My good friend Drew Ditzel is taking a course at Columbia Seminary with Steve Hayner on “Emerging Church Models.” For a paper, he is supposed to interact with some emerging church bloggers. He chose to write about ordained ministry, role of ministers in the church emerging, etc. I think it will be a good conversation. The other bloggers involved are Jonny Baker, Josh Brown, Anthony Smith, Wess Daniels, Julie Clawson and Carol Howard Merritt. Read Drew’s intro post here first, and then read our blogs and join the conversation.
So, a few weeks ago I passed my final ordination exam: Presbyterian church polity. It was a joyous moment, but it now means that I have a lot of work to do as I’m ready to start looking for jobs. I get to start working on my PIF (Personal Information Form) – the church version of a resume – and I’m ready to start looking at CIFs (Church Information Forms). Really – it’s like online dating. Churches looking for “high-energy, creative, pastoral, good communicators who will preach well, visit elderly well and of course, have a great sense of humor.” To be honest, it’s not a process I’m looking forward to. In the past, things have always just worked out for me. And I’m really sort of hoping that something just comes up this time as well. It would be so much easier.
Last night, I was working on the last few questions on my PIF. Here are two of them:
- Please describe the characteristics of the church or organization you would like to serve, and the unique gifts, skills and experiences you would like to bring to the position.
- Please describe your leadership style.
For the first question, if I really put down characteristics that I’d really like to see in a church or organization, what will that do to me? If I say that I want a church with a sense of “flat leadership” – will they just gloss over my PIF? If I say that I hope churches will see the importance of experiential, interactive and participatory worship experiences, will they read that as someone who will be asking too much of them? At the same time, I don’t want to find myself in an uptight, traditional (“we do this because this is how we’ve always done this”) Presbyterian church – so I have to be honest about my own desires as well. So, this is how I began my answer to this question: “As I write out these characteristics, I do so knowing fully that no church is perfect. That being said, my dream church or ministry organization would be outward-looking, have a strong sense of intergenerational community, a relaxed atmosphere, a commitment to interactive and participatory worship experiences and an openness to new movements of the Spirit.”
As for the second question, I find that even more problematic. When you read through enough CIFs or Classifieds in the Presbyterian Outlook, you’ll see that many churches want highly energetic, motivated, vision-casting, passionate and purposeful leaders as pastors. They want someone to come in and “take charge.” When I worked in my church in Idaho, many viewed my pastor as the “Bible answer man.” What he said – that was the final say. I’ve also been in some churches where they don’t feel like they can start the church potluck until the pastor has prayed – there seems to be something “special” about the prayers of the pastor. How do I communicate that I don’t want anything to do with that? How do I communicate that I don’t want to be “special” – that I don’t think anything magical will happen at my ordination? What words do I use to communicate the fact that I just want to come alongside people, to walk with them on their journeys?
This past summer I worked as a chaplain in a Level 1 Trauma hospital. It was exhausting, filled with long hours, and hard on Sarah and I. But it was also an amazing experience. Whenever I reminisce about those experiences, I’m in awe of the moments that I was able to spend with people – moments that were absolutely life-changing moments for those families. Finding out that a spouse was going to die, hearing that a parent had died on the way to the hospital. These were incredible moments, and the chaplain has to be there – right with the family. More often than not, the chaplain has no words – only a presence. It’s not the chaplain’s job to have answers, to attempt to give answers, to share Bible verses – the chaplain’s job is simply to go to the depths of hell with that person – and to stay with them.
There are many metaphors for the role of the pastor in the church today. Pastor as CEO, shepherd, teacher, entrepreneur…many of which I don’t resonate with. But I wonder about pastor as chaplain. Sure, there will be some teaching opportunities as a pastor, some times where there may be some decisions that need to be made, but what if we thought about the pastor today primarily in terms of a chaplain? Of the person who will come alongside you and join you on your spiritual journey (wherever you may be)? Would it work? I’m not sure – and I think it’d be a tough sell for churches today – but it’s something that is closer to what I resonate with, than many of the other metaphors for being a pastor today.
Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church, is all about the struggles of being a pastor, and the professionalization of the ministry (you can read my review here). After she has left the pastorate in her book, she tells the story of going to a pool party, and people start throwing other people into the pool. Before no one would even think of throwing her in – she was the pastor after all. Finally – someone comes and throws her in – and this is her response:
“I never found out who my savior was, but when I broke the surface, I looked around at all of those shining people with makeup running down their cheeks, with hair plastered to their heads, and I was so happy to be one of them. If being ordained meant being set apart from them, then I did not want to be ordained anymore. I wanted to be human. I wanted to spit food and let snot run down my chin. I wanted to confess being as lost and found as anyone else without caring that my underwear showed through my wet clothes. Bobbing in that healing pool with all those other flawed beings of light, I looked around and saw them as I had never seen them before, while some of them looked at me the same way. The long wait had come to an end. I was in the water at last.” ((Barbara Brown Taylor, “Leaving Church” (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 120.))
I realize this post is a little bit stream-of-consciousness, but there are so many things that I could write about with this. I think that I too share many of Drew’s initial concerns about becoming a pastor. And I certainly agree with Barbara Brown Taylor when she writes, “if being ordained meant being set apart from them, then I did not want to be ordained anymore.” I’m not really sure where this leaves us, or more specifically, where this leaves me as I sit down to finish my PIF today. How do I communicate that I may not be your typical Presbyterian candidate looking for a job? How do I communicate that my hopes and dreams for the church in the 21st century may look very different than a Presbyterian church in the 1950s? I’m not really sure – but I do know that to some extent, I have to be honest – and I have to be myself through this PIF. And I have to hope that some church, somewhere, emerging or not, is starting to ask questions about how to do church in the world today, and they are looking for someone to walk alongside them on their journey…