I had lunch about a week ago with Pastor Mike, one of the co-pastors of our “new little church.” Mike is an insightful preacher, thoughtful person, encouraging soul and all-around great guy. But congregational ministry isn’t his day job, although it used to be.
I don’t know all the details, but once upon a time Mike was pastoring a church and things went sour and he was forced out. A friend told him about a position nearby as a hospice chaplain, and he accepted that as his new vocation. He’s been a chaplain ever since, more than a decade now. About six years ago, he and Pastor Rebecca, who is, I think, a counselor by day, founded our new little church, where they take turns preaching, and keep a hand in pastoral ministry while drawing a paycheck somewhere else. I certainly see the appeal in that, and in some ways I think it’s actually good for the community to have relationships with pastoral leaders who are modeling involvement in good work in the world, and who are not going to be able to drop whatever they are doing at the drop of a hat to come visit a church member. It creates a different set of expectations. It’s also good, though, to know that Mike and Rebecca do what they do for the church out of the sheer joy and love of it, not because they get a salary from it.
I had lunch with Mike because chaplaincy is one of the few jobs out there that I could conceivably go into where my education and experience would be seen as directly relevant assets. I took a course in healthcare ministry when I was in grad school that involved a lot of visiting sick patients at a hospital, but I didn’t pursue that path long enough to get a completely clear sense of the rhythms of life in a chaplaincy career. Mike was enormously helpful in giving me the lay of the land.
On the topic of our mutual departures from full-time congregational work, Mike mentioned the book Clergy Killers, which he said includes the statistic that 30% of ministers will be terminated or otherwise forced out of a ministry posting at some point in their careers. 30%! That’s a pretty sobering statistic. I’ve seen citations in other places about extreme rates of burn-out and depression among ministers. According to some researchers, 70% of ministers are struggling with depression at any given time. It’s a good thing that ministry has such a deep appeal in other ways, because it if became widely known that your average ministry job is going to require 90 hours of seminary, pay far less than your would get doing almost anything else with that much training, and come with a 70% chance of depression or burnout and a one in three chance of getting canned at some point, we’d have a hard time keeping the pulpits filled–even harder than we do now.
The other thing that interested me about Mike was that he was raised Methodist and is now in the Disciples of Christ. That probably doesn’t seem like a strange thing to most of you reading this–and it doesn’t to me, either, anymore, but in all my time in the Churches of Christ, I only heard of a handful of people who left C of C ministry to go to a different denomination–and I never heard of anyone who did the opposite journey. For a long time, I had a sense that denomination switching was something that was virtually unknown.
But then when I started attending ministerial association meetings, it turned out that almost every pastor I met had made a denomination change at some point. Some of them spent their seminary years finding the right match; others started down a career in a certain network and realized it wasn’t for them a bit down the road. None of them seemed to think that switching was a terribly difficult thing to do, logistically or emotionally.
Part of why Churches of Christ are different, I think, is our own sectarian past. We just haven’t played very well with others, and the rest of Christendom can seem like a very different world. For a lot of the major Protestant groups, though, they are used to associating with and respecting leaders in other folds. It’s just not that big a chasm.
Which is to say, I’m realizing that I had made a denomination change out to be a bigger thing than it really has to be. The doors are open out there, if I want to walk through.
Or there’s chaplaincy work.
Or being a cop.
Or a kindergarten teacher.
Or a landscaper.
Or myriad other ways to contribute to the restoration of the world.