A job I love

There was a time, some years ago, when I thought of the church as a kind of hierarchical ladder. We started our career serving two small churches. Then we were called to a congregation that was about twice the size of the two churches combined. Then we moved again to a mid-sized congregation. That was more than 23 years ago now. I think when I first came here, I imagined that I might go on from this church to serve at the Conference level and perhaps even serve in the national setting of the church. A former pastor of this congregation did just that, becoming a conference minister and after that serving in the Stewardship office of our church’s national setting.

There were many things that I did not anticipate with that kind of thinking. One of the things is that the church isn’t a hierarchy. Those serving in Conference or national settings aren’t somehow above those serving in local churches. In addition, I don’t think that i understood how rapidly mainline churches, and our denomination were shrinking. Because the congregations I served held their own in membership and grew modestly, I didn’t notice how many congregations were shrinking in size and how many congregations were closing. The impact of this change on Conference and national settings of the church was dramatic. Conference offices started cutting staff and program budgets. The same was occurring at the national level. So while the congregations I was serving were growing in budget and program, the Conference and national settings of the church were shrinking. Each year they had less to offer to local congregations. Each year they hired fewer staff persons. Each year there was less activity and less excitement about those settings of the church.

When I became aware of this trend, I naively thought for a while that the problem was poor leadership. I convinced myself that had I been called to serve in one of those other settings, I would have done things differently and the results would have been different. That is highly unlikely. For one thing I did serve in the church’s national setting. For about 20 years in the middle of my career, I served part time as an educational consultant in the church’s national setting. And my position is one of many that was eventually eliminated. There are no more educational consultants. There are no more free-lance curricula writers, another job that I did for several years.

Another thing that I didn’t envision when I was thinking of the shape of my career, was simply how much I love doing the work of a local church pastor. I look at the jobs that Conference ministers do, with extensive driving, many nights being away from home, difficult situations, nearly constant conflict - and I can see easily that such a job is no where as joyful as the work I do. Conference ministers aren’t called in to lead Christmas worship. They rarely officiate at weddings or baptisms. They don’t conduct any where near as many funerals as I do. They don’t get to know the members of the choir or see the dedication of the people who work in the church kitchen.

I have also discovered some wonderful things about serving long-term pastorates. I have confirmed children that I have baptized. I have celebrated weddings of adults who were children when I met them. I have watched middle-aged persons become seniors and elders. I have witnessed the transformation of the congregation in many different ways.

Of course, I have also been called upon to officiate at the funerals of my friends - in fact most of the funerals I lead these days are for people that I consider to be my friends. I have said good bye to young adults as they go off into the world to college, military service, jobs and other adventures. Many of them end up living in other places and I see them only rarely. I have witnessed the pain of widows and widowers as they adjust to major life changes. I have walked with people as they struggled with life-changing illnesses. All of this carries deep meaning, but it also means that I have not only celebrated with the congregation, but also grieved with it.

Of course there are careers that offer higher salaries, more security and earlier retirement. But the truth is, I cannot imagine a different career that I would have loved like I love the jobs I have been called to do. Of course there are days when I’m moving furniture and wondering how that got to be my job. There are times when I am stuck behind a computer when I want to be out visiting people. There are chores that I have undertaken that I don’t particularly love. But the overall thrust of my job is a path of service that I wouldn’t trade for any other job in the world.

This week I got another invitation to participate in a tribute to a colleague who is retiring after long and faithful service. Those requests are coming in more and more. Many of my seminary classmates have already retired. It seems that 40 years is the career span of many ministers and this June will be the 40th anniversary of our seminary graduation. The good news for me is that there is no mandatory retirement for us and I was about as young as was possible when I graduated from seminary, so I think I’ve got a few more years of effective service in me yet.

But none of us will go on forever. We serve God in the places where we are called for the time that God allows us and I have no illusions about the future of the church. God will provide the leaders that are needed and the day will come when I don’t be one of those leaders.

In the meantime, I’m having a ball being pastor of this congregation. I know there is no “ladder” and no pinnacle for ministers, but the place to which my career has brought me gives me great joy and satisfaction. I’ve been a lucky one in this career.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!