Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is it time to give up the Swiss Army?


This is my Swiss Army knife. I have carried it since college (over 20 years). It is in my pocket almost every day. If it isn't, I probably switched jeans/shorts in a hurry.

It isn't a fancy one. It has a couple of blades, a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of small pliers, and a punch. I carry it because of MacGyver. I loved that show. But I also carry it because it offers me tools to use in a pinch. I love my Swiss Army knife. But I wonder if it is time to retire it?

I would really like to have a Leatherman. In fact, I really want one of these:
I like it because it has more tools. The pliers are a little stronger. There are more blade varieties. The screwdriver has interchangeable bits to fit different sizes. It seems like it has more tools and better tools. It would be nice to have a multi-tool that can do everything I need it to. So I wonder if it is time to give up the Swiss Army to better serve my needs.

Swiss Army Pastor

As I wonder that, I am sitting at the computer in the church office. It is the time of year when Oklahoma United Methodists fill out the annual reports that are needed for our annual organizing Charge Conference. I am sitting here frustrated out of my mind over the time it takes to fill these out every year (many times without changing that many details). I am sitting here frustrated out of my mind over the lack of detailed information that I have available to fill them out. I am sitting here frustrated out of my mind because I am not a person gifted in administration or clerical order. I am sitting here with my back to my office desk because the clutter and disorganization of it emphasizes that last point.

And I wonder..... is it time to give up the idea of a Swiss Army pastor.

Churches love the idea of a Swiss Army pastor. The Conference staff loves the idea of a Swiss Army pastor. District Superintendents love the idea of a Swiss Army pastor. Even the Book of Discipline for the United Methodist Church loves the idea of a Swiss Army pastor.

By a Swiss Army pastor, I mean a person who can:
  • preach meaningful sermons every Sunday,
  • lead in depth Bible study,
  • lead engaging meetings,
  • fill out paperwork,
  • travel to multiple hospitals or care facilities to provide a caring presence,
  • go to the homes of the members and listen to their worries,
  • attend to Conference standards of continuing education and meetings that call for the loss of office time,
  • raise the funds necessary to provide for the financial needs of the functioning of the congregation,
  • be the visionary missional leader in the local context,
  • deal with the requests for financial aid or utility assistance or travel interruptions like running out of gas for people who don't attend the church but live in the community (or maybe don't),
  • reach every age group, every social group, every type of person living in the community in relevant/relatable ways,
  • attend all of the social functions in a community,
  • be emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy at all times,
  • be available at all times for those who aren't emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy,
  • be able to bring non-church going people into the church;
  • be able to keep church going people from leaving the church;
  • be available for every ministry function the church is doing;
  • and on, and on, and on.
One day I was reading the spiritual gifts lists in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 12, it states very clearly that everyone in the body has gifts. No one person has all of the gifts is the implication. It takes a collaborative effort to really make a church body move. But I consider the model of ministry that many denominations, congregations, and churches employ, and it is not biblical.

A pastor has a set number of gifts supplied by the Holy Spirit, just the same as anyone else in a body of believers. Those gifts will equip a pastor to serve in some capacity well. But the limited supply of those gifts means that the pastor is NOT equipped to do other things well.

In churches across the country, pastors are relied upon to carry the burden of a congregation in areas they are not equipped well to do. And I don't mean trained. I mean that the Holy Spirit has enabled them to do those things. Training for those areas are always available. But just because you train in an area, it doesn't mean it will be done well.

There is a common lament that pastors utter soon after entering the ministry. "I didn't learn to do that in seminary." Pastors step into their function in a local church and realize that there is a learning curve. And sometimes that curve is quite steep. The idealism of being the visionary, the shepherd, the proclaimer, is quickly diminished by the clerical, the janitorial, the demoralized.

I have been a pastor for 17 years. I have served in 11 ministry settings. And in all of those settings, in all of these years, I have rarely been noticed for my gifts. I get the usual "Good sermon, Preacher" or "Wow, you really made me think". And those are important to me. Preaching and teaching are gifts I have in a fair amount. But those aren't enough. When evaluations happen, I am evaluated on all of the tools that I am supposed to possess. Regardless of strength or ability or giftedness.

Maybe I didn't understand what I was getting into when I entered the ministry. Maybe I am still an idealist who is having a rough day because of paperwork. Maybe I ought to just suck it up, do my job, and get over myself.

But how many good pastors have we lost because they didn't have enough tools to be a good enough Swiss Army knife?
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