Thursday, March 3, 2016

Comfort Zones

Church is a comfort zone for us, even though it probably shouldn't be.

We walk in, saunter over to our usual pew (unless there is someone sitting in it, in which case, we are sadly not above confronting them with the refrain all of us have heard at least once: "You're in my pew"), and say hello to all of our usual people.

We sing the same songs we have sung for years, maybe for decades.  We hear a sermon that we truthfully have probably heard dozens of times, just said a little bit differently than before.

Everything is the same.  Church culture is a culture of sameness, not of difference-making.

We like it that way.  And by "we," I don't just mean Christians.

You thought I did, didn't you?  What I described may have been your exact church experience.

No, I mean us pastors as well.

We are taught and programmed a particular way.  At seminary, I was taught to be a teacher, a preacher, and a counselor.  I was not taught to be an administrator, or a building superintendent, or an exorcist of cranky old office equipment.

But those latter things are what, especially as a solo pastor, occupy a significant amount of my time.

And I struggle to be grateful for that.  I really do.  I want my vocation to hit all of my strengths, all of my comfort zones: teaching Bible studies, leading worship, proclaiming the Word, hospital visitations, and the like.

Let it be said, at this point, that we ought to be ministering in places that match our strengths.  My pastoral care skills are not developed enough to be a hospital chaplain (thanks, Clinical Pastoral Education...) and my organizing skills are nonexistent even on a good day, so nonprofit community work is mostly out.  I am a parish pastor through and through.

But my comfort zone as a parish pastor is as a particular sort of parish pastor: one whose primary tool of the trade is words--the Word, in fact (forget Donald Trump, I have the best words!).  You want a pastor who loves interpretive dance?  I ain't your Huckleberry.  A pastor who can lead hymn singing?  LOL, I can barely lead my own shower singing.

Pastors--or some part of us--may want to be all things to all people; such is our latent desire for the world to hang on the valuable and profound truths we think we have stumbled haphazardly upon.  But we're pastors for a particular people, and hopefully that people is our people.

In other words, hopefully we are ministering to whom we need to be ministering to.

But that does not keep us from inhabiting our own comfort zones.  Because sometimes, that comfort zone is who we minister to: our current church membership rather than our future church membership.  Our well-to-do citizens rather than the single parent with three kids whose power is being shut off at 5:00 pm.  The person we know well and feel safe with rather than the homeless stranger who may be actively high when they come to our door.

Or, in my case, my devoted board of directors, to whom I must report how I have been administrating their--our--congregation.  Spare a thought for these saints with the patience of Job for dealing with a pastor whose own workplace habits are seldom orderly or even sensical (I told you, I put that paper you were looking for somehere!  It'll turn up, I'm sure!).

By God's grace, I have had to grow out of my comfort zone that had been easily established in seminary.  I have had to be more than simply the pastor whose gifts God created and subsequently put to work in ministry, I have had to be the pastor whose gifts God did emphatically not create but still, in spite of those lacks and wants, put to work in ministry.

There is a great deal of goodness in learning my own limitations as a pastor in their first call.  A great deal of growing pain as well.  But goodness.

Because my church is pushing me outside of my comfort zones.

And that is exactly what my church, and any church, is supposed to do.

Longview, Washington
March 3, 2016

1 comment:

  1. Terrific post. And one that resonates with many people in many occupations who feel "called" to their work but also bewildered by the demands of some of it.