Friday, October 18, 2013

The Big Lie About Having an Office

My parents will tell you, my sister will tell you, my fiancĂ©e will tell you: I don’t march well to the beat of another drummer (actually, my high school band director, Mr. Adams, could probably tell you that too.  But I digress).  I also don’t really march well to my own beat.  I’m big, clumsy, and occasionally oblivious.  If I have a drummer I march to, it is probably a demented, sleep-deprived infant who is banging things at random with its tiny little infant fists.

All of that is to say this: I sometimes struggle with the expectations other people put upon me.  Not because I can’t live up to them—although sometimes that’s true—but because I won’t, because those expectations are, to be honest, soul-deadening.

Expectations like the belief that I must marry and have kids before becoming anyone’s senior pastor (yes, I’ve had that told to me).  Expectations like the advice that I take voice lessons to help my self-taught singing voice because “churches expect their pastors to be able to sing’ (yes, I’ve had that told to me, too).  And it’s something that certainly isn’t limited to me, it’s something that affects a lot of pastors.

I’m talking about the expectation of us always being in our office (you know, in addition to being out in the community performing outreach, out in the hospitals and nursing homes doing visitations, and out in the homes of our congregants).  If we aren’t in our office, we must not be doing real, actual, bona fide work.  So when my advertised office hours add up to only 16 hours per week (all day Mondays and most Thursdays, in case you’re wondering), and people ask me, in true Office Space fashion, “what it is you do here,” part of me just wants to run from this conversation screaming.

Here’s the thing you may not know about your pastor…and I’m not saying this is true for all pastors, but if for no other reason than gut feeling, I’m willing to bet it’s the case for a lot of us: we don’t actually like sitting in our offices.  Yes, it is important for us to be accessible to you, our congregants.  Yes, it is important for us to be doing the business of the parish.  But in an age of smartphones and wifi everywhere, the traditional office is rapidly going the way of the dodo.

And if I’m honest, good riddance.  I have never been good at holding a 9-to-5 schedule.  The few times I have done so in ministry (like for my chaplaincy internship in San Francisco), I was miserable.  I was commuting 40 minutes a day on a train—and then in a van shuttle—surrounded by wan, sallow cubicle monkeys who went about their commutes in the most robotic possible way.  And I’d go to my internship, where I would have to log every single minute of my workday, and I would continue to be miserable, and I would commute back across the bay with the same wan, sallow, miserable cubicle monkeys/Office Space extras.

It sucked.

I have always been at my best at two different times of the day: early in the morning, right after I have had my coffee, and early in the evening, when I usually get a second wind around five o’clock after having a snack or a brisk walk around the block.  The middle of the afternoon?  I am worse than useless.  I’m the tired, motley jackass in those 5-hour-energy commercials who is shuffling back to the coffeepot every hour.  I’m the person for whom siestas exist in the Spanish-influenced parts of the world.

But, because the mirage of the office must be maintained, I, and many other pastors, set up shop even when we aren’t at our best.  We therefore aren’t especially productive, and our work then bleeds over into the evening hours…which for me is when I am, actually, more productive, but it is still an inefficient way to go about my ministry.  It certainly does neither me or my congregation any favors, and I can’t imagine it thrills God either, for one additional reason:

It doesn’t get me outside of the Disciples orbit all THAT often.

If we—and I’m including myself here—are called to be the light of the world, salt of the earth, city on a hill, and so on, then it doesn’t do me or anyone else a whole lot of good to only interact with the exact same people week after week.  If I’m to grow as a Christian—and if, God willing, I am to help others grow as well—getting outside of my usual circles every now and again is important (for a far more eloquent take on this exact issue, I highly recommend Dan Kimball’s book “They Like Jesus, But Not the Church,” which I did a sermon series on a year ago).

So, really, I’d like to see us in the Church (big ‘c,’ universal church) move away from another paradigm that perhaps is a tad outmoded, and certainly is not always geared for efficiency…the paradigm of office work.  It is a lie that a pastor must have an office.  Yes, it is NICE that I have one—it does make a significant portion of my work much, much easier.

But my calling is no more tied to my office than Christianity is tied to any one church’s sanctuary.  It’s all global by now.

And that’s the way it needs to be if Christianity is to flourish.

Yours in Christ,

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