I know, it’s an interesting tidbit about the superstar athletes, but what does this have to do with being a pastor?
In my last post, I reflected on the complexity of being a pastor and the toll it often takes on leaders. In this post, I want to offer another piece of Pastoral Complexity: We are mostly confused about our calling. That is to say, we often become pastors without realizing what the job really is.
Most of us who end in the pastorate do so because someone experienced our ministry skills and encouraged us to consider it as a vocation. In short, most of us were about the best lay leaders in our churches, organizations or missions and somewhere along the way someone heard us teach, heard us pray, saw us at a bedside or were part of a successful ministry program that we headed up and they told us that we were so good, that we should “go pro.” (And most often, was mostly about “preaching”. If you could preach or teach the Bible better than most, then it was assumed that you were called to be a pastor.)
And so what did we do? We headed off to “professional ministry school” (i.e. “seminary”) or took a job on a church staff with the assumption that now the only thing that was going to change was that we were going to be PAID to do what we used to do as a VOLUNTEER. (And, really, what’s not to like about that?) On top of that, once we got our “professional association card” (i.e. “ordination”) we then became the resident “pro” for all kinds of wonderful and meaningful family and community “religious events” (like weddings, baptisms, funerals, invocations and such). For most of us, this seemed like it would be the best possible world. Our friends and family were proud of us, our home churches affirmed us and we now got to be paid (ok, not much pay, really, but the “ego perks” were nice) and “freed” to “do ministry full-time.” We were now expected to be the resident “pro”, the “star player”, the “free agent” who brought the “home team” great results.
But… there is one really big problem. Being pastor really isn’t about being the star player. It’s really about being a COACH. When you get ordained, you don’t get on the playing field, you go to the bench. You are not the “resident professional Christian” but the leader of a community of mission.
And that leadership calling is very, very different than most of us expected.
When you become a pastor, your domain is away from the stadium lights and cheering fans and off to the “practice field” where you, in the words of Paul, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). And let’s face it, many of us who are quite gifted at teaching, preaching, counseling and care are just not all that good at “equipping the saints” for teaching, preaching, care and mission. Like Bart Starr or Isaiah Thomas, we are much better at taking the ball into our own hands than we are at leading a team of players.
For many star athletes, however, perhaps the hardest parts about the adjustment from “player” to “coach” however are the things “away from the field.” Deciding who “plays” and who doesn’t, managing conflicts, developing strategy, motivating players (who are sometimes pretty unmotivated) and making personnel decisions for the overall health of the team. Many famous athletes who were great in the game wither under the criticism of the press and the second-guessing of the fans, and grow weary of the “drama” of the locker room and front office.
In the same way, when most pastors are interviewed about the hardest parts of their job, they talk about how seminary didn’t prepare them for strategic planning, conflict resolution, organizational leadership and staff supervision, (let alone personnel issues, building projects, and administering preschools and the like.)
Even more, this “equipping” and “coaching” ministry is often much more about conflict, change management, and attending to a relational “system” than it is about teaching the Bible or training eager lay people to “share their faith” or serve others. Again, most pastoring (at least in congregations) is far more about LEADERSHIP than anything else. And that is pretty different than what we signed up for.
If that wasn’t enough (and this is where it gets really complex….) The REAL players…the laity, would mostly rather that we DIDN’T coach or lead them either. Most lay people, truth be told, don’t want to be players, they want to be “Fans.” They want the “Pros” to do the ministry. (That’s why they sent us to seminary, isn’t it?). They don’t want to suit up and take the field any more than we want to go to the bench and coach them.
And so…soon, we all fail. Before long the “coaches” start just asking to play (like pastors who only want to preach and teach and do visitation, you know “real ministry”) and the “players” become spectators. And the mission of a community of God’s people who are seeking to live out the Kingdom of God is really what gets benched.
Of course, there are some “players” who become great coaches. And that “adaptation” is what I want to write about next time.