|I'm in there somewhere.|
I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today.
In celebration and gratitude, I've written a list of ten reasons it's great to be a pastor.
1) It is interesting, varied work. With a lot of different areas of semi-expertise, it's a decathlon of professions. That's especially energizing if you're a generalist, as I am. You don't get bored because there's always another interesting thing to work on. In the last week, I have crafted worship services, drafted a sermon, fundraised, counseled someone, had lunch with an intergenerational group of people, talked intensely about climate change, talked even more intensely about gun violence, helped a 3 year old color a picture, met a new member for coffee, connected a desperate person with social services, facilitated a conflict resolution, plotted how to make our church available for literacy classes, laughed with staff members, looked over architecture blueprints, designed a bible study, prayed, studied, analyzed budgets, and helped decorate a hall for a huge party.
2) The schedule. During the week, you have remarkable flexibility. True, working every weekend puts you out of sync with friends and family. That can be brutal. But the flip side is that you can pretty much shape the rhythm of the rest of the week. I haven't yet missed a child's doctor appointment or a preschool drop-off. I can squeeze in lunches with old friends and arrange appointments with the physical therapist. Yes, emergencies arise and I sometimes work late into the night or early in the morning. But who doesn't? By and large, the flexibility is a wonderful aspect of the job.
3) It's essentially creative work. Pastors get to look at the world as it is and then imagine what else is possible. You have the benefit of thousands of years of tradition to help springboard you into innovating for the future. Plus, there are all these creative people like musicians and artists and poets and quilters and filmmakers hanging around in churches. It's fun to work with them and bask in their talent. In how many professions do you get to hear gorgeous, live music every single week?
4) When the world seems awful, you have a way to channel your lament and turn it into hope. It's your job to care. You can actually say "I can't really function right now because my heart is breaking" and it's ok. And then you'll find God stepped in and made it possible to keep going. You work with a community of people who really believe in goodness and kindness and justice and God's presence. If they aren't acting that way, you get to gently remind them. And you can actually mobilize those people to create the kind of world that gives you hope in return. This is another aspect of the creativity of the work. It's liberating.
5) Reading. It's ok if I get caught in my office reading a novel. It's necessary to my work to stay on top of ideas and stories.
6) Writing. It's ok if I'm in my office writing or just sitting there thinking. It's even ok if I say "I'm going home now to write." I get to try to write meaningful, engaging things every single week and people actually pay attention. (Or they pretend well!). People I know who are authors, politicians and community organizers have pointed out how special it is to have a ready-made audience for newsletter articles, blog posts and sermons.
7) The people. People in churches are essentially goodhearted and often a little quirky. You get to know some very interesting, talented, varied humans and you get to know them well. As you get to know them, you can't help but love them. It's basically delightful to have your work be to love people. Also, turns out other pastors are a pretty great set of colleagues. Smart, engaged, and kind-hearted, my network of clergy friends would have my back in an instant. If I were ranking this list, this would be tied for #1.
8) You have a front row seat to personal transformation. You get to see people grapple with tough situations and witness God leading them through. People invite you into some of the most sacred, intense moments of their lives. You watch grief turn into tenderness, disappointment into a new path, and betrayal into renewed trust. You see people's sharp edges slowly become soft because they receive the love of God in community. You watch people grow close to Jesus and you see it making a difference. I've found it's impossible not to realize I'm being transformed too.
9) Your own faith gets stronger. It's similar to how people who work at gyms become healthier. Through bible study, prayer, worship, conversations, sermon prep, and rubbing shoulders with clergy from all sorts of faith backgrounds, you can't get lazy with your faith. My faith has changed significantly in the ten years. It's more humble and more resilient now. This is not to say there aren't days where faith is absent or long stretches of profound doubt. Of course there are. But even those times turn into strength in the end. This is the other tie for #1
10) You can trust at the end of the day, it's actually not up to you to make your work fruitful. Yes, as a pastor if you love your work and your people, you're going to have some anxiety about if you're doing well. But it is in God's hands and it is God's church. You really can sleep easy, if you've done your best, with that in mind.
That's my list! I'm sure I could find 10 more pretty easily. But I'm going to take advantage of the flexibility and get myself a cup of coffee and play with my kiddos. Deep thanks to the many many people who have made these 10 years what they are. And especially the two churches I've served: Prince of Peace, Gaithersburg and Peace, Alexandria, with a special shout out to Luther Place Memorial, Washington DC, and Bethesda in New Haven, the two churches that trained me up.