Monday, June 21

Pastors Are NOT Called To "Do A Job"

I cite the following from The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson because what he has to say is so very apropos to our situation today. I suppose it always has been. Mankind really doesn't change all that much at heart. If you will read this excerpt (for there IS more) I think your time will be well rewarded whether or not you are a pastor. 

Peterson writes:

Being a pastor who satisfies a congregation is one of the easiest jobs on the face of the earth—if we are satisfied with satisfying congregations. The hours are good, the pay is adequate, the prestige considerable. Why don’t we find it easy? Why aren’t we content with it? 

Because we set out to do something quite different. We set out to risk our lives in a venture of faith. We committed ourselves to a life of holiness. At some point we realized the immensity of God and of the great invisibles that socket into our arms and legs, into bread and wine, into our brains and our tools, into mountains and rivers, giving them meaning, destiny, value, joy, beauty, salvation. We responded to a call to convey these realities in Word and sacrament. We offered ourselves to give leadership that connects and coordinates what the people in this community of faith are doing in their work and play, with what God is doing in mercy and grace. 

In the process, we learned the difference between a profession, a craft, and a job. 

A job is what we do to complete an assignment. Its primary requirement is that we give satisfaction to whoever makes the assignment and pays our wage. We learn what is expected and we do it. There is nothing wrong with doing jobs. To a lesser or greater extent, we all have them; somebody has to wash the dishes and take out the garbage. 

But professions and crafts are different. In these we have an obligation beyond pleasing somebody; we are pursuing or shaping the very nature of reality, convinced that when we carry out our commitments, we benefit people at a far deeper level than if we simply did what they asked of us. 

In crafts we are dealing with visible realities, in professions with invisible. The craft of woodworking, for instance, has an obligation to the wood itself, its grain and texture.  A good woodworker knows his woods and treats them with respect.  Far more is involved than pleasing customers; something like integrity of material is involved. 

With professions the integrity has to do with the invisibles: For physicians it is health (not merely making people feel good); with lawyers, justice (not helping people get their own way); with professors, learning (not cramming cranial cavities with information on tap for examinations).  And with pastors, it is God (not relieving anxiety, or giving comfort, or running a religious establishment).
We all start out knowing this, or at least having a pretty good intimation of it.  But when we entered our first parish, we were given a job. 

Most of the people we deal with are dominated by a sense of self, not a sense of God. Insofar as we deal with their primary concern-the counseling, instructing, encouraging—they give us good marks in our jobs as pastors. Whether we deal with God or not, they don’t care over much. Flannery O’Connor describes one pastor in such circumstances as one part minister and three parts masseur. 

It is very difficult to do one thing when most of the people around us are asking us to do something quite different, especially when these people are nice, intelligent, treat us with respect, and pay our salaries. We get up each morning and the telephone rings, people meet us, and letters are addressed to us— often at a tempo of bewildering urgency. All these calls and letters are from people asking us to do something for them, quite apart from any belief in God. That is, they come to us not because they are looking for God but because they are looking for a recommendation, or good advice, or an opportunity, and they vaguely suppose we might be qualified to give it to them. 

A number of years ago, I injured my knee. According to my self-diagnosis I knew all it needed was some whirlpool treatments. In my college years we had a whirlpool in the training room, and I had considerable experience with its effectiveness in treating my running injuries as well as making me feel good. In my present community, the only whirlpool was at the physical therapist’s office. I called to make an appointment. He refused; I had to have a doctor’s prescription. 

I called an orthopedic physician, went in for an examination (this was getting more complicated and expensive than I had planned), and found he wouldn’t give me the prescription for the whirlpool. He said it wasn’t the proper treatment for my injury. He recommended surgery. I protested: a whirlpool certainly can’t do any harm, and it might do some good. His refusal was adamantine. He was a professional. His primary commitment was to some invisible abstraction called health, healing. He was not committed to satisfying my requests. His integrity, in fact, forbade him to satisfy my requests if they encroached on his primary commitment.
I have since learned that with a little shopping around, I could have found a doctor who would have given me the prescription I wanted.
I reflect on that incident occasionally. Am I keeping the line clear between what I am committed to and what people are asking of me? Is my primary orientation God’s grace, his mercy, his action in Creation and covenant? And am I committed to it enough that when people ask me to do something that will l not lead them into a more mature participation in these realities, I refuse? I don’t like to think of all my visits made, counseling given, marriages performed, meetings attended, prayers offered—one friend calls it sprinkling holy water on Cabbage Patch dolls—solely because people asked me to do it and it didn’t seem at the time that it would do any harm and, who knows, it might do some good. Besides, I knew there was a pastor down the street who would do anything asked of him. But his theology was so wretched he would probably do active harm in the process. My theology, at least, was orthodox.

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