Jack of all trades, master of none


By Joe LaGuardia

An advertisement from a church looking for a new pastor read:

“Wanted: Pastor for small church.  Must excel in preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration, leadership, vision setting, missions,  ministry, church growth.  Also, ten years experience a must.”

A satirical ad, similar in tone, added: “Pastor must know politics, how to dry tearful eyes, handle every major life crisis, and have the answer to life’s hardest questions.”

All kidding aside, I know churches that expect all of this — and more — from their pastors.

I am convinced that full-time pastoral ministry is one of the last professions in the world in which a person has to practice multiple skill sets for a salary well below that of other professional occupations.

And I have heard stories from pastors in which they have not lived up to these expectations and experienced depression and anxiety.  So, why do thousands still take this job?

Leading a church is exciting and fulfilling.  We preach even if it means having to administrate sometimes, and we like to be present during life’s greatest challenges and celebrations even if we can’t answer all of life’s questions.

Yet, we pastors must be clear when things get out of hand.  I knew a pastor in Atlanta who had his secretary schedule everything for him.  That way, the pastor never had to tell anyone “no” when a request was made.

If there was a death, however, the pastor did everything to be present.  He would cut vacations short or fly home.  He would cancel seminars in which he was key-note speaker.

“The only time you are excused from being with family during a death is if you’re on a cruise in the middle of the ocean,” he stated.

Times have changed since that pastor led a church.  Now, pastors are not the first people called during crises.  In fact, many pastors find out about life transitions or hospital stays from second- or third-parties, or even social media.

Gone are the days when the pastor came immediately to the hospital in an emergency because many pastors have to negotiate their time with co-rearing children or holding another job to make ends meet.

Expectations still linger nevertheless, and I have a personal anecdote that still bothers me to this day.

Years ago, I got an email from a grandparent whose grandchild was in critical condition.  This was before smartphones, so I didn’t intercept the email until mid-afternoon.

Also, I was busy all day caring for my son who had a high fever while my wife was at work.  I checked the email right before we left for the doctor.

My plan was to check in with the family as soon as we got back home, but when I checked again I found that the grandparent left an irate email.

He was hurt.  He felt abandoned.  He asked where I was in their family’s greatest time of need.

Then: “Never talk to me or speak to me again.  You are no longer my pastor.”

My church knows my persistence when it comes to relationships, so I didn’t give up.  I tried to reach the family all week.

Despite my efforts, I haven’t heard from them since.

Although many pastors are now trained to set boundaries, give clear expectations, and adhere to well-developed human resource handbooks that establish contact protocols, we still try to be all that we can be.

Other times, we simply fail to meet expectations.

When most of us come to a new church, the first thing we do is find ways to make our church have more realistic expectations.  It’s better for a church to have a pastor that sets boundaries than to be a church who gets stuck with all of the pastor’s therapy bills.  Boundaries benefit all of us.

The Pastor’s Study: Building blocks for effective ministry

writers-blockBy Joe LaGuardia

The other day, my six-year old son visited the church office and asked, “Daddy, why do you have so many books?”

My first answer was practical: “Because I like to read.”

My second answer was theological: “And pastors have to learn in order to serve a church.”

It was another way of saying that we pastors (most are avid readers anyway) require some old-fashioned odds and ends that many professions no longer need.  In this case, books.  Good, hardy paper-and-glue bound books.

A pastor’s library needs to be robust and diverse because it contributes to a minister’s professional development in ministry.  Without some basic building blocks in that library, a pastor will not be able to “gain in learning” and “discern wisdom with acquired skill” (Proverbs 1:5).

There are about four building blocks in a pastor’s study.  The first block includes a variety of study Bibles and translations.  Without God’s Word, all else is entertainment.

I know that some pastors are adamant about a translation, but I’ve come to learn that no, single English translation is perfect.  Nor are any study Bibles.

Last Sunday, for example, we discussed 2 Kings 2:23-25, about the prophet Elisha divinely influencing two bears to maul over 40 boys because they dishonored him.

All of us in the class were stumped by this unsettling story, so we turned to various translations and study Bibles for help.

Some study Bibles said some things, while some said another.  All agreed, however, that the story emphasized Elisha’s power in bringing about God’s judgment as an heir to Elijah’s power.

The study Bibles didn’t provide us with any concrete answers, but it inspired lively discussion.

A second building block includes books that encourage deeper faith, primarily devotional literature.  Since many of us received our call to ministry after our salvation experience, there is a good chance our oldest books are related to the Christian life and prayer.

I still have copies of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’Kempis and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers that I’ve used since high school.  These books continue to challenge my faith and bring great conviction.

The next part of a pastor’s library involves a good set of Bible commentaries.  It doesn’t matter how many books a pastor reads, nothing can replace commentaries in preparing for the preaching of God’s Word.  Every pastor has a favorite series.

I always enjoy William Barclay’s The Daily Bible Study series and the older, regal Interpreter’s Bible Commentary.  There are some new commentaries series from a diverse set of authors also, such as the Catholic-leaning Sacra Pagina New Testament series.

For novice pupils of the Bible who want to build a good home library, one-volume commentaries work just as well.  I have found The Bible Reader’s Companion by Lawrence Richards and Our Daily Homily by F. B. Meyer to be particularly useful.  A one-commentary volume on the New Testament by Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, The People’s Commentary is insightful and fun to read.

Rounding out the pastor’s library are two types of books: One type helps interpret the Bible more deeply; and a second helps the pastor interpret culture more deeply.

The first type range from homiletics (the study of the art of preaching) to hermeneutics (the art of Bible interpretation).

The second type is broad, with books related to current events, culture or ethics, church history, and theology.  Two books I read recently are The Urban Pulpit by Matthew Bowman, a history of mainline churches in Manhattan; and The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould, which discusses the necessity and uses of social media for evangelism and outreach.

I’m currently reading God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, by Phyllis Tribble, a classical work in feminist theology pertaining to the Old Testament.  I’m finding the book’s insights on Genesis 1-2 invaluable.

Aside from all of the visits, crises, events, committee meetings, and errands to which pastors attend, there must still be time to read, study, and prepare each week for that next presentation, sermon, or Bible study.  It never ends, and without a study to call home, such struggles would be all the more difficult.

Questions to ask a Pastor Search Committee…

Every so often, McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University publishes “This Week at McAfee,” a few minute satire that highlights a variety of “resources” at the seminary.  They are humorous and become a welcome distraction for those seeking a laugh or two.  This week’s video highlights good questions to ask a pastor search committee…