For some time now I have desired to post a follow up to my post 2 years ago announcing my departure from vocational ministry. Life rarely affords me the time to write these days, and even as I bang out this post I know that I have to be awake in four and half hours to get into the plant to work, to put it plainly I do not even have the time to write now. I want to give a quick top ten things I’ve learned re-entering the work force after 6 years of full time ministry. These are in no particular order, and these are only my own personal reflections. I am NOT saying this is indicative of all ministers or all people in the work force, these are just observations from my own life.
1. I had much more free time as a pastor. Sure I was in the office a lot, and I had to call on people and do funerals and go to hospitals and so on, but I also read 70+ books a year, blogged almost every day, attempted to write a novel, went mountain biking and so on. Now working 55-60 hrs a week I have time to play with kids, spend a little time with my wife, and occasionally sleep for more than a 6 hour stretch. The “me” time has vanished.
2. Pastor credentials DO mean something in the ‘secular’ workforce. This one surprised me, but people of all stripes like talking about the faith. Being an engineer who was a pastor creates an interesting space with people. I run the risk of over analyzing this, but it seems to me that people like the idea of having a pastor figure to hash things out with who is not tied to (read paid by) the church. In any case I’m in a unique situation. There are countless pastors who left the workforce (they are a blessing to their congregations because of it) but the former pastor now in the work force is a bit of an anomaly.
3. Being a pastor gradually caused me to lose touch with reality. This was a tough pill for me to swallow, but it is true. I’ve looked back on most of my conversations with colleagues in ministry about what the world really needs from the church and I sort of cringe when I think of them. I was far more out of touch than I can comfortably admit. All the notions we had of how to cater to the world seem woefully inadequate now.
4. Pastors are not paid as poorly as you think. Working at Chrysler I am making much more than I did as a pastor, much more. However Chrysler is pays uniquely well. Before I took my current position I worked 1.5 years at an average engineering wage but never had any more money than I did as a pastor even though my salary was almost double. Let’s face it, as a pastor I had, house, utilities, insurance, along with a group of 150 or more wonderful congregants who would go out of their way to do anything for me.
5. People aren’t as impressed as pastors think by the church doing nice things. We do a lot of back patting in the church every time we go to a school and tutor, or go to a parade and hand out water. I think we are right to do these things, but few people are actually sitting back saying ‘wow there is something different about these people.’ I think individual acts of sacrifice by Christians carry far more weight than corporate acts of charity from the church. In other words if a Christian man takes the crap job on the line so someone else can have it easier for a day that goes a lot further than hanging out with our Christian buds do-gooding together.
6. Vocation matters. This piggy backs the last point, but the general work force is more open to the individual Christian glorifying their God in the midst of their work than they are by the individual Christian facilitating church outreaches. Outreach gives the church a good name, no doubt, but individual sacrifice on behalf of another in the midst of one’s vocation give Christ a good name because there is no ‘selling point’ for an organization.
7. Work is fulfilling. I think we forget this. In vocational ministry I believed that no other work could be as fulfilling as the full time proclamation of the Gospel. I lost touch with how fulfilling getting up at 4:15am to go to a factory to build something with other people could be. Making stuff is fun and it matters. Everyday around 1000 cars will roll off our line, some will take little kids to baseball practice, others will take someone to their senior prom, many will drive to their parents’ funerals, people will die in some of them, and teenagers will lose their virginity in them. The world is so interconnected and all the pieces matter. Lives will be lived in them. If someone can get the right perspective on their work, no matter what their job is, they will find it fulfilling.
8. It hurts sometimes to not preach. Sometimes it’s just hard to hear a text being taken a direction I wouldn’t have taken it. I sit under good preaching, but having been a pastor is a real impediment to simply receiving the word.
9. Pastors tend to enjoy a martyr role. I’d downplay it, but I secretly enjoyed when people believed I made some grand sacrifice to be a minister. When people would act like I was doing something so difficult I tended to believe them. I was addicted to praise. I’ve since found that everyday people are sacrificing their time to feed their families, to care for their sick ones, to look after their co-workers, etc. Sacrifices of a pastor really do not supersede that of the rest of the world, or even that of the unbelieving world.
10. Pastors are necessary. Though the above points may lead you to believe I am downplaying the pastor’s role let me assure you I am not. I think the pastor should have free time, should be fairly compensated, should be able even to isolate from the world. It is necessary that the pastor is in some ways comfortable and not overworked so that they can have clarity and rest to deal with the difficult situations they face. People, I, need someone to remind me of the forgiveness of sin I have in Christ, I need someone to announce my absolution for my sin, I need someone to feed me the body and blood of our Lord and deliver to me the holy Word of God. I am thankful for pastors, and I am grateful that many have taken that role and continue in it.
These are just my thoughts after nearly 2 years away from vocational ministry. I am thankful that God pulled me into the ministry, and I am thankful that a lifetime of vocational ministry was NOT in his plans for me. Do I miss the ministry? Not really. I enjoyed it immensely, but count it a great blessing to be back in the work force.
I wonder if anyone else has thoughts on this.