In seminary, I was motivated by teachers, leaders, and pastors who took seriously the task of the theological and the practical. It was indelibly impressed on me that this was the material substance of the pastoral vocation.
Fifteen years later, I am in my sixth and final year as an elected member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. It’s one of the six agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and is focused on world mission, congregations and ministries, and justice, among other things.
It’s been a full and busy time: I’ve worked at two churches, had three children of my own, and lived in four houses. And I finally understand a little bit about the ins and outs of such a large, complex organization as the national center.
What I’ve learned from this mix of pastoral and institutional experience is that the vocation and work of the pastor is changing. Now, this is nothing that hasn’t already been talked about and debated, explored and analyzed, criticized and bemoaned by so many today–including the inspirational thinker from my college days, Eugene Peterson.
So when I saw a tweet with a quote from Peterson that said, “The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans,” it gave me pause. It seemed negative and judgmental.
Who is he speaking to, and about? And why should pastors have to choose between good management and ministry?
I don’t share Peterson’s disdain for the entrepreneurial–even businesslike–aspect of ministry. In my experience, pastors today are creative, compassionate and enterprising. They center their communities around the marginalized, investing in food programs, art classes, and interfaith projects. They have coffee houses, food trucks, yoga classes and co-working spaces–all the while remaining anchored in their faith traditions.
I’d say we need more entrepreneurialism, not less. What I continue to see is the increasing necessity for pastors to have–for lack of better language–savvy. Seminaries usually don’t teach about complex organizations and effective administration, and yet when many pastors begin ministry, they are expected to know how to run and moderate meetings and manage a budget and staff.
We leave seminary with an understanding of a theology of stewardship, but how do we translate that into income-and-expense sheets? Look at any Ministry Information Form–the PCUSA profile form for churches with clergy openings–and the job description for a solo or senior pastor will invariably include the following duties: moderate meetings, provide vision and leadership, manage long-range planning, develop strategic plans for membership growth.
This sounds very businesslike. I wonder whether some clergy burnout is exacerbated by struggling to do ministry without these skills. For many newly ordained clergy, there is the sense of scrambling to learn practical management, and a trial-and-error approach to leadership.
Thankfully, through digital technology and social media, struggling pastors can crowdsource questions and tap into the wider collective. But why should they have to? All these skills can be taught.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Church Law & Tax