Home > Uncategorized > A “Rant” on Upward Pastoral Mobility

A “Rant” on Upward Pastoral Mobility

I’m at a denominational meeting in Grand Rapids.  I enjoy these things.  I get to see people I don’t normally get to see.  It makes me feel like part of a big family, but not so big that I can’t know a few people in other parts of the country.  Anyway, I’m sitting in the hotel lobby between our last session and the time I’ll be going to dinner with the rest of my commission (group of people working on encouraging discipleship in the denomination).

Along comes Don.  He’s an older gentleman whom I have enjoyed knowing from Iowa.  We chat for a while and he starts talking about his pastor, “He’s just a few years out of seminary, but he’s” (here Don takes his hand and makes the motion like an airplain taking off at a steep trajectory) “on his way up.”  I happen to know the guy Don is talking about, and he is a very talented and charismatic fella.

But what does this mean: “on his way up”?  Is there an up?  As a pastor?  What’s “up”?  I know what it means when someone dies and goes “up” and I know what it means when you’re in the corporate world and someone says you’re on your way “up”, but … as a pastor?

Let me guess: he’ll someday be the pastor of a larger church?  Or…what?  That’s my best guess at what Don means.  And I understand the thought process, but I guess I take issue with it (and not just because I’m the pastor of a small church – I pastored a big church.  I know it’s not always rainbows and lollipops and sunshine everywhere).

I take issue because this calling, this vocation, is not (should not be) something that needs a ladder.  I hear it all the time.  I hear people say, “Someday we’ll say that he/she was our pastor when they got their start.”  What does that kind of thinking get us?  It sends the message that small churches don’t deserve the best pastors or that big or rich churches should somehow get the best of the best, and the rest “end up” in some small church.

I’ve talked to a lot of church folk who have some young pastor they love.  After 3-4 years they get really nervous that their young pastor with a young family will get snatched up by a bigger church.  There’s something wrong here.  Is ambition part of our pastoral call?  Do we pastors really try to move up the ladder?  Where do we get?  Is the goal to end up at a large church as the lead pastor?  Do we want a big staff “under” us?  Do we want 6,000 people hearing our preaching every week?

I know what comes with that – and it doesn’t all seem like “up” to me.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Erin Sikes
    October 14, 2011 at 12:23 am

    I really appreciate this. Really. As I mentioned, we have been at our (still) little church for eight years, and I believe that God has worked tremendously through and in our congregation, but we still have an average worship attendance of about 50, not much more than when Ken started. We are, by most measures, an unsuccessful church full of people who are “too average”, or not even. In the past two years, we have attracted a few people with mental health issues, which is lively, and sometimes distracting. We have a lot of people who are not gifted in ways that are useful to the world, or even useful in the day to day tasks of running a church. Sometimes, the work of the church seem Sisyphean to both the pastor and his tired wife.

    Recently, Ken has been asked to do some more work at the denominational level. This seems to make people outside of our congregation happy, because if he can’t pastor his way to bigger and better, I think they are hoping he can administrate his way there. I can tell you that this is not to be. He loves pastoring in a way that he does not love denominational administrative work. We don’t know that we will be at this church forever, but we do know that we feel called to this humble church, in this humble neighborhood, in this humble city for the foreseeable future. He has shown you, O Man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you. To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

  2. October 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Perhaps his “up” comment could better be described as some of the level of understanding and perspective that a more experienced individual in the calling might encounter over the course of their “herding of cats.”

    Whether the person be called to be a store manager, clergy, teacher, army special ops, or mom… (listed in order of increasing difficulty – 🙂 ) There is a bare minimum amount of “something” that you can do in those positions to be considered proficient at your task set. And then the individual’s “fabric” tends to wrap around the position for a more firm grasp, and further make the individual more solid and cohesive as a person that can not only satisfy the minimums of the calling — but also further define what the position can be.

    When a person starts to redefine and augment their role (as understood by someone else — like perhaps this “Don” guy) that is when I hope someone might indicate that they are “on the way up.”

    But, more often then not — the clergy position is one that is a tad bit objective as far as “successful” is concerned. There are no real indicators of efficiency, effort, perseverance, or even ethics (usually until after the fact). There are few clergy individuals that I’ve seen with a fire lit under their “buttocks.” Since it’s so objective, there seems to be a tendency to evaluate clergy based on numbers and giving of their congregations.

    The best church I’ve been to didn’t have a full-time pastor. From week to week, it would be decided who was to do the next study. So, it was more like a modern-day “big church” small group. However, each individual was responsible for their “tithing” and seeking out those in need of the assistance… as that’s a major definition of being a Christian. Occasionally, the person in need was a member of that small congregation. When one person was capable of finding a need that was more than they could satisfy themselves, they could have others in the small congregation to team up and provide in tandem.

    God’s pretty good at orchestrating people — whether it be 1 group numbering 10,000, or it be 10,000 groups numbering one each. He’s sorta cool like that and stuff. Where the full-time person comes in handy is when the lives of the individuals in the congregation doesn’t allow for someone to be there at the bedside of the sick or dieing… But maybe that’s what personal days are for? Or maybe even vacation days? Or maybe a member of the small-church is retired or on 3rd shift? It’s odd how some of those scenarios can play out when the eyes are open, as well as ears, minds, and (most of all) — hearts.

    The “UP” comment is an interesting one, as you noticed. But, the whole state of big-church becoming big-business creates a bunch of odd and difficult conversations that circle back around in evaluation of where we are as a body and how much we lose in effectiveness and accountability as a body when we are “big.”

  3. October 25, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Appreciated your comments Jim. Wish we could re-do what years of “tradition” have done to the “church.”

  1. October 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm

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