Friday, September 23, 2011

Shiny, happy, clergy people: my story

Even though the pay tends to be low and the hours tend to be long, pastors topped the list of having the happiest jobs in the country. Pastors in my colleague circles strutted around like peacocks for a few days. The feathers went into hiding as quickly as they came out, lest they appear too proud. For pastors, it's this odd combination of fear of sinful pride, Murphy's law, tempting fait, superstition and for some Lutherans, Scandinavian influence.

Am I happy as a pastor? Am I a shiny, happy clergy person (had to give recognition to the end of a musical era for me)?

Well, it depends. I've judged a lot of my life based on how I feel when I get up in the morning. I generally like what each day brings. A mentor of mine used to tell his congregations, "if I'm not at least 75 percent happy in my work, I'm going to resign. Just so you know." He realized that a 25 percent crap load seemed reasonable, and came with the territory. More of a crap load wasn't worth it, no matter what the pay. The man had had cancer, and wasn't going to sacrifice joy for work at that stage in his life. I haven't expilicity embraced that axiom as a pastor, but implicitly, that principle is influential in how I look at vocation.

I started a PhD program about 10 years ago, and dropped out after 3 years. I started because I loved learning, and had become adept at collecting degrees and certificates, so it seemed to be the next logical step.  I also found that I have a love for minutae in a variety of topics, especially sociology and geography. I stopped that trend of degree collecting because the return on investiment looked skewed. The decision wasn't merely about return on investment, but also the opportunity cost of the degree at the time. I also started the program because I had some unnamed concerns about being part of a church factory (more on that below).

Today my 4 year old daughter asked me, "Daddy, do you not go to school anymore? Are you all done?" I told her that I'm not going to school right now (I like to keep some options open), but that it's always important to learn. I strive to learn each day.

This learning variable for me is the key to joy in my life. Even though a pastor's life is in principal about learning and faith, it doesn't always turn out that way. On several occasions, I have been a part of what could be seen as a church factory. The goal of the church factory is to have a lot of meetings, meetings to plan more meetings, or lament that the church isn't having the right kind of or enough meetings, or insufficient meeting attendance. The church factory is often more about familiarity and status than God or Chrisitan discipleship. So I gave up the factory and the security of it so I could learn, build (physically and relationally) and create--some of the building blocks of creating a movement in the name of Christ. I have time to learn, something I struggled to do when living and working in the church factory. The church I serve has little status or financial security, but space to learn and create with passionate people.

The short answer to the happy clergy person question is yes, I am a happy clergy person. I have space to create, build, learn and connect. I know that this equation is tenuous, because I know clergy who are not happy, for a variety of reasons, and situations can change. But my 4-year old daughter's question reminded me where I find my joy. Thanks, Ashling.

Post script: I should add that in my experience, a church factory isn't related to size of the church. A church factory could be a small, medium or large church. Factory is a function of attitude.

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