On vacation this week, but here is a follow up to last week’s post:
I love it when I post something and it strikes a nerve—whether positive or negative. It tells me I am pondering and putting out the right stuff. My post last week titled, “On the move…” struck such a nerve.
Two comments—one on the website and the other privately—clearly told me that I didn’t get the whole story. I have been accused by those who know me best of too easily falling into either/or thinking and this is one of those cases where I fell into that old habit.
One commenter, who first described his family commitments while wrestling with his next call to ministry, asked, “What are your thoughts for pastors with young families along these lines?” Another person reminded me that my post made no mention of the possibility of “tent-making” ministries. Both were referring to my oversimplified assessment that we have reached a point where one must choose to either stay on the move in order to do ministry or stay put and cobble together a livelihood out of many sources—ministry and non-ministry positions.
It is interesting that I neglected to mention that there are other options, epecially since I have had personal experience with both. I also had a young family at one time and when faced with having to balance family and ministry I had a period where family came first. I spent nine years working in juvenile probation and hospice that allowed me to stay put and support a family. Later I re-entered pastoral ministry and found my way back as a tent-maker working half time as the pastor of a church. The other half time I consulted and contracted with social service agencies. Cobbling together these positions allowed me to live in one area while my children finished up school.
The unspoken assumption in my former post that I didn’t articulate was “If full-time pastoral ministry is what you feel called to you have to be open to moving to follow the work.” My head was thinking about full-time professional ministry, but my words came out as a generalization about all ministry. Of course, my blog post was not really about making hard professional ministry choices. I was using my most current move as an opportunity to say, “Ministry in this time takes a certain amount of nimbleness, flexibility, and following the winds of God’s spirit.”
But my two readers who pushed me on this issue reminded me that often God IS calling us to remain rooted in one place. And when that happens we need to be open to the different configurations and lenses that we use to do and see ministry. Tent-making (blending pastoral ministry with other work) is a way to serve God in the church and serve God in other kinds of work. Choosing to remain rooted in one place for the sake of family is as faithful (and often more so) than choosing to uproot family to follow full-time pastoral ministry. I know that was the case for me. When I worked as a juvenile probation officer and hospice bereavement coordinator I still felt like I was doing ministry—just not in an ecclesiastical setting.
I am going to back off my earlier approach to this issue. I framed it in language that was too either/or-ish for a few readers and, after reflection, for myself.
But my basic point is still the same: We who are ministers are finding today that we have to be open to moving, tent-making, validated ministries, serving in non-ecclesiastical positions, volunteering, reframing ministry definitions, etc. And if it is true for those of us who entered professional ministry how much more is it also true for our churches?
I appreciated my readers challenging me and deepening my approach to this topic. My analogy was too narrow, but my main point is still the same: The world is changing. Professional ministry is changing. The church is changing.
God is clearly on the move. Therefore, as people of faith, it’s no surprise that we find ourselves also on the move.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades