Transforming Vocations – Introduction

Transforming Vocations – Introduction

Vocation is the manifestation of our voice, our self, in the world. It is the way we are most fully present and contributing our uniqueness that creates and enhances the lived experience for ourselves and others. At its deepest level, vocation is the expression of the unique image, gift and call of God on each individual. Transformation is the process by which a subject undergoes a dramatic change. The caterpillar which turns into a butterfly is perhaps the most widely recognized example found in nature. The essence of the being remains the same. It is still the same individual, but its form and structure and character have been altered so as to be almost unrecognizable. This project, “Transforming Vocations,” is a study of clergy whose unfolding call to ministry includes similar dramatic shifts, through many and various stages through and beyond fulltime parish and pastoral ministry.

The caterpillar experiences changes that are often hidden, and at times sudden, though not without predictive signs. The caterpillar does not choose to be transformed. The process and outcome are guided by life forces greater than the caterpillar. So too for the pastors whose stories are offered here. At times they are acting, while at other times they are being acted upon. The vocation of the butterfly is no nobler than its predecessor states, though perhaps more appreciated by onlookers. Nor can one simply manifest as a butterfly ex nihilo. The latter states are only achieved by traveling through the former. There is no other way to become fully who and what God is creating and calling us to be. Perhaps the same can be said of the fresh expressions of ministry now emerging. Is it possible that they can only come to fruition, thus advancing the church and the reign of God in those particular contexts, if these vocational transformations take place and move on toward completion? If unfavorable environmental circumstance cause the metamorphosis to be aborted, then the beauty waiting to be revealed, by which the world is blessed, will never appear.

Vocation may be, but need not be, connected to income and career. Some people prefer to integrate their occupation and vocation, while others desire to have them separate. This latter group may work in some employment where they earn an income, and then they donate significant time and energy to an important non-profit endeavor or hobby. Still others would like to integrate their career and vocation but find it incredibly difficult – think writer, actor, dancer, painter, sculptor, musician or singer. These individuals find it difficult to generate sufficient income from their art, and find themselves working in other pursuits to pay the bills. This kind of tension often leaves them feeling stretched and frustrated. They know what their voice in the world can be, yet they are limited to x number of hours per week or month because their “real job” requires so much of them. The “starving artist” is a common cliché – the actor in New York or LA who waits tables to pay rent. In smaller cities and towns, community theatres are filled with people who work other kinds of jobs and carve out ten to thirty additional hours per week during a show. The weekend craft fair circuit is another place you will find artists and artisans selling the creations that they make in the evenings.

Community agencies and congregations could not survive without the scores of volunteers who give freely of their time over and above their work hours. We strive to promote volunteerism in young people through our schools and community youth programs because we believe these activities help create more community-minded, selfless adults, and because the needs in these organizations are so great. Most of these programs for youth are also largely run by volunteers with a minimally paid administrative staff. Small staffs at community centers and congregations have typically provided administration in these settings while much of the effort in planning, leadership and delivery of services is provided by volunteers. The employees in such settings are often overworked and underpaid.

The close of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries ushered the mainline congregational pastor into a new the world, what I will call the New Pastoral Economy.[iii] Many who entered seminary prior to the year 2000 anticipated that they would be able to choose from among multiple pastoral staff positions upon graduation, and that during the span of their pastoral career, opportunities would always be available for growth. The anticipated career path would run as follows:

  • Commit to 3-5 years of fulltime graduate school study funded by a combination of loans, grants, scholarships, part time jobs and support from family and friends;
  • Read, attend lectures, write papers and pass exams;
  • Complete one or several ministry practicums, internships and residencies
  • Prayerfully discern, along with colleagues and mentors, individual gifts, graces, and callings for ministry.
  • Navigate an arduous theological, psychological and spiritual path to ordination.
  • Find ways to maintain and develop personal relationships throughout this journey.

At the end of all this, one could reasonably expect that congregations who would pay a living wage would be seeking you as their next pastor or associate.

However, something has changed. Church futurists were forecasting these changes, but denominations, church associations, congregations and their leaders were caught unprepared. In many cases, they are still struggling even to see the present reality, much less respond to it in creative, life-giving, and sustainable ways. Why were the warnings of this dramatic shift in the ministry-as-career landscape going unheeded by those most responsible for calling and equipping clergy and sending them into pastoral ministry? These are important issues, but I will not attempt to explore them here.

My primary focus in this project is toward those who have served in local congregational ministry for some number of years (typically not less than five) only to find themselves needing to rethink the relationship between occupation and vocation, between job and calling, between congregation and other contexts, between serving God as a career and earning a living. Congregations are shrinking in size and their members are aging, both of which place a downward pressure on congregational income; the number of congregations able to pay a fulltime pastor a reasonable salary is also shrinking; the average pastoral salary is not keeping pace with inflation or the cost of supporting a family. The number of people is rapidly increasing who will never look to a religious community to be part of their lives. [iv]

Pastoral ministry was among professions, like education and medicine and perhaps law, where individuals believed they could both fulfill a true calling and make a living with the same activities. These and others are careers where identity is often most wrapped up in job – I’m a healer, I’m an educator, I fight for justice, I am a pastor. Rare is the story of a doctor who cannot find a patient. People need these services and are willing to pay for them. There may be attorneys who struggle to find a position, but this is more likely the result of an excess of graduates rather than a decline in the number of compensating positions. Teachers fall into a slightly different gap category, because their jobs are by-in-large publically funded. Educators experience pressure on wages and work hours, with salaries limited by state and local taxes while uncompensated worktime beyond the classroom increases due to testing and other administrative tasks. Some believe that technology can partly if not completely replace the local classroom teacher, which might create additional downward pressure on the job market for educators. [v]

I need to duly acknowledge here that what I am describing as “the New Pastoral Economy” is primarily a problem of middle class Anglo congregations – mainline and evangelical. My observation has been that congregations from racial and ethnic minorities[vi] are often served by bi-vocational clergy who work full time jobs and serve their congregations in the evenings and on weekends. Similar arrangements are found among congregations situated in areas of extreme poverty, or serving primarily the working poor. As such congregations increasingly served middle class cultures or communities, their clergy were more likely to draw a fulltime salary from pastoral work. The result now is that when I am in conversation with clergy representing racial and ethnic minority groups and mention the New Pastoral Economy with its pressure toward bivocational ministry, the typical response is, “Welcome to the club.” An opportunity for future learning is hinted at here – those of us coming late to the bivocational ministry party have much to learn from our sisters and brothers of color and those serving communities on the economic margins of society if we will be humble enough to ask and listen and observe. Several of those interviewed for this project have chosen to serve such populations as a part of their emerging call.

All of this is, of course, contextual. I live in a suburb of the Dallas / Forth Worth Metroplex – an area I refer to as “the rhinestone in the buckle of the Bible belt.” If there remains any place in the United States where the life and ministry of Christian Congregations are still privileged, it is here. Prayer is still found at public events. Municipalities and school districts often interact favorably with faith communities. This is rapidly changing, but for the moment, it is still here. Other regions of the country fall across the Secular – Spiritual – Religious spectrum. The northwest and northeast of the United States are both less religious and more spiritual / secular. Southern California is an interesting mix of evangelicalism, spirituality and secularity, as is Colorado.[vii]

Diana Butler Bass and others have ably catalogued the trends away from congregational participation and religious affiliation.[viii] Even the New York Times has described the impact on congregations of rising costs and declining income.[ix]  Tom Rainer points out the changing definition of “active member” from attendance every Sunday in worship plus a midweek activity, to two or three activities per month, worship included.[x] All of these things impact the ability of a congregation to pay clergy a full time living wage commensurate with their education and experience.[xi]

Few clergy ever expect to earn what doctors or lawyers or psychologists do, but when their salaries fall at or below that of a public school educator, they begin looking at things differently. My hope and expectation was that as a congregational pastor I could be the primary bread winner in my household. My wife is a public school teacher. Together we hoped to provide a modest but comfortable middle class living for ourselves and our children. (The appropriateness of this hope will be addressed in my own Personal Narrative.) We live in a safe and quiet neighborhood and our home is below the average market value in our community. We drive base model older cars. We would like to pay for our children’s college education, spend a week at the beach each year, and still save for retirement. The number of pastoral staff positions that would fund this lifestyle is rapidly declining.[xii]

In some traditions, it has long been the practice for a pastor to serve multiple congregations simultaneously. In Methodism, this is known as a two or three point charge. The expectation is that together the income from these congregations combines to support a reasonable standard of living. Often these are located in rural areas where employment options are more limited for other members of the pastor’s family. They assume the clergyperson has both a calling and desire to serve in such communities. I predict that this model will grow in suburban and urban settings if current church financial and membership trends continue. A potential result of this is that one person serves two or three congregations, when previously each of those congregations employed one or more clergy full time, with the result that the congregations will receive a different amount or style of pastoral attention, or both.

My working assumption is that these shifts provide new opportunities for clergy and congregations to reimagine and renew the pastoral ministry landscape and the relationship between clergy and congregations. The changes are certainly stressful, and I will identify and explore some of those stresses. Change may also bring relief, as in, “Thank God that is over.” I will eagerly look for and listen for these blessings. Whether or not we can or should reverse this trend is a conversation for another time. It may even be found that this trend is returning us toward a more faithful and biblical living of the pastoral vocations, and that the last several hundred years have been the aberration. Perhaps this present shift will in time be revealed as little more than a necessary course correction.

How do we who love the place from which we came, and those who raised us (the modern, traditional, mainline or evangelical churches that are struggling so today), and at the same time remain faithful to the God who continually calls us forward in faith with the words, “Behold! I do a new thing in you”? How do we do both? How do we love and serve the former while giving birth to the latter? My desire here is to understand, articulate, and support the journeys of those clergy who are entering into the liminal[xiii] space of a transforming vocation. These pastoral servants have answered a call, they are here, and their numbers will likely increase in coming decades even if the trend is eventually reversed. This has also been my own personal journey, so my work on this project has to do with my own vocation, too. I want to gain insight into what is happening in and through me. I want to know how to live this new calling faithfully, with integrity and generosity of spirit. I also recognize that part of my calling has long been to support clergy and laity as they respond to the various ways that God calls people into vocations of ministry as followers of Jesus Christ. I hope that this doctoral thesis and the broader scope of my work provide resources for the church as we continue to exercise our voices to proclaim the Good News.

The phrase “Transforming Vocations” will prove to be multifaceted. From one angle we can see that vocations, and the very idea of vocation, are being transformed. Stand elsewhere and it becomes clear that the vocation itself may power transformation of the individual, a family, a congregation or community. As we learn to speak with new and different voices (vocations) we discover things about ourselves. We live into new or long-dormant truths, while laying aside others that no longer, or perhaps never, fit.

Project Structure

This written project unfolds in four stages that mirror the journey of vocational transformation itself: 1) Personal Awareness, 2) Cultural Wisdom, 3) Companion Stories, and 4) New Reflections. Something within or around us stirs and awakens our imagination. Our mind and heart reach for what is “known” by our contemporaries and forbearers about the matter. We seek the wisdom and company of others who are also on the journey. Our heart and mind process all of this and develop working hypotheses and construct a narrative to understand and function within our new reality. Ideally, we continually repeat this cycle of experience and reflection until we experience that final transformation into the fullness of all God created us to be.

Stages of Vocational Transformation

Stage One, Personal Awareness, presents my own narrative of vocational transformation, beginning with my journey to seminary, skipping forward to my most recent discernment to step away from fulltime parish ministry, and then starting back at the origins of my call to ministry and walking forward to the present. Stage Two, Cultural Wisdom, encompasses stories of discernment, call, vocation and journey from the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian New Testament. Added to these are descriptions of the journey from Richard Rohr, Parker Palmer and the team led by Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge who developed Theory U. Stage Three, Companion Stories, brings forward the journeys of six clergy colleagues who are at various stages in their own Transforming Vocations. A modified ethnographic interview process[xiv] was used to capture these stories. “Modified Ethnographic Interview” refers to a process based upon the work of James Spradley in The Ethnographic Interview. It is “modified” because I did not travel and spend time onsite with the interview subjects. I relied upon their descriptions of their settings, captioned photos, and what I could glean from their social media pages. Stage four, New Reflections, begins to propose additional steps forward that will support the clergy on this journey and resource the communities who train them and the ones they serve. These steps include work that I will undertake as an extension of this project, new initiatives I will launch, and suggestions for how others – particularly churches and seminaries – might adjust their approaches.

Wherever your road leads, you don’t have to travel alone. In fact, God does not call us into the world or into ministry in isolation. Our own egos, fears and organizational systems impose that isolation upon us, to our detriment. The Appendices offer a collection of resources for further study, reflection and conversation. They are designed to be used by individuals, groups or organizations. Most of them originate in my own ministry experiences, having been adapted for this project. A few stand as a witness to my own thoughts at several key points in my journey of vocational transformation. These personal pieces are not meant to be examples for others to follow, but may provide some context for the work and even offer some familiarity and comfort to those on a similar path.

My sincere hope with all of this is that the reader might gain valuable insight into her or his own journey, experience mercy and grace for the past, and receive encouragement and hope for the road ahead. I hope too that we may have increased sympathy for those called to this Transforming Vocations Journey. Finally, I hope that we might more faithfully support one another into whatever future kingdom endeavors God might call us.

[i] (accessed February 21, 2015).
[ii] (accessed February 21, 2015).
[iii]     “New Pastoral Economy” is a phrase that has been used previously to describe shifts in agricultural, most specifically with reference to Austraila and New Zealand. ( (accessed February 21, 2015). My novel usage here is meant to capture the broad sweep of dynamics and factors related to the shifting economic realities of pastoral ministry as a career and income source.
[iv] and  (accessed April 7, 2015).
[v]      Michael B. Horn, Louisiana’s Digital Future: How Online Learning Can Transform K-12 Education, New Orleans, LA: Pelican Institute for Public Policy, (2012). (accessed February 21, 2015).
[vi]     “Minority” as a term to refer to people of color is already ironic, if not a complete misnomer. By 2050, if not before, people of Anglo-European descent will be the numeric minority in the United States. Already they represent a minority of Christians globally, and perhaps also in the U.S.
[vii] (accessed April 7, 2015).
[viii]    Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, (New York: HarperOne, 2013), p20.
[ix] (accessed February 21, 2015). See also reports from Alban Institute:   (accessed February 21, 2015).
[x] (accessed February 21, 2015).
[xi] (accessed April 7, 2015).
[xii]     “Presbyterians expect fewer fulltime pastors,” Christian Century, 128, no. 10 (May 17 2011): 14.
[xiii]    Liminal Space – Victor Turner, “Liminality and Communitas” in The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure, (Ithica, NY: Cornell Paperbacks, 1995): 94-130.
[xiv]    James P. Spradley, The ethnographic interview, (New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979).

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a growth-focused relationship wherein two people, a mentor and a mentee, cooperate to pursue the development goals of the mentee in an area where the mentor has some knowledge and experience.

All mentoring has several essential components:

  • Mentor – individual with knowledge, experience and skill in an area of interest to the mentee.
  • Mentee – individual seeking knowledge, experience and skill in an area known to the mentor.
  • A willingness of both parties to cooperate together.
The process typically includes:Active observation of the mentor by the mentee
  • Conversation between the two, with the mentee asking questions and the mentor offering instruction, observations, and comments.
  • Observation of the mentee’s practice
  • Conversation between the two
  • The process repeats and continues. As the mentee gains increasing confidence and independence in certain areas, they may move to greater depths in the same area or address other areas of knowledge and skill.

Mentoring can apply to almost any area of desired competency, from work to hobbies to relationships to physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

In situations where no mentor is nearby, mentoring can be done over a distance using various communication technologies. One can, as a mentee, also enter a mentoring relationship with an individual through her/his writings or other works. At times people have even undertaken to write a book specifically for the purpose of mentoring those they may never meet. A good example of this is: Alan Dershowitz’s Letters to a Young Lawyer, from the series Art of Mentoring by Basic Books. Obviously he does not have time to mentor all those who might want or warrant his support, so he has put down the things he would say in such a relationship.

Why is mentoring important / valuable?

Mentoring is an opportunity to teach/lead in a relational way, modeling, discussing, observing, and empowering the other to use the gained knowledge and skills. Grounded in real, often shared, practice, mentoring accelerates learning with near instant feedback and opportunity to make adjustments. Mentoring also provides the added benefit of learning from the mistakes of others ‘in the moment’. When working with a mentor, you have the ability to hear real life stories spoken into your own setting and then dialogue about the application of those stories. The mentor is able to say, “Well, in my experience… ” and give voice to history and memory and insight, while allowing the mentee freedom in conversation to choose her own path. The mentor may at times serve as a confidant with whom the mentee explores frustrations and seeks clarity and resolution. Mentoring often continues to deepen learning that begins in more formal didactic learning settings, such as lectures and readings may provide.

Mentoring yourself

While typically not sufficient, self-mentoring is a valuable process bringing together a variety of skills. If you identify an area where you wish to grow and set goals to do so, pursue learning and experience, reflect upon those, and then set goals for future growth, you are self-mentoring. We do this throughout our lives and can develop capacities to do so with increasing effectiveness. The ‘self-help’ industries were built on this reality. However, many have found that self-mentoring does not take them as far as they hope to go.

Preparing yourself for a mentor

If you want to work with a mentor, you owe yourself and your mentor the effort of ensuring that you are truly ready for the experience. Don’t waste another’s time until you are prepared to be mentored. So, consider the following:

Qualities that help make you a good mentee:

  • Be teachable, humble, open, hungry to learn
  • Trust your mentor, yourself, and the process. Be willing to try new things, take risks
  • Be trustworthy. Do what you say. Say what you mean. Repent when you err.
  • Believe that you also have something to offer
  • Be willing to work hard
  • Take responsibility for your own growth – the mentor is not your parent
  • Realize that there are things you can’t fully understand until after you experience and reflect upon them
  • Cut yourself and others some slack – give the benefit of the doubt
  • When in doubt, ask

Finding a Mentor

The next step is finding a mentor – someone who has skill and experience in the desired area(s), plus the ability and willingness to share and be a mentor to others. Be sure that these are all present. This author had some very painful experiences working with people who had skill and experience to share, but lacked any inclination to help others learn. Once you find that person, clearly identify what it is you want and ask if they are willing to be your mentor. It may take a few conversations to flesh out the terms of this arrangement until a shared understanding of expectations exists. Some things to ask include:

  • Have you ever had a mentor from whom you learned? If so, would you please describe for me that relationship and what you learned in it?
  • Have you ever mentored someone? If so, would you please describe for me that relationship and what you learned in it?
  • What are some important things that you think you have to teach another?
  • In what ways do you think you could contribute to my growth?
  • How much time do you have to give to this relationship and in what ways?
  • What would you ask in return? What do you hope to receive from the relationship?

If the answers to these questions, and the conversation around them, aligns with your hopes and goals, then this may be a good mentor for you.

It is suggested that you begin with some short defined time – say three months of meeting weekly. Then at the end of that time you can both evaluate the arrangement and decide to continue as is, make adjustments, or end the arrangement. Having this conversation up front helps reduce stress and tension if things don’t work out.

Mentoring others

Do you have something to offer to another’s growth, a desire to help, and a willingness to spend time demonstrating and dialoguing about your area of interest? If so, then you can be a mentor. A popular axiom states, “One learns best by teaching others.” This certainly applies to mentoring. If you want to grow in a particular area, one of the best things you can do is mentor another. You do not need to be an expert, but just a little farther along. A mentor need not be a master teacher qualified to write curriculum or books and speak on a given topic at conferences. You are a mentor if you have some knowledge, experience, and skill in an area of interest to others, and you invite them to learn from you one-on-one.

Finding someone to mentor

Finding a mentee is much like finding a mentor, only in reverse. You need to be sure you have the qualifications of a mentor, and then you look for someone with the qualities of a good mentee. Decide what you will and won’t do, how much time you have to give, and set clear boundaries for your relationship. You do not have to let someone into every area of your life in order to be a good mentor to that person. In fact, some find that the more complex the relationship becomes, adding elements of such as peer friendship, the more difficult it may become to accomplish the mentoring work.

Next Steps

Once the mentoring relationship has been established and shared understanding exists as to expectations and boundaries, then the mentoring work can continue. In truth, it has already begun, as this preparatory work includes vital learnings about relationships. From here, several next steps help set the groundwork.

  • Agree on the focus of learning.
    • What goals do you both bring?
    • What does the mentee hope to learn and the mentor hope to teach?
  • Agree on some initial ways to work together.
    • Will the mentee ‘shadow’ the mentor at the given tasks to observe?
    • When, Where, and How often will you meet to reflect on these experiences and the other learnings that accompany them?
    • What other resources can be brought into the learning relationship?

Creating a culture of mentoring

Once you realize how rewarding the mentoring process can be, you may wish more people around you were benefitting from a similar experience. Regardless of the setting – business, non-profit, faith community, civic or interest group – you can explore ways to create a mentor-friendly culture. You have already taken the first step by learning about mentoring and having a rewarding experience about which you can speak to others. There are other things which nurture a good environment for mentoring.

  • Share your story – How has mentoring impacted you? How have you grown in areas that are important to others? What pitfalls have you encountered and how were they handled to provide additional growth opportunities?
  • Get buy in from others – others in the organization may need to allow/affirm/support the mentoring process. Mentoring shifts focus, time, and energy away from other priorities. It pays huge dividends when done well, but the rewards may be delayed, so people need to be willing to make the journey, or at least allow others to do so. There are at least three groups of stakeholders whose support should be considered – supervisors, peers, and direct-reports of the mentors and the mentees. People need to understand how to interpret what they see – observing others work, and conversation about the work, may seem like wasted time to some. Give folks sufficient time to become accustomed to these new ways of thinking and working.
  • Develop a system – what kinds of structures and habits will need to be implemented? Are new working/reporting relationships required? How are mentors paired with mentees? What happens if the relationship is not rewarding for one or both? What kind of ongoing training and feedback will keep the mentoring culture healthy?
  • Offer support and training – As part of the system, what initial training will you offer so mentors and mentees begin well? How frequently will they need additional training, and in what formats

What’s the impact of mentoring on the mentor?

When walking together down paths oft trod alone,

new features come into view that never were noticed before.

Mentoring provides –

  • the opportunity to see the journey through another’s eyes,
  • the challenge to reexamine one’s experience over time
  • the privilege of new learning in familiar territory

In teaching others, and sharing our experience, we refine our own understandings of situations and ideas. In an effort to articulate the heretofore unspoken to another, and in receiving shared insights, new clarity emerges. There is a mutuality in mentoring that is distinct from other helping/teaching roles (counseling, coaching, spiritual direction). This facet brings blessings, while presenting some potential anxiety due to the inherent vulnerability. This vulnerability, of course, is an essential prerequisite for true growth.

“What did you come here for?” a reflection on Mark 1 vs29-39

In preparation for sermon on 02122012

It would have been easy for Jesus at this moment to be caught up in the cult of personality. Already Peter says, “Everyone is searching for you.” One might think, “Oh great! This ministry is really starting to take off here in Capernaum. We’ll establish our base here, and once it is good and solid then we will branch out to the surrounding country. That could have been a good ministry plan for someone. In fact, it is the plan that Paul followed in Corinth and Ephesus and other places.

This story illustrates the importance of discerning a vision for ministry. We need to answer the question, “What did you come here for?” And by that, I don’t mean, “What did you come here to get.” But rather, “What did you come here to do? What is God desiring to accomplish in the world through you?

Let’s remember some of what Paul says about his own ministry:

I planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6)

I am glad that I did not baptize,… for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the gospel…” (1 Cor 1:14,17)

You see, it is not enough for us to simply say, “Our task as church is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.” Or even, “Our mission is to Make Disciples.” Or to list the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, from which Rick Warren derived the “5 Purposes of a Purpose Driven Church.” All of these are true, but only in the most general and vague ways. They still don’t tell me what I am supposed to do. They don’t tell us what we as a congregation are meant to do – are we to plant, or to water? Are we to baptize or to preach? Are we to stay in one spot and build a strong ministry or “go to other towns and proclaim the good news there as well, for that is what [God sent us] to do”?

If we are not clear about what God intends for Forest Grove, then we will do lots of good stuff, but miss the center of God’s will and blessing for us. There are a great many details and decisions in our lives that God leaves up to us. God may not have a preference on each person’s career, vocation, location, family relationships, etc.  There is no indication in scripture that every person or group should anticipate and search for a unique calling like that of David or Moses or Paul, much less that of Jesus. AND YET, we are unique individuals, with different experiences, personalities, talents and gifts, all of which God can and will use to further God’s glory and establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. God will work through our uniqueness if we offer it up in worship and prayer.

So, perhaps it is not so much that God has one and only one preferred dream for Forest Grove – only one right answer to our questions – so that if we fail to hear properly, we will miss the real blessing in our lives and fail to be the real blessing God calls us to be. But, how can we know unless we ask, seek, and knock? I think we dare not go through life assuming that God doesn’t care. Rather, let us “do everything for the glory of God.”1 Cor 10:31) Let us pray that God will guide us toward the fullest expression of the image of God in us. (Gen 1:26-27) Let us pray that we will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph 4:15) If we release control of our own lives to God, then whatever God desires to do, however fully God desires to lead and guide, we will be open to follow. This does not mean that we release responsibility. We are still accountable to God, self and others for our life and its impact in the world. Rather, we live with a sense of hope, expectation and freedom that the Spirit is at work in the world in and through us, that the reign of God is being established in justice, righteousness and love with mercy and grace. God clearly has a will, or Jesus would be teaching us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The question is how we are to join in, how we are a part, or more specifically partners with God in answering that prayer. So when others around you say, “You need to do this,” or, “We need to do that,” you are able to let your yes be yes and your no be no, because with Jesus you are able to answer the question, “What did you come here for?”

How to fail as a Pastor

“How to Fail As a Pastor” 1/9/02

It just may happen that you find yourself in a position that you really want to get out of, and the best way to accomplish it is to get fired. If this is so, the following advice will be of utmost help. If you only want to fail a bit, then try just a few of these techniques. But, if you really want to blow it, then apply yourself to all of them, and you will find yourself on the road in short order. These are not listed in order of importance or execution, but simply the order I thought of them.

1. Discern a vision for the congregation, and pursue it, but do not clearly communicate it. This will be tricky, but it can be done. Discerning a vision may well be the easy part. Pray, look, listen, study, and ideas will begin to gel for you. A vision for a congregation should employ the gifts of those present in the congregation, but be large enough that they can not accomplish it without God’s help. In pursuing the vision, you may make strategic moves along the way, such as purchasing property, adjusting worship services, and the like. There will be some who will favor these changes, and some who will oppose them. Either way, be sure not to mention that these changes are necessary to accomplish the vision that you have not cast before them. Otherwise they may be willing to make the sacrifices necessary.

2. Do not, under any circumstances, visit people in their homes, whether or not you enjoy this aspect of ministry. If you get into people’s homes, you may well get to know them and they you. The better people know each other, the more likely they are to be patient and forgiving with one another in their mistakes and the more trusting they will be during times of change and transition. You would also find yourself ministering to them in their times of personal crisis, because they would perceive you as interested in them and what is going on in their lives. This would sabotage your attempts at failure.

3. Do not establish predictable routines. If you become predictable, then people become comfortable with you. Also, you are more likely to be productive if you have some routines for when you study and when you do visitation and when you do administration. Productivity will spell disaster. If you are productive then even if the church is not growing people will likely be satisfied with your ministry, and you might be able to stay for a very long time.

4. Do not select a group of leaders to cultivate. Keep at arms length all those with any perceivable gifts for ministry. Otherwise, a cohesive team might develop, which again would result in productivity (see 3 above) and intimacy (see 2 above). If such a team develops, you have no one to blame but yourself.

5. Do not grow spiritually. In this, your biggest trap will be regular and disciplined prayer and study. If you develop these patterns in your ministry, they will be difficult to brake. You will find yourself being nourished and encouraged and growing in wisdom and faith. All of this will better equip you for casting and leading toward a vision (task 1 above) and responding to the emotional and spiritual needs of people that they bring to you (as a result of #2).

6. Do not give up control. People want to feel needed. One way they will is if they have a place to serve and have some control and authority in that role. By maintaining some control over them, you prevent them from developing a sense of worth and value in their ministry, which will help keep them dissatisfied. Parishioner satisfaction will be devastating to your attempts at failure.

7. Do not get a clear understanding of the congregation’s expectations. If you should accidentally happen upon such an understanding, do nothing to meet those expectations. Instead, set a completely different agenda for yourself.

8. Do not recognize that there are different constituents within the congregation who have the different needs and expectations. If you were to build relationships with members of all groups, it would be possible to balance the varying needs and expectations. Again, this would interfere with your attempt at failure. If you are not going to be able to meet someone’s need or expectation, be certain that you to not recruit, equip and support someone else in that ministry. This would again result in parishioner satisfaction, which is to be avoided at all costs.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are certainly other ways you could spend your time and energy as you strive toward failure as a pastor. None-the-less, if you will employ most or all of the above techniques, it would be take miracle for you not to fail. And, since you are avoiding intimacy with God (see #5), the likelihood of anything miraculous happening in your ministry is slim. And, lest you think that this recipe for disaster is only speculation let me assure you that I have tried it myself and found it to work wonderfully.


Ken Crawford