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Church Leadership

Pastor as Vocation

Confession: I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did when I worked in a church.

That is no knock on my friends in full-time vocational ministry.

It is more an affirmation for the myriad of people I know who have stepped out (or been pushed out) of their ministry job.

Leaving vocational ministry in a church for the great unknown is an identity crisis. These friends are left asking themselves, “Am I still a pastor?

I went through the same thing 2 years ago. You are OK. You are still very much a pastor, even if your paycheck doesn’t come from a church.

I’m here to tell you this simple truth: When you are a pastor you are a pastor wherever you go. It’s a calling and not a vocation.

My reality

I opened this by saying that I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did while I worked at churches. So what does that look like?

  • Removed of the stigma of “going to talk to my pastor” I give a great amount of pastoral counsel. Instead of people coming to my office for that we meet at coffee shops, my house, and even bars. (Gasp!)
  • I love teaching at youth group. I don’t do it often enough to get into a groove… which keeps it from feeling like a grind.
  • I totally miss filling the pulpit. At the same time I’ve learned that I probably preach too much and act too little. I have a lot more time to do ministry rather than prepare a message.
  • We’ve rediscovered authentic relationships. When you work at a church your life is full of people who claim to be your friends– but it’s a positional thing. When you are a nobody in your congregation you have to develop friendships the old fashioned way. Better yet: When the positional ones come along you don’t feel obligated.
  • I’m ministering to people in my life that are a part of my neighborhood, work life, adult small group, and students in my youth group.
  • Straight talk, no B.S. (Stealing a line from a politician) That’s kind of how it feels. Free from the weirdness of people probing and constantly feeling like I’m answering every question on behalf of the church, I can just let it fly. Want to know what I think or what the Bible says? I don’t need a “church filter” anymore.

Conversely, when I was a vocational pastor I was constantly thinking to myself, “This is it? I rarely spend time with people. All I do is run programs. I want to be with people and do ministry!

Interesting how freedom from the work of running a church has lead me to doing more pastoral ministry, right?

A global perspective for the naysayers

My fellow Americans, live in anĀ ethnocentric culture. And American church culture is even more insular than American culture. Those of us who are in that culture have a very hard time seeing outside of it. So when I say things like “It’s a calling and not a vocation” most people in the church have no frame of reference. So while we’ve tied the concept of “I’m a pastor” with “I get paid to work at a church” we really get messed up when we no longer work for a church.

Two things to chew on…

Within Christianity: Outside of major Westernized countries almost no one who is a pastor does so vocationally. (Bi-vocational is the norm) In fact, the fastest spreading Christianity is spreading is absent of vocational staff and mostly without resources like buildings, Bibles, Bible study materials, etc. I’ve been pointing out the inverse relationship between church growth and church spending for months… but no one is lining up to cut their church budget/staff to see their church grow.

Other religions: Outside of the Christian church most religions are run by either volunteers or people who have taken vows of poverty, sustained only by the meager donations of people in their care. The Latter-day Saints are an excellent example of this. Very few people get paid within the Mormon church and yet it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

10 replies on “Pastor as Vocation”

I really like this, and I am a “pastor.” I see pastoring as a necessity to Christianity. It isn’t something that a pastor should do along, but we all should be out there mixing it up and caring, loving, nurturing, and being Christ to others. I imagine someday I will be outside of the prototypical pastor role, but I will still be a pastor. This is really good stuff, great point to make.

As I understand, if we are hands and feet of Christ in this world, we’re all in ministry. Our church purposely has tried refrain from adding paid staff, and empowering the entire church to use their gifts to be ministers where needed. Great post…..keep’em coming.

I hear what you are saying and believe wholeheartly that you are pastoring people. I have not been at the place where I am no longer the pastor of a church and it is hard to imagine what that will feel like. When I retire, will I still be a pastor? Sure. Some difference there I guess.

And yet, I buy into the traditional term of pastor in connection to a church. Wish there were some other terms that were accepted and recognized in our culture.

Your other point about the growth of Christianity without fulltime paid staff is well noted. Interesting conversation there.

Lastly, I feel blessed to have time to be in conversation with people on a regular basis, at coffee shops, school, and yes, even in bars. Small town living helps that.

Thanks for the notes and thoughts this morning.

Jeffrey- if more pastors were as involved in their community the way you are, more people would be in church.

I have this crazy fantasy idea that one day I’ll get to be a small church pastor where we can just be the church. Since its a fantasy, it doesn’t have growth requirements or need a big budget. In my dream, I just go about the business of the church… visiting the hospital, helping the poor, dropping in on congregants, etc. Does that world even exist anymore?

I like your paragraph about not having the “church filter” any longer. I belong to the United Methodist Church, but I consider myself a Christian, not a Methodist. That might seem an obvious fact at first, but we all know the stories of those who take their denominations to such an extreme they lose touch with the central core of what it means to be a Christian — the commandments, stories, and teachings of the Bible.

Dropping in our folks – does still happen. And I am happy to get to do that on a regular hasis.
I am sort of dropping in Thursday on a person. (ALright, less dropping in and more a planned visit – but with older folks that is often best). Anyway, I am picking up an active 90 year man to go and visit a not so active 84 year old. They both worked in construction and I learned the other week they had not seen each other in 15 years or so. I am looking forward to listening to them tell stories. There will be coffee and cookies and lots of laughs.

And yes, I’ll celebrate over and over that this is what I call work. God is good.

I really appreciated that you added the part at the beginning “that’s not a knock on those still in full time ministry” or however you said it. I feel like I’ve read 8 different blogs on this topic today, but they are all almost cutting down of those who still work in the church. The church is still the bride of Christ, I hate seeing people forget that. But back to the point, It’s a shame that so many in the church are soooo messed up, but it’s still the bride of Christ.

Don’t read too much into people’s cut downs. Typically, that stuff is based out of a deep, deep love of the church.

I think it was Augustine who said, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”

Thanks for reading.

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