Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"Hats Off" for the Clergy!

In God's Potters, Jackson Carroll puts forward the results of several years of survey and research on the nature and role of pastors in American churches. I was fascinatedby the number of hours that clergy report working in the survey conducted for this book. Carroll notes that mainline Protestant clergy report working 50.8 hours per week, higher than any other manager and professional group (averaging between 42-49 hours). This leads me to speculate on the nature of professional occupations in general, and specifically on the role of clergy: when is it okay to “take off the clergy hat” in the life of a minister in order to simply be a regular person?

In my experience, it is difficult for a professional in a recognized profession to ever take off that hat once it is established. For my friends who are doctors, even before they are licensed they become a source of free medical advice to their friends and family. My friends who are lawyers are always asked to give out free legal advice. Even professions like accountants and veterinarians are constantly asked minute questions about tax law or taking care of a beloved pet.

As it is for other professions, so it is for clergy. Once ordained (and often even in seminary), we are asked for “free religious advice” from friends, family, and even the occasional stranger. In the novel Gilead, the main character notes that, even while on a trip to another state, people recognize him as a pastor and ask him to “open up a little scripture,” or simply say a prayer. From the stories of more experienced clergy, it is not uncommon to encounter a stranger who, in learning of the profession of the clergyman, will ask him theological questions or will begin opening up about extremely personal issues in a “confessional” setting without ever “making an appointment” or even visiting the pastor’s church!

It is likely that this kind of interaction is quite simply “part of the job.” As clergy, this is the mantle we take on when we accept the responsibility of God’s call on our life. But even if that is the reality, how do we begin to practice the necessary “self-care,” especially as it relates to sabbaticals and downtime away from the profession, that is necessary to prevent burnout? How do we recognize, and work out, that “being a pastor is not the sum total of one’s life” (pg. 103)?

Grace & Peace

Currently Reading
"God's Potters"
By: Jackson Carroll