of some churches’ lists of pastoral expectations. It’s just a rule of pastoral ministry. It’s like learning that boys don’t go to the urinal next to someone else unless they have to. Or that girls make bathroom breaks a community experience. It’s an unwritten rule of pastoral ministry that we learn by experience. While they may say one thing and write meaningfully in job descriptions, functionally they do another. I have the distinct impression that churches, in the words of Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson, create a culture that produces The Unnecessary Pastor. We function as rubber stamps on a congregation’s spiritually inoculated expectations, like we’re there mostly as figureheads to ratify a neutered Christian existence. Many churches would rather have nice pastors than theologically correct ones. In the process of candidacy at two churches, I have hardly been asked what I think about doctrine. Or, more importantly, almost no one, with the notable exception of one mentor, has asked me what I do to keep myself spiritually fit, which exposes that congregations often have an almost lascivious desire for a placatory provider of programs to attract people more than anything.

There are many directions to go here, but here’s one… I think pastors must increasingly demand that quiet, uninterrupted time with the Word happens… daily. They must insist that thinking deeply and intently is often the best use of one’s time. At present I am writing from a coffee shop because it allows me uninterrupted time with God and my thoughts. Some wisdom from Thoreau’s Walden:

“…millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Harper Classics: New York, 1965, 66.)

Indeed. Jesus was awake as none other and His time as a teenager was spent talking with the experts of the law. I’m sure his parents’ response was similar to many churchgoers today. “What the heck are you doing here? You should be with us.” Perhaps they thought he was wasting his time talking about matters that just end up in arguments. Maybe his pattern of showing up at the temple as a child was in conflict with his family’s expectation for him to be a carpenter or do the laundry, or clean his room. Now, of course, I’m sure Jesus cleaned his room. But he also withdrew to pray. Like every good Jewish boy showing promise as a Rabbi, he read the classics. He was well versed in the Scriptures.

Something tells me a case for hanging out at coffee shops, studying Scripture, and writing blogs is in the making.

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One Response

  1. What about a men’s biblestudy at the coffee shop for lunch one day a week? One where your allowed to be the member and not the pastor?

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