In my inbox today, the news of three more pretty good pastors who are now unemployed, having left their churches under "intense pressure." In the free church tradition, churches are all independent, autonomous units. We do not do much for staff/pastors/workers who suddenly find themselves unemployed in vocational ministry. In addition, there is a tremendous stigma attached to the person who resigns under pressure.
The reasons for termination (call it what we may) fill dusty volumes on sagging shelves. This being Church, the pressures behind the push tend to be over-spiritualized. I think, when I hear the spiritual rationalizations for such actions, of the old Yogi Berra story. You know the one.
Yogi is crouched down behind home plate ready to call for the next pitch. The batter fidgets with the stick in his hands, takes a few practice swings, makes the sign of the cross, steps into the batter’s box and crosses himself again. After two or three pitches, with this procedure repeated each time, Yogi grows impatient.
Yogi calls time, steps out in front of the plate, dusts it off with his feet and then crosses himself. The batter stares at him, uncomprehending.
"There," Yogi says, "we’re all even. Let’s let God just watch the game now."
That Yogi; crazy as a fox.
I think pastors/staff will have to go back to their called work as evangelist to the world and chaplain to the Church. No one can keep us away from evangelism. In fact, no one will ever fight you over an outreach ministry. You can knock on as many doors as you wish, present the gospel as often as you schedule yourself to do so. No one will belabor the matter with you.
I announced some time ago my intention to present the gospel 100 times in 100 days. I am actually ahead of schedule, electronically and personally. No one even asks me about this work. I got to present the gospel again last night at a picnic table near my sanctuary building. Few will fight you for this honor.
If you know the Story, you have the Story to tell and know that it is worth telling.
The pastor/staff person might benefit as well by practicing what amount to chaplaincy duties to the Church-in-Session; that is, the membership on the roll. The Traditionals and Moderns in our midst are going through intense sociological/cultural offenses heaped on them by a world where the rules change too often. The Post-Moderns are about to be traumatized in ways they can only imagine, as our economy sinks into a recession the likes of which the Post-Moderns have never known.
The Traditionals and Moderns have to receive some kind of solace, while the Post-Mods must be offered some hope for their future. The Pastor as Chaplain can comfort the generations who feel the world passing them by and offer serenity to the generation that feels the world is compacting them in a vise.
It is a twenty-four hour job. You can do just about all things from the right motivation and still get it wrong, because of unstated expectations or unresolved issues in the institution itself. Ours is a transitory culture with no brand loyalty. People accustomed to instanteous gratification (nuke it!) may not be able to stay in for the Long March. When the team starts to fail, the natural tendency today is to either change teams or change managers or both. Few ministers (ok, none) will go through the work without bumps. Evangelism and Chaplaincy will not soothe the Sacred Monster we call the Church today.
If you can be happy and fulfilled in any other work, do not do "vocational ministry." It is actually only for the called and even they may end up weeping in a pit.
The Pastor as Politician
This next section will offend many, both of the laity and clergy. When I suggest the Pastor/Staff enter into Evangelism/Chaplaincy roles, fellow travelers will note these are tactical methods, not strategic. The difference between tactical and strategic acting/thinking is the difference between today and next year. The Evangelist/Chaplain acts in the moment; tactically. The Strategist acts in the future with a purpose the Tactician only pretends.
Fellow travelers will realize immediately the Evangelist/Chaplain, if isolated or compromised back at the office, in meetings (secret or announced) or in the staff, will prove easy to frustrate.
Political issues (not arguments over who should occupy the Oval Office) are always primary. Numerical growth is the last thing some local congregations want and the very last thing some persons in all congregations want in actuality. Therefore, there is no measure of success to protect staff from the "feelings" roiling the laity or the motivations of some staff. To understand the social pressures on the Church dispersed through the community during the week might help explain the next bad meeting but even forewarned is not forearmed effectively.
The fellow who warns you against this or that movement on this or that day may not see your strategical desires. He may, however, be the tactician of the moment who saves you from an ambush of the worst magnitude. It may be better to understand the difference between tactics and strategies than to see the particulars coming your way at the moment. You can take a detour to get to the right road.
More simply put, it may be that not every one sees your genius, understands your plan, applauds your hard work or even just likes you. Some may resent you because of something that happened two preachers ago. Personal agendas may allow individuals to ascribe certain motivations to you regardless of fact.
These are political issues. The modern day minister, immersed in an information age, a service economy and the convergence of three huge, metaphor diverse generational groups will find himself/herself confronted with self-proclaimed experts on ecclesiology who tend to see ministry in purely dogmatic terms according to their own culturally normative expectations.
The Pastor as politican must at least have an intelligible plan communicable to the willing, whether they be truly willing or grudgingly receptive. No one wants to feel he is thrashing about without an aim. One must be patient, resilient in failure and with enough self-knowledge to withstand inexplicable hostility from unexpected sources.
Information gathering is vital. One should schedule to be with the crowd(s) as much as possible. Decide to listen to what they say, not just what "they say." That is, do not hear through the usual ministerial need for approval/affirmation. Get the chewy middle not the candy outside from conversations, if possible. Try to gather information without feeling or displaying superficial paranoia.
Act on supply. Who needs what, how do you get it for them and to them and what is exactly your responsibility in their regard? You cannot be everywhere or do everything. Whatever you are not doing at the moment is exactly what someone is going to tell you they must have and have immediately. You are failing them, yourself, God, the Church and this Great Nation itself if you do not get them or do for them what they must have right now. Understand supply needs, material and spiritual.
Successful politicans organize coalitions around great issues.The superficial politico may posit a devious enemy just on the horizon and then set himself/herself up as the savior/defender of the faith once delivered to the fathers. This is the Pastor/Politican as cult hero. The cult diminishes the cultist to fanatic, usually an unhealthy experience. Try to keep the issue/strategy/cause both wholesome and well stated. People can love you. They should never worship you.
This is too long, isn’t it? You probably quit reading long ago. Sorry.