Faith Works 1-10-15
Why a pastor?
So I promised to spend the first weeks of this new year answering some "why?" questions about typical forms of faith and practice, both for those who are not part of religious communities, and for those of us inside of them who don't often have a reason to stop and ask "why do we do this, or have this, or say this as Christians?"
One question that comes up in talking to non-participants in faith communities is a personal angle: so Jeff, what is it you do? Or in the general format here, "why a pastor?"
There are long theological responses available, and I may just let this be a two week long answer, but I'm going to start with what a pastor, or at least this pastor, does.
In making up my usual year end tally for the January meeting of what my church calls "the elders," the spiritual leadership of the congregation, I looked back at 2014: in rough estimates from some specific numbers that are neither here nor there, I spent about 100 hours on weddings, 150 hours on funerals, 325 hours on non-commuting driving for church work around Licking, Delaware, and Franklin Counties (plus a half-dozen trips to our regional camp in Union County), 40 hours with work on behalf of our denomination (called a region in my communion, but other bodies might call this the district or diocese or conference), 1000 hours on home visits of all sorts (nursing residential care to the simply home bound), 300 hours on surgery/hospital calling, 150 on Bible studies, 120 on board & committee meetings of all sorts, 200 on print & e-mail communications (newsletters, stewardship campaign, e-mailed devotionals). Now, I figure a standard full time ministry week as typically 60 hours, and I worked 50 weeks last year . . . that's 3,000 hours. Add to the above year-end report figures 51 Sundays, call 'em 400 hours net, plus (+100+150+325+40+1000+300+150+120+200), and you not only cross the 3,000 figure, you see why sermon prep always ends up Saturday night.
There's also a certain amount of housekeeping that ends up being done by me that I might be able to delegate better (washing up the coffee pots on Monday or changing the sign out front, except I'm very picky about how the letters line up, what with my mild obsessive compulsive tendencies), but that gives you a year-long panorama of what is, I think, a fairly typical pastor's time budget.
If our congregation of some 300 members and probably 450 connected souls in total didn't have a pastor, these would either be done on a voluntary basis, or they wouldn't happen. There are church bodies that have no formally "set aside" clergy, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints perhaps being the best known of them (also known as "Mormons"). And in some groups, as among Catholic Christians, the set-apart ministry of the priesthood is a very specific body of men indeed, and the things they do at the table in Communion or other sacramental acts can only be done by them.
In my religious tradition, the congregation can do Holy Communion without me even being in the building; we have what's technically known as "lay presidency" at the table. Communion is done reverently and respectfully, and that's come to mean that more often than not the clergyperson is presiding . . . but they don't have to.
What I see myself as, specifically, is the "preaching and teaching elder" that Paul speaks of in I Timothy 5:17, and the person asked to take on that responsibility the apostle also notes should be paid. So you see a precedent for a position such as a pastor all the way back into the earliest Christian church.
The idea is that you receive some compensation so that you can focus on preaching and teaching well, and that's where I worry a bit. As you can tell, calling and managing tend to eat the hours when you're in a modern pastorate, and to keep time set aside even as a full time clergymember for prayer and study can be a challenge. And that's why I like having the eldership of the church, where we have spiritual leadership together, to help keep me accountable to that core mission in my ministry!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he doesn't spend enough time on prayer and study for his sermons. Tell him what you think he should cut back at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.