This piece was originally posted at Elizabeth’s blog, www.reimaginelife.wordpress.com.
Someone from my church recently asked me what my career aspirations where after this job. I was a taken aback by the questioning and then began to answer with statements like, “I know I am in the place where I am to be for now. I will be the pastor of this church for as long as my leadership is beneficial both to me and the congregation.”
The funny thing about these questions was that it was assumed that I would want to be the head of a larger denominational organization at some point in the future or that I would want to go to a bigger church. Assumed.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Corporate ideas of success have truly invaded the mindset of the church and those who work therein. Success for pastors = bigger church/organization, more influential church, more prestige, higher pay.
When I go to religious conferences where I’m mingling with people I don’t know, a common conversation starter is: “How many members do you have? What is your average worship attendance? What do you think your next career move will look like?”
I’ve always gotten a little itch when such questioning begins. By participating in answering such questions it assumes that I am ok with the climbing-the-ladder game. It is as if I’m giving my approval to the bigger church = more success mentality.
Once when I told a new “friend” that the worshipping attendance of the church I serve is under 100 folks, the look on his face said it all. His jaw dropped. His eyebrows raised. And, most notably a smirk formed in his smile. I knew at this point, I was no longer worth his time in conversation. I must not be doing something right if I had not already “arrived” at a church of larger membership.
To change all of this nonsense, what if we began to ask questions of acquaintances and friends such as: where in your life do you find joy? What activities fill your home with laughter and happiness? What do you most hope to contribute to the world at the end of your life?
I think if we oriented ourselves and our questions of others in this way, we might be more accepting of our internal stirrings, even if they didn’t follow the traditional mold of “climbing the ladder.” We’d just be so happy to recognize joy in others that we’d want more of it in our life as well.
Conversations at pastor’s conferences might be less about “What is the size of your church?” and more about “how are things with you?”
I believe that healthy church communities are grounded by emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy pastors. Healthy pastors are made when they are given the freedom to move and breathe and find their being in God. Pastors stay in the ministry longer when their joy comes not only in their work, not only others’ opinions about them, but when it flows out of their authentic being which is usually not found when one is obsessed with climbing the ladder.
Join me in putting down the ladder . . . at least for today.