Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's the Pay Off? (Part One)

Put any two clergy in a room and if they don’t start yapping about homosexuality they’ll whip out their Day Planners and fire the gun to begin the ecclesiastical pissing match.

Who’s busier? Who prayed at the most hospital beds? Who stood at the most gravesites? Who endured the longest, most pointless meeting?

That’s what clergy talk about when we get together. Sad, isn’t it? It's no wonder so many clergy are taking early retirement, gobbling down Paxil, or hitting the bottle.

My bishop has mounted a jihad against clergy burnout. He’s loosing too many clergy to other, “less stressful,” jobs. One pastor retired to sell Audis. One young pastor walked away from his parish to take an MBA. Yet another hung up his collar to tinker with muscle cars all day. Some are just grabbing their pension and running.

Clergy are leaving. Like rats on the Lusitania.

Bishop Ron is worried that if the trend continues there won’t be any pastors left to serve our churches. Especially in the rural areas. After all, there are 33 churches without pastors here in Alberta. Something needs to be done.

Part of his solution is that pastors need to take better care of themselves. Clergy need to take our day off. Take ALL our vacation. Eat right and exercise. We need to remember the Sabbath.

Problem solved , right?


I had a colleague back in Ontario who so internalized this advice that he wouldn’t respond to an emergency on his day off. “Sorry about the car accident, but it’s my day off. Grandpa will still be dead tomorrow morning, right?”

Is that what Jesus meant when he asked up to keep the Sabbath holy?

I don’t think that the issue is too many suppers away from home. I think the clergy are suffering a crisis of meaning. Many of us don’t know what we’re doing, or why.

We think that if we’re busy, then we’re needed. And if we’re needed, then we’re important. If we’re important, then our work matters to the world.

So, with deference to Bishop Ron’s injunction against clergy burn out, I think we need to look deeper at who we are and what we do we a church. We don’t have the culture’s respect like we once did.

It’s been noted that clergy don’t have the social status that they once had. Nor are we the most educated people in our parish – or town – like we were just 30 – 40 years ago.

So that might help root out those who are doing “the Lord’s work” for their own egos. But where does that leave the rest of us? Those who are labouring in God’s vineyard until
our hands are raw and faces scorched from the wind?

Bishop Mike from the east said that pastors are those who keep the embers burning, stoking the fire, feeding it occasionally. I like that. Sort of. But I’d like to chase a more challenging goal than keeping the light from blowing out. I want to see it grow.

Sometimes I wonder if we read about Jeff Immelt walking on organizational water, Steve Jobs “putting a dent in the universe,” or Gary Doer winning his third straight majority, we wonder what our payoff is.

Conversions to Jesus? Transformed lives? The opportunity to play dress-up each week?

How do we quantify our efforts?

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