>Do You Need "Tough Skin" to Be a Pastor?

>Saw the cartoon below over at David Hayward’s site, NakedPastor.  Now, having followed David’s blog and comics for a year or so, I know that he had a difficult period in his ministry.  I think he resonates with the cartoon.

For myself, I can think of a few instances where “tough skin” or “thick skin” were definitely needed in my own ministry–two more painful than the others.  In one case, my desire to do outreach to Hispanic persons in the community was met with a loud rejection by some members of the congregation I served.  There were angry letters and angry meetings.  But, probably the most hurtful part was persons walking out of the worship service before communion.  That seemed like an intentional attack on my pastoral identity.  Was it?  I don’t know.  A lot of years have come and gone since then.  Everyone’s moved on.  But, even though I had to have tough skin and try not to take it personally, I’m not sure I did a very good job with that.  The other serious case is less defined and harder to describe.  However, it involved persons questioning my integrity, my trustworthiness.  There was one real bad meeting that involved my wife leaving in tears.  It was painful.

But, I’m not sure I ever thought of it as having “tough skin” but rather trying to see what the underlying reasons for the complaints/concerns/attacks were.  I guess I’ve always known that many of the hurtful issues that come up in the church really aren’t so much about “me.”  (There may be some that were about me.  I’ll admit that.)

On the other hand, I guess being able to step back and look at the root causes of crisis and concern and not take it all personally does require “tough skin.”

Thanks, David, for making me think today.

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>Sometimes I’m Unwanted

>A partially elevated (patient's upper body) Hi...                               Image via WikipediaYou know, as a pastor-type person, I have in me some strong desire to make things right.  I like to fix things.  I like to bring comfort to persons.  I like to come into difficult situations, perhaps like a knight in shining armor, to offer the love and peace of Jesus Christ.  And so, when I hear of folks hurting…when I know of a car accident or a loss of life…when I hear of marital difficulties…when someone’s REALLY sick I want to throw on that breastplate of righteousness, pick up my shield of faith, don my helmet of salvation, and carry my sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6) and MAKE THINGS RIGHT…or at least MAKE THINGS BETTER…or at least…HELP.

Not everyone wants to be helped.  Some persons want to get through things on their own.

And, not everyone wants the particular help that I offer.  Some persons would really rather surround themselves with family and friends, without any of the “religious stuff” that I tend to bring with me.  They don’t want to pray.  They don’t want someone to hold their hand who isn’t their spouse or child or parent.  When I walk into a hospital room, for instance, I can’t help but be “pastor” there.  And there are some persons, even persons in our own church community, who don’t want that at their hour of need.  There can be many, many reasons for this and I’ve been at this gig too long to take it personally.

But, still…that’s hard to accept at times.

I can’t do anything but accept it.

But it’s hard to accept at times.

And so, whether they know it or not, I pray for them.

And so, whether they know it or not, I hurt for them.

And so, whether they know it or not, I pastor them…as best I can.

And, I pray that it helps.

I pray that it’s helping now…

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>"I am a Pastor" — Quote from Eugene Peterson

>Eugene Peterson lecture at University Presbyte...Image via WikipediaIn the secularizing times in which I am living, God is not taken seriously. God is peripheral. God is nice (or maybe not so nice) but not at the center. When people want help with their parents or children or emotions, they do not ordinarily see themselves as wanting help with God. But if I am going to stay true to my vocation as a pastor, I can’t let the “market” determine what I do. I will find ways to pray with and for people and teach them to pray, usually quietly and often subversively when they don’t know I am doing it. But I am not going to wait to be asked. I am a pastor. (The Pastor: A Memoir — p.142)

(HT — The Internet Monk)

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>"Jim, Can We Find Some Time To Talk This Week?"

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At church this past Sunday, one of my parishioners–a friend, a leader, someone whom I truly care for–came up to me after the worship service and asked, “Jim, can we find some time to talk this week?”

This is not a phrase I particularly ENJOY hearing.  See, I do enjoy being involved in people’s lives and I do appreciate the fact that I can be with them as they are facing difficult decisions or walking more difficult paths than they are used to.  I will be with them as they struggle with issues of divorce.  I will talk with them when they a facing medical issues or parenting issues.  I will talk them through hard discussions about moving out of state or business decisions or marriage or funerals.  I will hold their hand as they struggle with pain and loss.  But, this can all be very hard.

So, my heart sank, to some extent when I heard the words “Can we find some time to talk.”  I was pretty sure this was either going to be one of the “medical” discussions or one of the “moving away from Girdwood” discussions, with an outside shot of it being related to children or spouse.  It’s not that I had any particular indication that it was going to be these.  That’s just where my heart and mind went.

And, as we sat in the coffee shop this week, making small talk, I kept waiting for the proverbial “bomb” to drop on the conversation where I would not only have to shift into “pastoral care mode” but would also hurt because of that this person was gong through or because they were leaving or whatever.

But there was no “bomb.”

This person really just wanted to talk.

Nothing was pressing.

We just shared life for 90 minutes or so.  We laughed.  We recognized some of the struggles we both face.

And then we went our separate ways.

The other person just really wanted to talk, to catch up.

And it was wonderful.

>"Present" — A Ministry of Presence

>What Am I Reading?Image by mtsofan via FlickrFour days of meetings last week.  They can be wearing.  They can be soul-exciting.  I love my colleagues and I love talking theologically and Scripturally with them rather than filling in forms or planning yet more meetings–doing the “business” of the church. 

I am amazed, at times, of the business that winds in and through my life here in Girdwood.  I am no wandering preacher, out among the people.  My “people time” is carefully planned in the schedule of my days, if I can squeeze it in between the work time, the family time, the me time.

On these days, as I sit in my office, something I’ve not had the pleasure to do for 10 years since I really had no office, I look outside and wonder if I’m missing something.  I may be here in Girdwood and have been for years…but sometimes I feel as if I’m not really “present” with the people.  What is my ministry of presence here?

Leave it to Henri Nouwen to get at some of this struggle in ministry:

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.

My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.

–  Henri Nouwen

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>The Burden of Empathy — I’ve Shared it Here Before

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Sometimes it’s hard taking on the burdens, the pain, of others.

It can be a holy thing.  It’s a very Christ-like thing.  A cross-thing.

But it can be hard.  I think I’ve felt this more over the past year than I have at any other time in ministry.

I wouldn’t give it up for the world….but there are days I just might “give it up” for the world or a whole lot less.

Today’s not one of those days.  Today’s a good day.  But I’m more aware now than I ever have been that empathy comes with a burden…which is why so many people fail to enter into it at all.

The cartoon is from ASBOJESUS.

>"Many Hats" — The 33+ Roles of a Pastor

>Cowboy hats for sale at Austin, TexasImage via WikipediaRon Edmonson, back in December, posted 19 roles of a pastor that he could think up and asked his readers for more.  Here are his original 19:

  • Mediator
  • Counselor
  • Encourager
  • Teacher
  • Minister
  • Leader
  • Social media manager
  • Advocate
  • Rehabilitation Coordinator
  • Business Administration
  • Human Resources
  • Writer
  • Technologist
  • Data analyst
  • Public speaker
  • Theologian
  • Politician
  • Motivator
  • Comedian

Here are more listed by his readers:

  • Janitor
  • Greeter
  • Servant
  • Shepherd
  • Rescue Worker
  • Recruiter
  • Prayer Warrior
  • Disciple
  • Lawn manicurist
  • Strategic Thinker
  • Activist
  • Visionary
  • Fundraiser
  • Preacher

What would you add?

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