I like work.
I am almost certainly naïve, but I don’t think I’m alone in this. In fact, I think almost anyone who love his (or her) job and does it well likes to work.
I’ll go a step further. I like to watch other people work too—not in some sort of taunting, glad-that’s-not-me sense, but in a sense of admiration. It’s a fascinating thing to help my brother in his shop, given his ingenious (if sometimes unorthodox) solutions for how to get his tasks just perfect. I love watching Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha pitch. I love listening to Buster Olney talk about baseball. When someone cares about what they do, I almost can’t help but watch, regardless of what tax bracket they occupy.
Sadly, I don’t hear this same kind of joy in their work among clergy very often. In fact, several friends and colleagues posted an article on social media this week that names “clergyperson” as the fifth most stressful job in the country. I believe that’s probably true. But it leads me to other, more somber musings as well.
Before I go any further, let me say one thing clearly: I do not blame most of my colleagues for the stressfulness of our occupation. True, most of us could stand to take care of ourselves better both mentally and physically. Also true that, as a group, we have a psychological profile that lends itself to overwork and sensitivity to criticism.
But that does not mean pastors are entirely to blame for the high stress level of our profession, nor the relative lack of joy so many of us endure. Congregations must shoulder some of that load, as must the hierarchies and administrative structures that cast such a long shadow over my own denomination.
Still, any pastor worthy of the title will tell you that blame does no good whatsoever. The question is how to address the problem. And that proves a terribly difficult equation to solve.
In healthy situations, pastors should be able to talk to their congregations about their struggles with ministry, whether that’s due to overwork or conflict or just the simple burden of caring for hurting people. Then both parties can work together to find a better way to live together.
I suspect, however, that many of my colleagues don’t feel that freedom. They entered into ministry because they were captivated by the story of Jesus lived out among people. But the cares of this world—budgets, attendance figures, building management, minutia of daily life—keep them more than occupied with lesser things. They fear that letting those things slide will undermine their ability to lead, or somehow prove they are not good at their jobs, or worse, cause more conflict from demanding church members.
I’ve been in those shoes, and some days I still put them back on. So while I know that what pastors who feel trapped really need is the perspective and discipline to change what things we can control, I also know how incredibly difficult that can be. That’s why trustworthy and honest collegial relationships are so important.
Thankfully, however, today finds me in a different place. Arkansas State Univeristy has been closed all week due to icy conditions, and Wesley Foundation has also been closed. Today, I realize how ready I am to get back to work. There is much about campus ministry that I wish was different, but the time I get with students is not one of them. There are few greater thrills in my life than getting to guide, challenge, encourage, and otherwise disciple young adults on the college campus.
So for me, the snow days have served as a reminder of how painful it can be to be a pastor, but also how wonderful it can be to engage in meaningful work.
Here’s hoping the roads clear soon.