Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Vocation”

Shifting our expectations

For the last year or so, economic realities have created the need for me to work full-time to subsidize my ministry. I grow frustrated at times with this arrangement, but I am thankful for the opportunities my “regular” job provides–the chance to be with people in the work force, an income to provide for my family and benefits such as health insurance.

I’ve determined to do some things differently if I ever get the opportunity to return to full-time ministry vocation. For starters, I’ll value peoples time more. I’ve discovered that working a full-time job and a couple of part-timers (a reality for many in our current economic conditions) doesn’t leave much margin to participate in a lot of church activities. A block of time once a week, traditionally Sunday morning, is about as much we can realistically expect.

That said, if we are only going to get that one block, we better make sure it counts. It calls for serious evaluation of what we do with that block of time. Is it allowing us to encounter God? Build real community?

That deserves it’s own conversation.

I also have greater appreciation for those who struggle to cultivate effective, consistent spiritual disciplines. I cut my teeth in an evangelical paradigm that stressed private Bible study and prayer (aka “personal devotions”).

The message was clear. To prove your mettle as a serious Christian, to be a disciple, one had to carve out time every day to read the Bible and pray. Every day. No sacrifice of time and sleep was too much.

However, when folks work 40-50 hours a week, commute a couple of  hours a day, hustle to attend their kids’ activities and try to have any semblance of a healthy marriage, there isn’t much time left to sacrifice.

There often isn’t much mental energy left for reading and prayer, either. I for one struggle with this.

This leaves me wrestling with those assumptions of my formative years. It’s easy to slip into believing that I’m not doing enough, not doing it good enough, and I’m a pretty poor excuse for a “real” Christian.

Thankfully, I shed that kind of thinking several years ago. But I know it torments many sincere followers of Jesus. They’ve told me so.

I blame, at least partially, pastors like the kind I was back in the day. Preaching that people should read their Bibles more and ought pray more leaves few, if any, other options. The result is unintended (or is it intentional?) shame that leaves our people feeling failure no matter how hard they try.

Those of us in full-time vocational ministry often lose perspective of how the bulk of our parishioners live. We get paid to think about church, to pray and to study the Bible. We expect our people to give the same kind of energy to the sacred as we do.

Then we get angry at them when they don’t.

Very few think about church during the week. They are just trying to survive another work week and squeeze time in for the kids. They might pray and read a Bible verse here and there, but it’s far from the ideal quiet time we think they should have.

In reality, they are probably a lot like I am–doing the best I can.

I hope I remember that.

Will work for validation

I find myself in an interesting, often frustrating, situation employment-wise. For the last couple of years my “day-job” has been with a drug prevention coalition that is funded by grant money.

Our former grant expired the end of June. We fully expected to receive a new grant in August.

Chalk it up to the economy or politics or whatever, but the grant didn’t come through. This has forced us to cut salary and hours by over half. Fun times.

Thankfully, God opened up a door for me to pick up a part-time position with a church providing pastoral care. Now I have four part-time jobs. Again, while I’m very grateful for each and the income they provide, it’s not exactly what I anticipated at this stage of my life.

Much of the time I struggle with thoughts and feelings of being under-employed. My self-esteem takes a hit on a regular basis.

Part of the angst is a return of some of the struggles I had while serving a church as its pastor.

Many times I wrestled with feelings and beliefs that I didn’t have a “real” job.

My job description consisted of things like praying, studying, and talking to people. Who gets paid for things like that???

I often secretly hung my head in shame with the gnawing sense I wasn’t accomplishing anything of “real”value.

  • I didn’t have a line of products that I’d manufactured that I could point to at the end of the day.
  • I didn’t have numbers showing how much I’d sold.
  • I didn’t even have a time card that I’d punched to prove I’d actually worked.

My work was people- and soul-formation. There was never a completion, unless you count funerals. About the time I thought I could see progress, a parishioner would have an epic marital spat or quit coming to church for no apparent reason.

I found I actually enjoyed painting my house on my days off. At least I could see something tangible. There were now 10 painted boards.

Doing pastoral work is a strange animal.

I often compared myself with the men and women who had “real” jobs. I never felt like I quite made the cut.

I began to think differently when my son was in the hospital for an ear surgery. Once the surgeon completed the procedure, I met with him in the physician conference room. After telling me the customary report about my son’s ear, the conversation turned.

“I wish I could do something meaningful with my life, like you do,” the doctor confessed.

“What do you mean?” I stammered. I was sure I misunderstood him.

“You really help people. I want to do a job like that someday.”

I was befuddled. Here’s a guy who repairs ears, restores hearing and makes a ton of money doing it. What was he talking about?

He obviously didn’t realize what a pretender I was.

I began looking at my vocation differently at that point. But the old thoughts and feelings continued to haunt me. I would occasionally slip into the belief that a “real” job would validate me in a way that being a pastor couldn’t.

I’ve found myself struggling with those myths over the last several months.

“If I only I had a viable job . . . if I just had that salary . . . THEN I would count. I would have validity.”

I’m still fighting my way through the jungle of this deception. Some days I think I see a lot more light than I do on others.

I’m curious if other pastors ever struggle with similar thoughts and feelings?


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