There are lots of hard jobs out there. And there are lots of ways jobs are hard. In a recent article in The Presbyterian Outlook, Clark Cowden points out that the great business guru Peter Drucker once said that being a pastor was one of the four hardest jobs in America, after being the President of the United States, the president of a University, and the CEO of a hospital! (1)
Being a pastor is hard because no one really knows what the job is, or to put it more accurately, everyone has an idea of what the job is, and everyone’s idea is different.
The idea of what a pastor is supposed to do has shifted from decade to decade. As Cowden summarizes, in the 1950’s it was to preach and teach and visit people in their homes. In the 60’s it was to be a social activist. In the 70’s, a counselor or therapist. The 80’s required that pastors be church growth experts. The 90’s, it was business CEO and fundraiser. In the 2000’s, a pastor has to be a pro at technology. (1)
It is tough to figure out what, of all those things, needs to be done in any given week, or day. Some things are easy to find time for; some things I seem never to be able to fit in the schedule.
The particular duty I find hardest is planned, routine visitation. When I first heard the call to ministry, I resisted it because I always heard about those middle of the night calls, and I doubted whether I was up to handling the crises people face. But after being in ministry for a while now, I don’t have a problem with those, hard as the situations may be emotionally. It’s the routine, non-crisis, more social type of visitation that I really struggle with. And I guess I do for several reasons:
1) I never saw it done. The church in which I grew up was a pretty big and professional church whose pastors were not that accessible. They just didn’t do home visits, at least not to my family or any family I knew in the church. The only other church I belonged to was during seminary, and while I saw the pastor there do hospital visits, and went with him when I interned with him, I did not see him do regular home visiting.
2) I am an introvert, like many (most?) pastors. I value spending time with people; it is the most meaningful part of being a pastor. But it takes a lot of energy for me, and it can be emotionally exhausting.
3) I fear rejection. Every time you reach out, whether a phone call or a visit, you take the chance that you will be rejected. On good days, I say, “bring it on!” On bad days, I say, “I’ll do that tomorrow.”
4) Regular visiting is never pressing. In the Stephen Covey Time Management system (2), regular visiting is in the “important but non-urgent” category, which is usually pushed aside by the urgent stuff, whether it is important or not. It always seems to be the area from which time is taken to deal with the task with a deadline, or to oil the squeaky wheel.
So, what does the history of the Church have to say here? I mentioned the changing expectations of pastors since the 1950’s. What can be learned about where routine, regular, home visitation has fit in the list of expectations and duties of pastors over the centuries? Preaching, teaching the Bible, and ministering to others in crisis have always been a part of a pastors call. What about regular visitation?
That’s what we will explore next time.
(1) Clark Cowden, “Appreciating the Pastor as Juggler”, The Presbyterian Outlook, Sept. 30, 2013, pp.13-14.
(2) See his famous “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”