Tag Archives: pastor

On Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

The ‘Millennials and Church’ thing has been written about to death in recent years. Theories about what millennials want in church range from the newest, flashiest most technologically advanced thing to the oldest, most artisanal traditions. If you are sick of reading about how to get millennials back to church,  join the club. In fact, I wouldn’t blame you for not reading yet another blog post about the topic… but bear with me, I promise not to talk at all about what millennials want or how to get us back to church.

That being said, figuring out millennials is big business for Christianity these days… and finding the magic bullet to get us all back to church would make someone rich.  Lots of church consultants and ministry experts are making the speaking rounds telling the church all about millennials and the big “change” the world is experiencing.

And yet, as a millennial myself, I am rarely asked why I didn’t follow the rest of my exiting generation… and when I am asked why I am still around, it is usually after I have pointed out that I am rarely asked.

Being a millennial and an ordained Lutheran pastor has provided me some insight into the Church’s quest to regain millennials. Almost always the starting point for this conversation is, “how do we get the young people back?

Yet, it is almost never asked, “Why are young people leaving?”

Church people are convinced they know the answer to why people are leaving. The surface level answers have to do with sports on Sundays, shopping on Sundays, lack of commitment, not having prayers in the schools, boring traditional worship, not enough youth ministry, too many rules, too much organ, etc…

The experts have more sophisticated reasons like people being busy and carefully choosing how to spend their discretionary time.

Yet, none of these things seem to really name the reason that my contemporaries are not going to church. None of these reasons seem sufficient to explain my anecdotal experience.

Admittedly, I have never had parishioners my own age in the last 6 years of ministry. Yet there is one area where I have consistently done ministry with millennials.

Baptisms.

I have met with dozens of millennials who are bringing their babies to be baptized, but who don’t otherwise go to church. Since, I require that I meet with them for friendly conversations about baptism, I have the opportunity to ask about the role of faith in their lives.

And there are two things I have taken away from these experiences:

  •  Even though I fit the big teddybear-like white-guy-with-a-beard mould of the stereotypical pastor, I don’t fit the age mould. And I don’t talk about faith like they expect me to. And I tell them way more about baptism than their parents, grandparents or my predecessors have. Almost always, the millennials I meet with find it refreshing that I didn’t just expect them to magically know everything about church and that I encourage questions and skepticism.
  • While the first takeaway is troubling, the bigger takeaway when I meet with other millennials (even ones that are almost completely unchurched) is that I don’t have to make the cultural commute that I am constantly making with most of the people I serve.

What is a cultural commute you ask?

Well, it is the whole “iPhone pastor for a Typewriter church” thing.

It is the idea that in order to engage or interact with a certain community or group of people – or generation of people –  you need to speak in their cultural language.

An easy example is actual languages. Even though I am an English speaker, I took grade school in French. It was draining to operate in a second language all the time.

It is the same for immigrants and foreigners, even when they already speak English. You don’t just speak the same language, you learn  a whole system of symbols, images, colloquialisms, inside jokes, history, and baggage that go along with a group of people. And when you don’t get that culture, you feel constantly like you are on the outside.

I remember when I first got my iPhone and would pull it out to make appointments or send messages in front of parishioners. They would often look at me like I just beamed down from the starship Enterprise; these were people who remember riding to school in a horse and buggy.

But more than that, when I sit in most meetings or conversations with church people, the discussion ends up being full of cultural references that pass me by. TV shows, music, movies and historical references from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, of which I don’t understand the meaning, are regular parts of conversation. While at the same time, I have to park my cultural baggage. I can’t make Friends or Breaking Bad or Jay-Z or Mumford and Sons or Hipster or Twitter references because most people won’t get them.

But it isn’t just pop-culture symbols. It goes deeper than that.

It is the whole way church and faith were approached 50 years ago versus how things are approached today.

The most draining cultural commute that I experience as a millennial pastor is the difference between congregations who still expect that every good Canadian (or American) citizen would be a church goer versus my expectation that only people who are interested and for whom faith is very important would be a church goer.

It is a cultural commute that takes shape most clearly for me in this way:

When I go and talk to unchurched millennials about baptism, I often get asked about why faith and church is important to me. This is often is the most exciting part of the conversation.

Yet, when I ask churched boomer and older members about why faith and church is important to them, I get uncomfortable looks and uncertain answers.

Now don’t get me wrong.

I love the people I have served and do serve. And I don’t begrudge them this in anyway. If anything, this is a failure of church leadership to not help people think through why church is important to them.

I also think that it is an important part of ordained pastoral ministry to be constantly making cultural commutes to those whom you serve in order that they might hear the gospel (wasn’t the whole incarnation a cultural commute?).

But this cultural commute… this expectation that as a millennial I will always cross the bridge in the cultural gap and engage – work, speak and serve – in a world that is culturally different is not just because I am a pastor. Church people so often expect that anyone outside the dominant culture or generation – millennials, foreigners, seekers, new converts – will be the ones to make the commute. And often this expectation is unconscious.

It is okay for a millennial pastor to be the one crossing the bridge, making the cultural commute in order to be a part of a church community. But it doesn’t work for millennial church members.

And I think this is a big reason millennials aren’t in church. It just isn’t a world that most of us can even access.

I am about to go to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) National Convention next week. The 4 day event is filled with important agenda items. We will talk about how to do ministry in remote parts of country where pastors are unavailable, we will talk about right relationships with Canada’s indigenous peoples, we will talk about working for justice in the correctional system, we will pass resolutions on climate change and immigration issues. And we might event talk about “how to get the young people back.”

These are important issues, things we should talk about, things we should speak out about.

But we aren’t talking about why people are leaving church.

And we certainly aren’t talking about how to translate ourselves into a church for 2015 and beyond. Instead, we are talking about restructuring, and right-sizing… the corporate language of the 80s and 90s.

I suspect that this is where a lot of conversations in local churches, in districts and national offices are going. Churches are trying to catch up to the 80s… while my millennial contemporaries are leaving churches because the cultural commute to even access church is just too far a journey.

Being commuting pastors is something that many of my millennial colleagues and I just accept. I know that helping congregations and church bodies into the 21st century (hopefully before it ends) is just going to be my lot… no, not just our lot, but our calling…

Yet I wonder as I prepare for this national gathering of my church body and as Christians across North America struggle with young people walking away… I wonder when we are going to start looking to the millennials still here to help us become a church for all generations faithfully looking forward into the 21st century.

Until then, I will keep being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter church.


What cultural commutes are you making at church? How can we help the church into the 21st century? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

PS Thanks to Nadia Bolz Weber for introducing me to the concept of  ‘cultural commute’.

6 Ways Churches do Ministry like We are Dying Anyways… (or how keeping everyone happy is killing us)

When I talk to colleagues and church members it doesn’t take long to hear stories of congregations and churches fighting over the details of ministry: the style of worship, the number of staff to hire, the colour of the carpet, the need to have a Sunday School (even in churches with few or no kids).

Most of the fighting is about opinion and preference rather than issues of substance. Churches are great at having disagreements over the details and turning the details into insurmountable differences. A good friend of mine (also a pastor) has often said, “Church politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.”

Image source - http://donutchurch.com/tag/comfortable/
Image source – http://donutchurch.com/tag/comfortable/

Church leadership, church boards, staff and pastors wring their hands and tying themselves in knots trying to keep churches happy. I know pastors who run around 7 days a week working themselves to death trying to be everywhere, do everything and make sure everyone gets what they want from church. It is almost comical that so many of us consider this “ministry.”

As I was writing my sermon for last Sunday, it occurred to me that a ministry focused on making people comfortable and happy is doomed. In fact, it sounds eerily like palliative care.

The amount of palliative care ministry that many congregations are doing is incredible.

Now to be clear, true palliative care for those facing the end of life, particularly with illness is very important work – holy work even. However, when the regular ministry of the church starts to look like the holy work of making people comfortable as they face the end of life, we have a problem.

Here are some examples:

1. Trying to keep everyone happy.

Hospitals generally try to treat illnesses and make people better. Schools try to teach and form students. But the only institution that I can think of, whose chief goal is keeping people comfortable, is a hospice or palliative care institution. Churches and Pastors whose primary aim is keeping people happy are basically doing palliative care.

2. Focusing exclusively on people already here.

Churches have become really good at focusing on insiders. Churches worry about what their members will think about new initiatives or programs. They are concerned about losing even a single discontent member and are constantly searching for any hint of displeasure among the rank and file. Churches like this worry about new people showing up and upsetting the established, delicate balance. Palliative care is about focusing on those in the program, not about seeking new patients.

3. Avoiding conflict at all costs.

When there is only a limited amount of time left, why ruin it by fighting? Avoiding conflict is rooted in the hopes that problems will just go away if we ignore them. And the reality ism in palliative care most problems do just go away eventually – you know, that whole death thing. Death is a great problem solver. When churches simply brush conflict under the carpet, they are hoping it will just go away. And yet, the only way conflict goes away in churches is if all those involved die… and even then it can linger.

4. Being comfortable.

Comfort is a big concern for those in palliative care. It is also a big concern in churches. Many churches want members, visitors, seekers, basically anyone who enters to feel comfortable. They say things like, “people shouldn’t have to work to understand what is happening.” “It should feel like you are in the comfort of your own home.” “Church should be casual and welcoming – make people feel comfortable in their own skin.” Last time I checked, comfort was not really on high on Jesus’ priorities. I don’t recall him ever praising anyone saying, “Your faith has made you comfortable.”

5. Everything becomes about preference.

Churches worry a lot of about people liking things. We fight over getting our own way when it comes to worship, programs, facilities, planning. How we worship, the bibles we read, the food we eat, the chairs we sit in, the paint colour on the wall all becomes a matter of preference. Pastors and leadership can start to worry whether they have provided the right mix of preferences for members. We become like a nurse asking if a patient wants more pillows or blankets, chicken or beef for dinner.

6. We talk a lot about decline and dying.

Maybe the biggest resemblance to palliative care is when churches begin talking a lot about decline and dying. Now, I am not saying we should avoid identifying trends and history. But unlike someone with a terminal illness, it takes a certain amount of hubris (conscious or unconscious) to think we are finally the ones who will kill all our churches. But more importantly, churches are not terminal patients. Imagine someone who gets to a certain age, starts getting a few grey hairs or wrinkles, maybe has some aches and pains, and then starts talking all the time about dying imminently. It seems absurd. Because it is absurd. Yet this is what so many churches are doing whenever they meet to discuss and plan their future.

As I said before, true palliative care and palliative care institutions do important work. They provide care and dignity to people who are facing their last days. Please don’t take what I am saying to be a condemnation of that work, but rather a lens through which to see how we as pastors, leaders and church folk are approaching ministry.

When our ministry as churches and congregations takes on the character of palliative care, we have lost the plot. We become insular groups of people, looking after our own and worst of all, waiting to die (even if we don’t know it).

Comfortable-Georgian-Church-Interior-DecorBut the thing is, God doesn’t do palliative care. As far as I can remember, Jesus never helps people die in the gospels. God is about Life. New Life. Abundant life. Life where there should only be death. God doesn’t make us comfortable as we die. God makes us uncomfortable so that we can live.

And I would like to say that I don’t have answers for how to turn self-centred ministry to our dying selves into life-giving God-focused ministry…

But I do know.

We all know.

  • Stop talking about how we are dying all the time. Or at least recognize that our dying is only a part of God’s alive making.
  • Turn our focuses outward, stop worrying so much about people who are in the pews already and think about ministry to those who are not in the pews… yet.
  • Conversation. Dialogue. Talking. Communicating. We need to talk less about the things we like or don’t like about church (maybe forget talking about them at all), and begin talking about what ministry is happening. Talk about what God is doing in our lives and in our communities.
  • Do the hard work of living as a community, instead of dying. Living is uncomfortable, it is conflictual, it makes some unhappy at times, and requires us to live with uncertainty about what is coming next.

Ministry that looks like palliative care is killing us. Or least it us letting us as pastors, churches, and Christian hasten our journey towards communal, institutional death.

And worst/best thing is, we aren’t terminal.


Has ministry become like Palliative care in your context? Should we be focused on making people comfortable? Share in the comments, or one the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Confessions of a High Church Millennial

I have a confession to make. It will probably be surprising for many to hear from a millennial:

I am a high-church liturgy nerd.

For many of my 31 years in the church, I have been told that my generation is a group of moths attracted to the glitz and glamour of projections screens showing videos in church, electric guitars and drum kits playing the music we can hear on Christian radio and cool, hip preachers who speak “authentically.” And sure, I have been to my fair share of churches, campfires, and youth services that cater to the “youth.” I have even enjoyed them greatly!

Somewhere along the way, this has led to the assumption by everyone (and no one) that my generation’s desire is only for the new. And this desire is often held up along side our narcissistic tendencies to take selfies, post our dinner plans on twitter, and live in our parent’s basements.

It just so happens that these same lazy narcissistic millennials are currently the concern of so many church members. Churches spend a lot of energy worrying about what interests us and wondering why we don’t come to church (anymore).

I know millennials are not the first generation to be the object of the church’s and society’s attention. When I was a little, churches were trying to be contemporary then too… trying to attract boomers and their young families with 70s folk music. As a child of the 80s, my church had more than a few 30-40 something guys standing behind lecterns with guitars, singing special music that sounded like an Eagle’s song with Christian lyrics.

And then Generation X got its 15 minutes of attention…During my tween and teen years, the Gen-Xers were doing Friday night youth services once a month with songs from artists like Brian Doerksen, Petra, Amy Grant, and Third Day. The Gen-Xers, we were told, would come for this. As a teen watching this unfold, I hadn’t quite processed what it meant for the church to be so concerned with making sure 20 somethings stayed in church. I didn’t understand why Friday night youth services, token 20 somethings on church council and money for expensive sound systems and projectors was going to keep the young adults, just a little older than me, in church.

Yet, despite all the catering to what the young people supposedly want, what I do remember from church of my childhood is liturgy.

image source - http://ultraspike.blogspot.ca
image source – http://ultraspike.blogspot.ca

When we were all together as a community, when we gave up as much as we could trying to cater to what will attract the youth, or appease the seniors, or keep the young families interested, or make the boomers happy, we did simple Lutheran liturgy. 

Now don’t get me wrong, it was low-churchly Lutheran liturgy.  Which is to say our worship felt a bit like eating vegetables; it was good for us, but no one really liked it. Or at least we acted like we didn’t like it.

Our worship was billed as being everything from “Bach to Rock,” but the liturgy was more of a timeless aspect of our worship. As a kid and then teen, I could feel the prayers, the liturgical songs, the actions of standing, sitting, praying, responding, receiving were starting to ingrain themselves in my very body. I remember myself starting to set the hymnbook down more and more. I would simply pray or sing or respond. The phrases like “And also with you” or “Thanks be to God” or “Amen” started to come naturally and unbidden.

Interestingly, our low church Lutheran liturgy, that felt like eating vegetables, connected our whole congregation much more deeply than any of the things that we did to attract different generations. Weirdly, we all liked it. We all shared in it. In fact, we came to the same worship service because of it. Liturgy doesn’t distinguish between generations. It’s kind of like how I don’t play Xbox with my grandma, and she doesn’t knit with me. But we both know how to sit down and share a family meal.

Liturgy ties us together, rather than emphasizing our personal or generational experiences. Liturgy is timeless and when we can get past whether we like the tunes or instruments playing them or not, we can realize that these things we do, and repeat together, are biblical, rooted in the ancient Church and are about God. In fact, liturgy at its best makes us forget it is liturgy and instead helps us see God in out midst.

In a recent blog post, Rachel Held Evans, who is an Evangelical trying out Episcopalian worship, writes:

I am folding laundry, its starched, orderly scent a sort of incense, as the hymn rises to my lips. 

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory…”

I can’t remember the rest of the words exactly, and the tune meanders a bit, so I improvise, prompting Dan to shout from the other room, “Hon?  You okay? You crying about something?” which happens just about every time I burst into spontaneous song because, apparently, my version of a joyful noise remains indistinguishable from a sob.

Still, I sing on.

“….For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are da da da da la la la la.” 

It is a season of new songs.

(Read the rest here…)

Like me, she is a millennial and a Christian (if you haven’t discovered her blog, you are probably living under a rock). If the two of us were to sit down for coffee, I would tell her that this will only get worse (or better). Way worse.

When you become a liturgy person, all those familiar texts like the Gloria (which is what Rachel was singing) start to come to your mind like the baseball stats that so many dads seem to know – they come automatically. Worship starts to take on a rhythm and pattern that you can’t escape. You will eventually find that worship is something where you always know what is going to happen next, or that your body knows what to do next. The things that change start to rise to the surface and catch your attention. After the familiar Kyrie and Gloria, which are the same week after week, the collect and scripture readings, which change each week, stand out. Liturgy helps you to identify the new and changing things of worship, by keeping you grounded with the constants.

And still, it gets worse. When you are a liturgy person, you can show up for Anglican, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic or Lutheran worship and generally know what is going on. You might even find yourself singing songs you have never sung before because you already know the words.

In my development as a liturgy person, my low-church, eating-our-vegetables, experience of liturgy as a child and teen morphed and grew into something more as I went to university and then to seminary. As I learned more and more about the meaning and history of the symbols, I fell in love with the richness of it all. I became high-church. I became a liturgy nerd.

And I am going to make a bold claim because of this.

Liturgy can engage the young people.

I am not saying that non-liturgical worship is wrong, or won’t “attract” millennials. In fact, I know many of my generational cohort who have abandoned liturgy for praise bands. But like Rachel Held Evans shows, some are coming the other way. Contemporary worship is not something I am looking to critique, but rather I am suggesting that all those criticisms of liturgical worship is simply unfounded.

I am a millennial and I am drawn to tradition, to wrote prayers, to words passed on to me from generations before. The symbols and ritual actions point to God in ways that nothing else has in my experience, not sunsets or Christian radio, not preachers with graphic T-shirts and 45 minute sermons. I don’t think I am alone. I am not saying that every millennial wants what I want. Liturgy is what it is, it doesn’t really sell itself. And I think many of my generation are not interested in being sold faith.

So to my liturgically minded brothers and sisters in faith: Let’s stop worrying about being something we are not. Let’s not try to be contemporary like the Baptists down the street while still somehow still being us. And for heaven’s sake, lets not do liturgy like it is eating vegetables. Let’s see liturgy as the beautiful meal of diversity and rich flavours that it can be.

We will never be the mega-church contemporary worship that we think all the millennials have left for. And the narrative that we need to be that to “attract” the young people only shows them that we have an identity crisis, and that what we are, is not worthy of our youth. I am sure many millennials find that off-putting… I do, and I am a pastor in a denomination with an identity crisis.

Instead, let’s be what we are. Let’s use the tools that we know how to use. Let’s preach the Gospel and point to God at work in our world with the liturgy we have been given.

And remember, as surprising as it may be to hear that one millennial is a high church liturgy nerd… it might be even more surprising that there are a lot more out there.


Are you a liturgy nerd? Do you think liturgy can engage millennials? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

As usual, thanks to my wife, Courtenay for her edits and insight. Follow her at @ReedmanParker on Twitter.

PS

If you like what you read on The Millennial Pastor, you can vote for this blog on Christian Piatt’s list of top 25 Christian Blogs of 2014. You might have to scroll down the list a bit, but as of this post, I am in the top 50.

Why Pastors Suck at Self-Care

Shoddy self-care seems to be an epidemic among pastors these days.

Almost as often as I meet with professional ministry colleagues, I have conversations about how difficult it is to take time off and to regularly practice self-care. Pastors bemoan the fact that we cannot seem to find time away from the parish. Working on days off is the norm instead of the exception. Forty hour work weeks are fanciful ideas, whereas 50 hours is considered a slow week. Families that never see a pastor spouse /parent is the common narrative among pastors’ families.

Somewhere along the way in Christianity – mainline, conservative, evangelical, liberal, orthodox – it has become acceptable to expect that pastors will drop everything, including sleeping or eating, to be at the beck and call of their congregations God.

I have been asked what seminaries teach now about self-care, having only graduated 5 years ago. Self-care was one of most common mantras of my seminary education, and it seems obvious to me that you can’t really care for others, or fulfill your vocation with integrity, if you are a burned out wreck… yet so many pastors obviously feel the opposite.

For so many professional ministers, a well rested, healthy pastor is a pastor failing at ministry. The Duke Clergy Health Initiative study on self-care among pastors, suggests that many ministers think self-care is selfish. My colleagues have told me that there was a day in seminary education when the message to students was that being a pastor meant giving your life to Jesus (or in other words, to your congregation 24/7). There is no room for self-care in ministry.

I have three things to say to that idea.

  1. What??!?
  2. Wait… what??!!?
  3. Bullshit.

Given our propensity for being bad at self-care, I think it behooves pastors to reflect on just why so many of us think that well-rested, healthy pastors are failing at ministry.

Of course, I have a few ideas about this:

Being crazy busy is the social norm.

The clergy is by no means the only profession where people are expected to over-work and over-function. Being crazy busy is a badge of honour in our culture. Bragging about the lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of leisure is just part of everyday conversation. Busy is normal, burnout nearly expected.

Working for Jesus lets us put our families and ourselves second.

While being busy is a cultural norm, there is the counter-narrative out there that putting family and a personal life ahead of work is important. But working for God is a holy calling, and so if the property committee schedules a meeting at 7am on our day off, Jesus will be mad if we don’t show up. Right?

Many pastors think our vocational goal is to care for everyone.

credit: http://salesjournal.com/2014/06/06/the-tyranny-of-the-urgent/

I think a lot of pastors and congregations see the primary job of  pastors to be care givers. Like a nurse or counsellor, we often see ourselves as someone whose job it is to help people feel better or feel good. Most care-givers go home at the end of a shift and are no longer on call, but many pastors feel responsible for their communities 24/7.  Often we see this to mean jumping at the drop of a hat to address a parishioner’s need, whether truly urgent or not. Life and death is urgent. Gossip, scheduling issues, complaints or other mundane things are not. The care that we offer as pastors is not the end in itself, but rather a tool to help our people see God in their lives.

Trying to prove our worth to our congregations

A lot of what pastors do is hard to quantitatively measure. Sermons are not measured by their word count. Bible studies are not measured by verses studied. But pastoral presence can be measured and tracked. I think many of us know that our jobs are provided for based on the generosity of others. Being omni-present and available is a way to justify our worth. Working 60 hours a week makes us believe that the church can’t survive without us. And being omni-present in order to justify our worth means those hard to quantify duties suffer, like planning worship, preparing sermons (including down time for creativity to seep in) and teaching the bible with intention and purpose.

Congregations fall in to cycles of consuming faith

We consume everything in our society. Church and pastors are just another thing to consume. Worship has become entertainment. The Bible is information to bolster our already established world views. Pastoral care is just another service we receive. No wonder pastors burnout if they are being consumed by those they serve.

Being a quivering mass of availability precludes other transformational work

It is impossible to be available 24/7, yet many pastors try. When pastors try to be present for every meeting, every event, every person in need, every time the church door needs to be unlocked, we are over-functioning for the community we serve. But being-omni present also means that consideration about what it means to be a community that cares for each other is lost too. Taking on all the responsibility to care for each member of the community means that care for the community as a whole is missed. It also absolves people of sharing in the caring work. Caring for each member is draining work, but caring for a community as a whole and its behavioural systems is also hard work. It is nearly impossible to do the whole community work when a pastor is emotionally drained on caring for individuals.

Pastors have become something between a paid friend and counselling professional.

Sometime in the 1960s, as Clinical Pastoral Education and counselling began to enter into ministry, pastors moved from being community leaders, teachers, prophets, moral authorities, to travelling visitors and caregivers, who also provided free quasi-professional counselling. There is nothing that will suck your time away like having to add “being a friend / providing free on call counselling for anywhere from 100 to 1000 people” to your job description, not to mention keeping up with all the other duties of a pastor. As the role of pastor shifts and changes, like the moral authority aspect of the role that has been largely dropped, so to will the paid friend aspect have to go.

Pastors find their roles hard to define.

Another result from the Duke Clergy Health Initiative was that pastors often feel like congregational members don’t understand the breadth of clergy duties. Many feel like parishioners only see the one hour of work on Sundays. While this may be true of parishioners, I think that clergy are also guilty of not understanding the breadth of our own duties.

Poor self-care is ultimately a problem of priorities. I suspect that, with so much to do in most parishes, and all the reasons I stated above, pastors have a hard time prioritizing. And this is because priorities mean disappointing someone, because not all duties are equal and not all issues need the same attention. When everything becomes urgent, keeping everyone happy and cared for is the goal. Time off, family time and self-care are bumped to the bottom of the list.

But when pastors take the time to ask themselves, what are the most important things for me to do each week and what can be left undone, the tyranny of the urgent and the need to be busy, busy, busy melts away. All of sudden that property committee at 7AM on a day off is not more important than sleep. Those late night emails can wait until office hours. The time to care for those in crisis ceases to be immediate, and instead becomes when time allows. Writing and preaching half-decent sermons, instead of Saturday night specials becomes a weekly occurrence. Leading worship like you know what is happening before it happens becomes the norm.

And most importantly, care for the whole community instead of the collection of individuals becomes important.  Pastors can teach people how to care for each other, how to participate in community instead of consuming church, how to become disciples rather than passive observers of church.

Self-care is not just an issue of burning out pastors. Reducing the work load or adding more members to the pastoral team aren’t solutions. Prioritizing ministry is the only way to really practice self-care. This means taking a deep look at what ministry is all about. What is a pastor really called to do and be?

And in the end, practicing self-care means preparing yourself to disappoint those who expect your omni-presence. They might not like it to begin with, but they will eventually they will begin to appreciate it as we become better pastors by doing what is important instead of doing everything.


What obstacles stand in the way of your self-care? How can congregations and colleagues support over worked, burring out pastors? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

And thanks to my wife, Courtenay for her insights and editorial support. Look for a post from her about self-care, coming soon. Follow her on Twitter @ReedmanParker

Cover photo credit: http://um-insight.net/blogs/dan-r-dick/too-busy-to-learn/

Christian Self-Sacrifice: Your Pastor is doing it wrong.

washing_feet_01Christians are called to self sacrifice and to give of themselves, their time, talents, energy, finances, commitment and heart to churches and other ministries.

As Pastors, we are called upon to be the ones who lead the way, who exhort our people to give and to model a self-giving, self-sacrificing lifestyle. What this ends up looking is like is pastors working 60-70 hours a week, trying to get to every meeting, trying to make every visit, preach the perfect sermon, lead the best bible studies and have office hours for drop in visits… not to mention counselling appointments, sweeping up the kitchen after youth and taking that extra half hour to deal with parking lot concern in the “meeting after the meeting”.

And I regularly hear the statement, “How can I ask my people to give if I am not leading the way”.

This style of ministry is very well intentioned. But it is utterly wrong headed and counter productive. Yes… I know that my colleagues and friends might disagree.

So let me start by making a confession:

I can count on one hand the number of weeks I have worked more than 40 hours in nearly 5 years in the parish.

I have lost count of the number of 35 hour weeks I have worked in the same period.

And guess what, not a single parishioner has ever asked about my hours. In fact most assume I am very busy (which I never say that I am), and most are very surprised when I can make time for them.

A part of this is that I am a fast writer. I can write sermons, reports, newsletter articles, blog posts in just a few minutes or short hours. I also very rarely have writers block. Now I know this might give me a good 5-15 hour a week head start on many of my colleagues. But now that I am done humble bragging, I think there is a much more important issue in regards to those other 20 hours that so many pastors are working over 40. And that issue is feelings.

Yup, feelings.

As pastors we encourage our members to give of themselves for many reasons. Because the hungry need to be fed, committees need members, Sunday school students need teachers, choirs need singers, sick and lonely people need visits, buildings need maintenance, etc…

But we also know that giving of ourselves is a very important part of our relationship with God and with our community. It feels good. And not in the self satisfying way, but in the soul- transforming-I-genuinely-know-the-other-and-God kind of way. So we encourage our people to give of themselves because we know that self-sacrifice is part of that soul changing work. 0511-1009-1319-0462_Black_and_White_Cartoon_of_a_Stressed_Out_Guy_with_the_Word_Overload_clipart_image

And because we know this as pastors, we often get ourselves into way too much of it and suddenly we are working 70 hours a week in a not so soul transforming way. I think there a few reasons for this:

  1. Pastors have hard time defining what our work is.
  2. It is an easy way to feel good when you are constantly on the front line of ministry.
  3. It feels really good to feel needed, and it is an easy way to be appreciated when we are praised for our busy-ness.
  4. Being busy is measure of value, specifically justification for our salaries.
  5. Many pastors lack the confidence to believe that our training gives us skills and knowledge that our people need. It just isn’t as evident to us as it is to doctors or lawyers or teachers who know very well that the people they work with need their expertise.

So here is the thing. We know that self-sacrifice and giving of ourselves feels good, and it is an easy way to justify our jobs.

But that stuff is in fact what we have been called out of and set apart from as those who fill the “office” of ministry in our congregations.

I went to a retirement party for a much beloved pastor. There were hundreds of people there, people from across the country. There were skits, songs, speeches, videos and many, many tears. And all night long there was this awkwardness because it was clear this pastor had sacrificed his family life… even brought home work for his family to do… The pastor’s family even gave speeches themselves saying their husband and father was never home and always working… but it was for Jesus.

I have heard colleagues tell me that their spouses won’t commit them to anything, or even tell them about kid’s concerts, sporting events or family functions because they know their pastor spouse will be absent.

This is more the sad norm than the exception.

Being a pastor changes the way we get to do that soul-changing work. We are set-apart from the normal stuff that everyone else gets to do and it is really hard, especially when you consider that most pastors were sent to seminary because they love and were good at that the stuff we call and exhort our parishioners to do. It is hard because the self-giving stuff that we encourage our people to do is above and beyond the 40+ hours they spend at their work, and we should be there too. It is hard because it is a powerful example to be leading the way in self-giving and sacrifice.

However, it always ends up messy. It is so easy for congregations to begin expecting 70 hour weeks, rather than seeing that those 30 hours as “extra”. Thom Rainer conducted an experiment to see what his council of deacons (or church council) expected him to be doing and how many hours a week he should spend doing it. The result, a 114 hour work week. And this was what the informed leadership expected of the pastor.

What begins as well intentioned modelling of self-sacrifice, morphs into congregations paying the pastor (and staff) to do most of the ministry of the laity or congregation. And a lot of my colleagues express this frustration, but don’t know any other way of doing things.

The answer is simple. The execution is hard. Stop giving 30+ hours of extra, dare I even say, “lay ministry” to your church.

This is extra hard for most pastors because leading the way in giving time and energy to the church is where that calling to ministry first grew.

This is what I know: My most important jobs are first and foremost Preaching the gospel and Presiding at worship. Doing those things with integrity takes 40% to 50% of my time. The rest is devoted to teaching, visiting the sick and dying, preparing people for baptism, marriage and funerals for another 20% to 30% and the last 20-30% is devoted to visioning, planing, getting everyone on the same page of mission and purpose.

What does that last piece look like? It is helping people to understand that the highest value and goal of being a church is to be a good worshipping community. A community that loves, respects and cares for each other, and a community that gathers and is formed first and foremost in worship.   When a congregation’s purpose is to be a good community formed in worship, the responsibility of the leaders becomes to name the destination and point the way. And it stops being getting all the jobs done… which is the goal of a church that is paying it’s pastor for 70 hours a week of ministry.