I recently attended a pastors retreat where the speaker stated, “Ours is a fraudulent vocation.”
That was eye-popping statement. If the speaker didn’t have my attention before, he certainly had me now.
He went on to explain that our fraudulent vocation is rooted in the fact that vocational ministry is always in crisis. We constantly feel the friction of lack of resources, not enough dependable leaders, and people who struggle with their commitments.
Going deeper, our vocational crisis stems from our faith being based on crises. This is true in a general sense. Christ came to save sinners. That’s crisis enough.
But a deeper level, we pastors know our personal faith is a faith of crises. We know our own sin (hopefully we are honest about that). We know our inconsistencies and hypocrisies. We know our inadequacies when it comes to leadership.
I spent substantial portions of my first pastorate fearing people would eventually figure out I was a fraud–that I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I wasn’t trying to deceive people by covering up some heinous sin. Rather I was keenly aware I didn’t know how to fix the problems and challenges presented to me in pastoral ministry.
- I had no magical answers that would take away the pain of a couple’s deteriorating marriage.
- I didn’t have any proven formulas to give parents dealing with rebellious kids.
- As much as I prayed, I never found effective strategies to reach un-churched people in our community, most of whom had zero interest in our catchy vision statement or ministry slogan.
- While counseling and encouraging parishioners to live victorious Christian lives, I found I struggled with a lot of the same temptations and challenges as they. I experienced relapses my thought-life, struggled with basing my sense of worth by my bank account, and had teenage children who bucked my authority and slept through church.
The reality of the fraudulent vocation still nips at my heels. My anxiety surrounding my inadequacy spikes at times.
I am learning to accept that this is the norm, both of ministry vocation and the Christian life in general. Author Jamie Blaine observes, “What people claim corporately and believe privately are two very different things. Everybody’s wrecked behind the scenes. We’re all struggling and faking it somewhere along the way, praying no one finds out how messed up we truly are.”
Furthermore, this is a tenet of New Testament faith. Jesus was clear that he didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. Paul wasn’t shy in acknowledging that he was chief among sinners. It’s in our weakness that God’s grace and power are at their strongest.
I wonder how much I believe this.
I catch myself measuring my value, worth and meritocracy on how well I behave–how good of a job I do in getting my act together. I grade my pastoral legitimacy on how creatively hip my messages are and how seamless my organizational skills appear.
I find myself resisting my need to rely on grace. While Paul’s words, “I will boast about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” inspire me, as does Henri Nouwen’s phrase “wounded healer,” actually being weak and wounded chafes my ego.
Perhaps that’s the real fraud of how we do our Christian life in general, and ministry in particular.