Not Enough

Question for preachers and worship leaders: how often do you tell the people you lead that God makes them enough?  How often – especially if you come from the Reform tradition – do you tell them about their inadequacy but how the Spirit will work within them and make them enough?

I do this often, bordering on weekly.  Maybe I do not use so many words, but I do it essentially every Sunday.

I have started to struggle with this idea.  I do not want to imply I disbelieve in this whole process of the Spirit empowering us beyond ourselves, but I keep finding myself inherently “not enough.”  I do not even know how to describe it, but I keep running into things in my life and ministry that require me to “be more” of whatever that situation require:

  • I am not woke enough. I do not march, I do not protest, I do not do enough of the things our “thought leaders” and “prophets” demand all clergy do.  No one would confuse me for an activist pastor.
  • I am not apolitical enough. I have lost members for speaking out against child separation already and I had a member refuse to talk to me after my last sermon.
  • I am not tall enough. Thank God I have a powerful voice.
  • I am not hip enough. I lead a liturgical service with standard movements, and I feel comfortable and empowered there.
  • I am not traditional enough. I cannot just use the Book of Common Worship; I must change the language, make it inclusive, and soften it.  I try to be playful in the liturgy, making it less formal and more relaxed, which means people who grew up with the traditional liturgy get lost sometimes – especially those who struggle with hearing.

And continue ad infinitum.  I could go on for days about the ways the world and leaders on our faith have implied – both directly and generically applying to me – that I am not enough.  God did not make me enough for…anything, it seems.  I can have a good ministry but even then, it feels as if I should feel shame over how I do not do something enough.

I feel this demand to fit into a label to find any sort of community or acceptable ministry.  My pastoral ministry feels irrelevant to everything because we now live in a time of overt evil that demands constant, constant attention.

Wil Willimon told the Festival of Homiletics that pastors care too much about pastoral care and too little about their prophetic voice.  John Pavlovitz told people to leave their churches if their pastors did too little to speak out against the evils of today.

I lost members to this already.  I have to walk a tightrope of prophecy while also needing my members to not hate me before I show up at the ER, the surgery ward, or the funeral home.  I can only speak so loudly, but the thought leaders demand loud and constant voices, implying we can only be true to Christ if we march with our signs at every opportunity.

I am not enough, and I keep running into that fact.  Hell, I am not enough of anything to even find community here – not liberal enough, not conservative enough, not heteronormative enough, not queer enough, not political enough, not apolitical enough, not nerdy enough, not geeky enough, not dumb enough, not confident enough, not humble enough, not weird enough, not normal enough, not anything enough.  I have no strong labels, making me feel like the world sees me as personification of Revelation 3:16: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

I know I bring severe feelings of inadequacy and inferiority to this, but I want to know: how do the rest of you preachers and worship leaders know you are enough?  I know God chose me for this work and called me – the Spirit has made my ministries too effective to doubt – but how do I shake this feeling?

Is it just the Age of Polarization and Trump?  Is it a thing about Urban Ministry I did not understand coming in?  Am I actually not enough and just did not realize it before?

I did not write this for sympathy.  Yes, I will own existential pain drives this a bit, but I also find myself angry.  When someone says my parishioners should leave my church if I do not do something but leave that something vague, and no one can tell me how much I must do to not deserve my church dying, what should I do?  How much is enough for the prophets and thought leaders?

I take exception to a call to exodus without so much as a sliver of guidance for the pastors you threaten with exodus.  I take exception to condemning ministries without a conversation about the day-to-day of solo pastoral ministry and trying to help struggling churches find their way in the world that includes more than protesting – like care, fellowship, discipleship, and teaching.

I just wish I was enough.  The Spirit gave me a pastoral heart and a strong voice, but that is not enough, so it seems.

Anyone else?  Am I alone here?  Or are other pastors starting to feel it?  And please, for all that is holy, I did not write this for someone to patronize me and softly tell me, “You are enough, it’s just tough.”  I want to know:

Am I alone in feeling that I cannot possibly be enough in 2019, or are other pastors feeling it, too?

– Robby

The Problem of Pastors and Politics

I was having a conversation today…and yesterday…and Sunday about how it has been so very, very hard to keep my damn mouth shut about the political game.  I’ve slipped a few times – more this week than in all previous elections combined – but I am doing my absolute best to not tell people to vote in any way or imply that any candidate is not a Christian candidate.

I’ve wanted to.  My God, I’ve wanted to.  But I have been keeping my mouth shut.  Mostly.

I know I’m not alone, but I can’t help but notice that I have quite a few pastor friends who are quite vocal this election, and I get it.  I really do, I really, really do.  But I find myself at a crossroads.

I am a pastor(ish), and even when I am not in my pulpit, I may as well be because people are going to hear it as the pastor giving his pastoral advice.  I may not be presenting the Word of God in every moment (ESPECIALLY WHILE WATCHING DEBATES) but I am a pastor in every moment, and the words of my mouth are the words of a pastor no matter if I am commenting on the qualities of a specific sandwich at Chick-fil-A* or talking about the qualities of a specific candidate.  In every moment, my voice is the voice of a pastor.

Now if I say that a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A* was tasty but the breading was a bit soggy, I have expert status because I eat a lot but not because I’m a pastor.  I’m just a sad, sad man at that point.  But if I say that one candidate is better than another, my being a pastor gives a level of expertise as a theologian and professional minister.  If I say a particular candidate is not a Christian and demonize them, then I have declared – even unintentionally – that the correct Christian choice is to vote against them.  If I say that the country is doomed if a particular candidate is elected, I say that using the authority I have as a pastor.

Maybe that’s how you think pastors should work, and I won’t be able to convince anyone otherwise, but consider the situation I find myself specifically and tell me how I am supposed to be political and not do a disservice to the Christians I serve, because all of them are baptized, confessing, and worshiping Christians just like me, flaws and all.

I have a staunch Trump supporter, a few that will vote Republican, a strong Clinton supporter or two, a few that will vote for Hillary, and a pile that seriously think the only answer – the absolute only answer – is for neither to be on the ballot and so they feel so helpless and hopeless.

Now let’s say that I demonize Trump and support Hillary.  The Hillary supports just feel supported, the Trump supporters no longer feel like they are welcome Christians, and those frustrated in the middle point to things that she has said that clearly go against my preaching and ask how I can support her.  Most people (or at least half) were just told – albeit possibly unintentionally – that voting for the candidate of their choosing is a sin and that they should feel ashamed.

Now reverse it.  Different people, same result.  I literally told half or more of the people in my congregation that they are sinful for disagreeing with me.

Maybe you don’t see it as forcefully as I do.  Maybe you see yourself as speaking in a voice that isn’t your pastor voice.  Maybe you believe that absolutely no real Christian could support a particular candidate – and that your view is absolutely correct.

But I do.  And before I get an onslaught of things that are wrong with both candidates, I’m watching the same news, reading the same blogs, and having the same thoughts as everyone else.  I can see – clearly – what is going on.  I don’t need you to tell me why you hate/love a particular candidate.  I am not blind or dumb.

I just don’t think it’s responsible for us to be so publicly demonizing and deifying candidates and tell those who we serve who disagree with us – that those that serve right along with us – that we hold the only possible Christian option and dissent is unacceptable.

Now jokes about voting for Mr. Potato Head and Aaron Rodgers (whom I hate with the fire of a billion suns) and expressing your frustration with how the election is shaking out is an entirely different matter.  That’s called being human, and my success as a pastor is about 75% due to my being willing to be a human.  But when you discussion of political situations turns to “Absolutely not her/him”, you tell those who disagree with you that they cannot have their position and still be Christians.

I’ll admit I hate elections, and I want my Twitter feed to go back to beer, jokes, bourbon, jokes, and occasionally a profound statement, but the rhetoric is out of hand, even if I agree with 99% of it.  We’re pastors, we have a different standard and a different calling and we should respect that even when it pains us.  We serve our congregations (or different ministries), not the political process of our country.  Think about the people you serve and if what you are saying will make them less served by you.

Rant over.  Contemplating turning the heater on in my office.

– Robby

*I hadn’t had Chick-fil-A in years and then one opened in Dubuque and I was on the road a lot and found myself having to choose take-out and now I’ve had enough Chick-fil-A for a year…

Friends

(UPDATE: Things are a changing, thus the new blog and such.  Like other posts, this is still a good piece of writing – or at least as good as I’m capable of – but situations change and it’s not as relevant as it used to be.  I also took a small part out; just didn’t seem to be necessary, even if I do still agree with it. – RB)

Real talk time.  I told myself, when I started this blog, that I had to be honest and frank when I wrote.  Holding back was counter-productive and if I want this to help someone else – if I want someone to feel or learn something – then I need to give them everything they need, not just the things that I am comfortable sharing.

No specifics – not worth it or even helpful – but I have found myself in a situation where I no long feel like I am friends with a bunch of people I have been friends with for a couple of years.  We are still friendly acquaintance, we still work together, we still laugh, but some childish drama placed a wedge between us.  I am kind of alone out here – I’m not a member of the Presbytery I’m serving because I’m not really officially serving and the ordination process is what it is – and I haven’t found a plethora of friends.  Support, clergy discussions, direction, that all I have, but I found having a group of friends where being a pastor wasn’t defining of our friendship relaxing and uplifting, and I feel like I lost that.

I wasn’t sure how to process what I was thinking about, but this idea popped into my head: I should write out what it means to be a friend to a pastor.  I’ve seen it before, and my version will probably be inadequate, but this is where I’m at.

So, here’s how to be a friend to a pastor:


1. If you are friends with a pastor, they aren’t judging you.

Stop trying to be perfect around your friend because they are a pastor.  Treat them like a friend.  They don’t want to be your pastor; they want to be your friend.  They are not looking for your sins to write down in their register to talk to God about.  They simply need a give-and-take relationship.

And they chose to be your friend.  If you drink beer, that probably influenced their decision to be your friend.  If you smoke pot, that might have influenced their decision to be your friend.  If you are a thrice-divorced degenerate, that probably influenced their decision to be your friend.  Given all of these things, they want to be your friend.

Friends don’t judge friends, which leads right into…

2. If you are friends with a pastor, they don’t want to judge you.

I don’t spend my day telling myself to not judge.  I don’t struggle with wanting to see you for all your faults and making mental judgements of your soul.  I’ve never once saw someone sinning and thought, “My, it would feel good to mentally condemn that person to Hell, but the Bible tells me not to!”

I don’t want to judge you.  I know that we are all sinful, and I’ve got plenty of sins on my own heart that deserve me being condemned.  Only self-righteous jerks take pleasure in judging and building themselves up by tearing others down; that’s just as true in the Christian world as it is in the secular.

3. If you are friends with a pastor, remember that being pastor is their job.

Doctors, nurses, computer techs, mechanics, chefs, beauticians, and almost any other job that serves people understand this.  No, we don’t have a time clock that we punch, and that emergency phone call may force us to run out of the building like it’s on fire, but when I’m around you, I’m not working.  I’m not looking for ways to proselytize to you, I’m not going to try to convert you, I’m not going to pull out a Bible in the middle of a beer and pull the whole “Relevant and Relatable Pastor” spiel.

I want to drink beer and talk about how horrible the Vikings game was and commiserate about how much I hate Wings even though I love the Beatles and that the Rolling Stones are just awful in my mind.  I don’t want to pastor to you any more than you want to do your job for me while we drink beer.  I just want to be your friend.

4. If you are friends with a pastor, remember that they are always faithful.

I’ve been friends with a multitude of atheists in my life, and some of them have been my best friends.  I had at least one atheist stand up for me at my wedding.  Maybe I just don’t make friends easily enough, but some of the best people I have met don’t believe in God.

But I don’t pretend to have a weak faith when I am around them for their sake.*  My wedding revolved around God, not around us.  I pray frequently.  I bow my head when we film games at the Catholic high school.  I have a relationship with God no matter where I am.

This has been a struggle with previous friendships.  I don’t want to try to convert you – at least not while I’m relaxing on your couch or on a bar stool – but I will continue to be a Christian while I relax.  I make choices for myself as a Christian, and I will do or not do things because of that, but I’m not judging you because of my choices and I’m not doing these things as an example of what I think you should do.  I’m doing them because of my relationship with God, not my relationship with you.

5. If you are friends with a pastor, please relax around them.

I need to relax.  I’m on call always, my sermon is never out of my mind, there is always something that I could be doing, the work is never done.  I need to relax.

I won’t relax if you are constantly tense around me.  I need a friend, I need a two-way relationship, I need a beer buddy, and you being nervous to relax around me is not going to help me with any of those things.

Remember everything above, and then chill out.


Hopefully this isn’t just rambling.  Hopefully tomorrow when I read this again, I don’t shriek in horror at what I put out there.  Hopefully reconciliation is possible.

To friendship,

– Robby

* I did that once with a girl I was dating.  Failed miserably.