Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Few Words on Pastor Appreciation Month

October, in addition to being the home of Halloween, Columbus/Indigenous Peoples Day, and playoff baseball, is also Pastor Appreciation Month (not to be confused with Buy A Priest A Beer Day, which (a) is a real thing and (b) takes place in September).

Often, such articles and posts that make note of Pastor Appreciation Month do so from the perspective of how many hours pastors work. Sure, the running gag may be that we only work one hour a week, but because ministry is not a 9-to-5, punch-the-clock sort of gig, our work hours can vacillate wildly from week to week, and for almost every full-time pastor I know, 40 hours a week is the floor, not the ceiling, of the time they put in.

What gets lost in that analysis, though, important though it may be, is the qualitative toll of the hours we work, not just the quantitative toll. Yes, I give up a couple of evenings a week with my wife for job-related responsibilities. Yes, I have meals interrupted from time to time. But the fact that I make those sacrifices isn't what takes the most out of me, it really isn't.

Put a different way: taking an hour or two late at night to work on the week's sermon isn't such a big deal, really. Sometimes that is when the Spirit, tardy soul it sometimes is, chooses to strike, and I end up constructing a huge chunk of that week's message all in one go.

So it's really not the stuff that is actually written in my job description that takes such a toll--my need for the occasional sacramental Sunday nap aside. No, it's often what is not in the written job description--but that is still very much part and parcel of doing ministry--that is what wears a pastor down.

It is the anonymous comment--either in written or secondhand form--telling us that we are doing a crappy job (often because we are trying to change something that needs changing, or because we actually dared to be slightly prophetic from the pulpit or on social media) that wears us down.

It is the sheer ease with which churches enable molehills to become mountains and tempests to move from teapots to total eclipses that wears us down.

It is the deeply-held idolatry (and I use that word quite purposely) that surrounds the mentality of "well, this is the way we have always done things" when it comes to young adults and new members bringing a breath of fresh air to a static, ossified religion that wears us down.

It is the variability of our job descriptions: the fact that we are expected to keep office hours every day while also being out in the community, the fact that are expected to rigorously prepare every sermon while also being on-call for even the slightest thing, that wears us down.

None of those factors have anything to do with the length of hours we work, but they do have everything to do with the emotional nature of those hours.

They have everything to do with why we may lose sleep at night over our work in ways that many--not all, but many--other professions might not.

And if you've noticed--all of those factors I described are relational. Our greatest wounds tend not to be self-inflicted--although they absolutely can be (like the disproportionate lack of self-care among clergy). No, our greatest wounds often come from relational sins and peccadillos like pettiness, gossip, passive-aggresiveness, and the like--all of which we are fully capable of as well, but that we exhort others to avoid precisely because we know just how capable we are of being tempted by such painful indulgences.

The book I'm using for my current sermon series, Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer, takes as its underlying premise the notion that only from a place of woundedness can we in fact heal the wounds of others. It is a concept that I that I have grown to appreciate...and after all, it was through the wounds inflicted upon Jesus--and, more importantly, the subsequent resurrection that transcended those wounds--that we began to be redeemed.

So for Pastor Appreciation Month (or what remains of it) this year, please do not celebrate or appreciate your pastor--whether me or another minister--as a pure, porcelain statue or plaything. Instead, appreciate us for the scars that we bear and the wounds that we share as a result of our own brushes with the darkness. It is our understanding of how to strive against sin and injustice that makes us pastors, not our ignorance of--or obliviousness to--those very things.

That soul-sized work may leave marks. But it also creates new life. And that, regardless of the month, is most certainly worth appreciating.

Longview, Washington
October 27, 2016

Image courtesy of Cartoon Stock

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