Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Job Anyone Can Do

Being a pastor is a lot like being a sports coach or a referee.  I've been all 3.  I’m not sure but that probably says something about me.

When I reffed basketball almost every dad in the stands was sure they could do better than I was doing and they offered loud, verbal suggestions confirming their expertise.  Nearly any sports game I’ve been to or watched on TV there are fans and announcers who feel competent to coach as their comments make abundantly clear.  Being a pastor is like that.  Almost everyone in the church knows what you should do, should have done, what would be better or at least not as worse.  They know what you should have said in your sermon, how you should have counselled that person and what your real motives are behind what you said, did, and/or wrote.

I am meeting people all the time who are pastors who have no theological training, have never went to a single class on pastoral care or hermeneutics, and didn't let silly things like that keep them from their calling.  “The Holy Spirit is my school!”  Words you never want to hear from your surgeon or your pilot.  But pastor, c’mon, anyone can pastor.

I've sat in board meetings where farmers, mechanics, accountants, homemakers, insurance agents, data processors and daycare workers have all critiqued my work, suggested areas of improvement, voted on and evaluated my performance over the previous year and given me books on random occasions that they thought would “help”.  My recurring fantasy was to show up at their place of employment to offer them some constructive criticism on how they could do their job better and make suggestions I clearly expected them to follow despite having no experience whatsoever in their field.

But pastoring is different.  Anyone can do it.  Everyone inherently has the knowledge base and skill set to do my job the moment they decide to follow Jesus.  Which is cool.

And then you come across a book like “Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition” and you think maybe, just maybe, your vocation is specialized and maybe, just maybe leading a church is anyone’s job but pastoring a church is quite another thing.  Oden’s unpacking of Gregory’s insights into the care of souls has been an encouraging, inspiring, challenging and affirming read.  A short book, I've been reading it slowly, savouring each page – which is not good for my assignment list but is good for my soul.

At the same time I'm reading through the prophets and the recurring theme – Jesus, yes but along with Jesus – is that the pastor/shepherds have really let the flock of God down.  Those meant to protect, feed and guide the flock have fleeced them and sold them to the wolves for a profit.  This is the other part of the pastoral picture that is intimidating.  It might be my vocation but these people belong to God – and he’s watching.  To be invited and welcomed into someone else’s life is sacred ground.  We trample all over people and fail to realize that every life is a “take off your shoes” holy place, every story is sacramental.

Perhaps we pastors are responsible for the demise of our own vocation.  Perhaps we have lowered the bar by our own behaviour, attitudes and misdeeds that we've created an atmosphere where it’s easy to believe that anyone can do this job.  At least anyone can’t do worse.

I've still got a lot to learn but this much I know, leading a church and pastoring the flock of God are not the same thing.

(NOTE: the above is a reflection that comes out of my current reading.  I am currently experiencing a supportive, encouraging, generous, patient, loving church full of leaders and work with a leadership team that has only been honoring and caring.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Unoriginal (or i Am Not Alone)

I've started my reading for my last residential module at SSU.  I will be there again for two weeks this March and after that I only have my thesis or project in order to complete my work.  Only.

The first book that I chose to start my reading with for this cycle was written in 1984.  I’ll tell you more about it another time.  This time what I want to tell you is that I've discovered all my original thoughts about ministry, my core convictions about pastoring that no one else in the world shares with me, those beliefs about and philosophy of ministry that make me the odd duck when I have conversations with other pastors – they were all written down in 1984.

To compound this revelation the inspiration for the book comes from a man who lived and died before the current calendar hit A.D. 1000.

So it turns out some of my most ‘original’ ideas that I was planning to write my thesis on have been around for just about 1550 years.

In many ways this discovery sums up my experience at SSU.  Pursuing this degree has been as much an education about me as it has been about the subjects we've covered.  First I learned how much I did not know that I thought I knew.  Or it might be more accurate to say how much I had to unlearn.  And now I am faced with how unoriginal I really am.

And I'm happy to discover this.

I can’t tell you – meaning I won’t tell you – about all the times I've been in conversations with groups of pastors and heard the song from Sesame Street playing in my head, “one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong, can you tell me which thing is not like the others …”.  In reading for the different modules I've stumbled on men and women separated by time, geography, experience, ethnicity and education who have already learned or concluded or discovered what blood, sweat and tears have led me to believe.  Don’t misunderstand me though, I'm not suggesting I'm in the majority.  Hardly.  But there’s a certain peace I have found, a quiet confirmation that I am not alone and I am not crazy – or at least I'm not crazy by myself.

I'm not that smart but this much I know, there is a way to follow Jesus and lead a church community that leans into and onto incarnation and invitation.  Others have gone there before me.  I am not alone.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Educating Brian Isn't Over Yet

How do you make decisions?  I’ve been trying to decide what comes next in my education.  Do I take a break and get my feet under me in our new church, city, home and job or do I keep rolling with the master of ministry program I am enrolled in?  Honestly, I was feeling overwhelmed at the workload ahead.

Here’s how I decided.  I spent a week decided that I would take a break.  I listened, reflected and listened some more.  I listened for God’s voice but I also listened to how that decision was landing on my own heart, mind and spirit.  Then I spent a week decided that I would keep going and do the last of my 4 modules in March.  And I listened, reflected and listened some more.

Ultimately the decision that I felt the most peace with was the decision that would take the most out of me. 

I'm taking on this next module in March and with lots of grace I’ll be able to get the work done for that and do my job and see my family as well.  This was the decision that felt settled and certain.  Not going is an easier choice but nothing about it left me feeling settled.

So now the reading list cranks up and my head gets jammed packed again and my fingers type like crazy and I move closer to completing a long term goal.

Making decisions can be hard work.  Acting on those decisions even harder. 

I’ll be posting some of my discoveries, favourite quotes and progress reports here over the next few months.  As always I only can get by with a little help from my friends.  If you’d like to contribute to Educating Brian there are details over on the side bar.  I’m deeply indebted to the kindness and generosity of all of you for caring about what I’m up to and sharing this adventure with me.