The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: How Can a Pastor Have the Time to be a Good Preacher?

"... in light of this ‘new’ way of working in a knowledge field, which the ministry of the Word most definitely is, why does the modern multi-tasking pastorate seem engineered to discourage diligence, concentration, excellence, and spiritual depth?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

/The Rapidian

Rev. Ray asks, “In my last years as a pastor, I was driven to distraction by all the demands of the job. I felt pushed along from duty to duty, meeting to meeting, visit to visit, etc. I felt my work as a preacher was far below the standard I strove to attain. I left the pastorate after 33 years, and only then could I recover my joy in public worship and in preaching God's Word.

“So my question is, in light of this ‘new’ way of working in a knowledge field, which the ministry of the Word most definitely is, why does the modern multi-tasking pastorate seem engineered to discourage diligence, concentration, excellence, and spiritual depth?”

Ty Silzer, a former pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, responds:

“A little bit of ancient word slicing. The word for pastor comes from the word for shepherd—as in, one who tends a flock. Christian scriptures-wise, there’s no position of pastor, rather, only the spiritual gifting of pastor. So, we’ve changed course a little bit since then. 

“Here in Grand Rapids, we have Zondervan Publishing. I got to know one of their employees and was utterly fascinated by the industry. A wide swath of unrelated jobs have the title of ‘Editor.’ In sales? ‘Acquisitions Editor.’ And I’ve found the same to be true in Christian churches: again, completely unrelated to shepherding, many positions have ‘Pastor’ in the title. In charge of operations? ‘Executive Pastor.’ In short, we’ve watered down the word, and in many cases, lost the meaning. As you taught scripture, I’m sure being true to what words mean is helpful: preachers, preach; teachers, teach; elders, rule; deacons, server; and pastors, shepherd. Instead of pastor being the junk-drawer-catch-all of titles.

“I have many thoughts on church leadership, and deeply believe it’s the role of whoever leads ‘to equip the saints, to do the work of ministry,’ (Ephesians 4:12). Instead, it gets flipped to the one or few doing the work of the many. It’s like our electoral system: we ‘hire’ people we don’t know to go do things and only raise concern when something seems amiss. Or, as if unsaid, ‘Go. Do your job. We don’t want to hear about it,’ instead of ourselves being involved in the solution.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“I can sincerely relate to the demands of modern day ministry. I am often left wanting one more day in the week so that I can devote uninterrupted time to my weekly sermon writing. My goal is to consistently deliver thoughtful and pastoral sermons that will help my congregation navigate their week ahead. In the end it is my own ego that needs to take a back seat to what is most important. I remind myself that ministry is far more than the public sermon on Sunday and that I need to show up and be present in the private moments as well. It is about finding the balance.”

The Rev. Rachel J. Bahr, pastor of Plymouth UCC, responds:

“As a modern clergy person I find myself in a constant tension with the ‘new model’ and often find myself needing breaks. I’m encouraged by some of my incredible colleagues who have written into their Call Agreements with their congregations the space to take quarterly spiritual retreats with monastic communities, where they have the space to read, and study, and worship. Any congregation with the hopes of sustaining their ministers for the long haul would see the value in this practice.”

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“If religious communities say that they look for diligence, concentration, excellence, and spiritual depth in their spiritual leader, why doesn’t workplace culture often elevate those values? Often, lay members of religious communities are not aware of the intricacies of the pastoral work week. In a church setting, congregants likely only think their lead pastor preaches, marries people, performs funerals, and does hospital visits. A religious leader would do well to communicate to their congregation what they do, why they do it, and when they need space so lay leadership is aware of the situation and can support the holistic personhood of the spiritual leader at their recommendation.”

My response:

I come from a tradition in which my primary rabbinic role is teaching and encouraging a deep and thoughtful practice of Judaism, including prayer, Sabbath and holiday observance, dietary laws, charity and charitable practices, but also includes pastoral roles such as visiting or communicating with members who do not or cannot participate in regular communal gatherings.

It is a job that requires good organizational skills, creativity, planning, and focus. Setting aside time for private study and taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge available at my fingertips, improves my ability to share thoughtful words of Torah. One of the things that I love about the rabbinate is its varied nature and unpredictability. No two weeks are the same, so it is never boring!

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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