20 June, 2024

Is Ministry Where We Go to Lose Our Sense of True Calling?

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by | 14 August, 2005 | 0 comments

By Terrence O’Casey

I nearly lost my pastoral call somewhere between a rapidly growing congregation and the second-guessing of some difficult church members. How did I let it happen? How can we “self arrest” before we slip off the icy slope of administrivia into the tyranny of the urgent? A real analogy from my life helps me suggest an answer.

When I joined the San Bernardino County Sheriff”s Search and Rescue Team, we were trained to do just that, search and rescue. We became medics and then graduates of the academy. We took classes from the Border Patrol on tracking lost souls and rappelled out of hovering helicopters into remote canyons.

We loved what we did. The greatest reasons: The people we worked with and those we helped.

But one day I realized I had lost my calling, passion, and zeal. People moved to the background when I became the commander of the team. I did not fly anymore. I sat at the command post poring over wilderness maps of terrain my feet once explored.

I did not medically assess patients. Now I triaged jurisdictional conflicts between Fire Department and Sheriff”s Rescue teams. I went to policy meetings, and risk-management seminars.

Someone has to do all the administrivia, but is that the senior rescuer”s job?

Is it the senior minister”s role?

Something similar almost happened in my ministry. I nearly lost my calling, and I think I”ve figured out why.

The Please Disease

Margie came from a Presbyterian Church that had not grown in years. Her last pastor, functioning as a hospice/chaplain minister to a dying church, always visited her in the hospital.

Mark came from a church where the elders were stuck in the 1950s as a policy and policing board checking up on the pastor like a parolee with an ankle bracelet.

Tom on the other hand came from a software company. When he looked at the senior pastor, he expected clear vision statements, strategies, and skillful management. Of course, they teach MBA courses in Bible college, don”t they?

Bob came from a Calvary Chapel. He expected his pastor to spend no less than 20 hours a week in lesson preps for the Sunday and midweek soul feed. “Can”t steal well-fed sheep, Pastor. That will close the back door.” Bob is troubled that his pastor is spending too much time at the hospital with Margie, updating Mark about where he is, while reading yet another book from Tom on church management.

A.D.D. Success Syndrome

I also nearly lost my calling because I had self-inflicted wounds. After our family arrived at Seaside Christian Church in 1990, 34 wonderful but tired people grew into a congregation of nearly 400.

How can we keep our focus when we suffer an attention deficit disorder about spiritual things? Easy. We tackled marketing the old property, buying 10 new acres, coming up with innovative designs for the new building, applying for conditional use permits, seeking consent for ingress and egress, meeting with the Department of Environmental Quality for sewage, contacting the state fire marshal about sprinklers, consulting the church loan company for a draw, marshaling crews on Saturday to help build for the next year”s rain (we live in Oregon), and handling complaints on Sunday.

“Pastor your sermon wasn”t like it used to be.”

Oh, really? Then we hired a company to lead us on a campaign to reduce our debt so we could hire an architect to design our next building, so we could pull another conditional use permit, to start yet another building project!

And why not throw in pursuing a doctorate at the same time with three kids in sports?

I would read continually from Maxwell on leadership, Sweet on the emerging culture, Warren on purpose, Lucado on Jesus, and occasionally even found time to work on sermons.

My well was running dry. The church grew. My soul shrank. I had become the spiritual equivalent of a soccer mom.

Learn How to Self-Arrest

Can we self-arrest before we spiritually slide off the cliff?

In the winter, high among the icy peaks, our rescue team had to know how to self-arrest if we fell on the frozen slopes. With ice axe in hand we were positioned headfirst, downhill””toward the cliff on a steep snowfield. That is incentive to learn this art.

The instructor noted, “If you don”t arrest within the first 50 feet, your speed will be too great to stop.”

The slide began. We dropped the ice axe into the snow at our left hip as we were going headfirst on our back! Our body jerked around as the tip dug into the ice. Our faces came uphill beside the hopefully imbedded steel, and each of us sighed in relief! We had all seen pictures of mountaineers who slid down a 2,000-foot slope at 80 mph. But none of them were any of us.

Lord, help me to self-arrest. I reread yet again Eugene Peterson”s The Contemplative Pastor where he says, “Busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal, it is not devotion but defection. Busy to a pastor is like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker.” He asks how we can lead people to the still waters and green pastures of the Lord when we are continually in motion?

Here are some ways to self-arrest. Before the day”s slide begins, practice these spiritual disciplines. Hunger to hear from God before the siren voices of people”s agendas fill your day.

“¢ Pray. Make a template. Pray for specific needs of your son or ways to love your wife that you have noted and written down. Daily revisit in prayer those insights. A template is where our prayer-refined ministry goals are daily prayed for. We intentionally keep our souls on target.

“¢ Read the Bible. I mean unrushed reveling in the Word that has no immediate work-related purpose besides filling the soul with joy and wonder. Treat the Word as that which first changes our being, before we apply it to our doing, our ministry.

“¢ Daily, read a chapter from the great spiritual classics: A Year with Thomas Merton, a chapter from E.M. Bounds on Prayer, or find a good translation of Practicing the Presence of God. These time-tested, trend-resistant works will recharge even the most careworn soul.

“¢ Build a study outside of your office. A woodshop or a study is where you dream and build. An office is that sterile, sawdust-free place where you meet the customers and run your business. Some pastors are able to have an inner sanctum of quiet at the church building.

I have built a study on my farm, connected to work by Internet and phone if there is an emergency, but protected from the tyranny of the urgent. To my left, a sign in the woods reads: National Park Boundary. In front is a mile of rolling forest, ribboned by a blue ocean.

Make the study embryonic, a birthing center for God. A pastor”s study is synonymous with a rendezvous one-on-one with the Lord. Then having spent the morning in study, you”re ready for the next step.

“¢ Spend the afternoons with the people. If your church is large, your first congregation is your staff, teaching them to be out with the people, saints and sinners alike. If your church is smaller, hit the road, Jack!

The kiss of death can often be a minister in his office too much! It is a great job not in spite of the people, but precisely because of the people.

“¢ Write spiritual job descriptions. Learn to put up boundaries asking people to respect them. Redo your business card to read, “Husband, Dad, Pastor.” Never forget that order. Put a plaque on your study door: “Acts 6:4.” Then “Just do it!”

As you begin to slow and reclaim your call, jettison the myths that you have to co-sign every church check, do every wedding, perform all the marriage counseling, and make every hospital call. Practice Ephesians 4:12 with the congregation. Train, empower, release, and then go fishing with your daughter!

“¢ Finally, take another look at the pastoral letters of Paul. Use your computer to print out 1 and 2 Timothy. But first, substitute your name each time Timothy”s is written. Now you have a Heaven-sent job description that will allow you to hear the phrase: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Terrence O'Casey is pastor with Seaside Christian Church, Warrenton, Oregon.

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