Wearing the Words We Preach

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Last spring I was searching for meaning in my job. Not that it’s hard to find, we simply have to look at the students we get to serve to understand that something important is being accomplished. Or we simply evaluate our calling to know that the God we serve is (hopefully) happy with our roles. But if we eliminate those two primary validations, we can feel a bit lost, not entirely sure why we put ourselves on the line week in and week out. 

I remember it so clearly, that moment of enlightenment. I was sitting in a local cafe with someone from our congregation and was sharing my sense of wandering with him. I was confiding in him and trying to identify the direction in which I should go with something I was struggling through. Then he suddenly stopped me and said, “You just need to get out there and do something.” 

At first, I was offended. How could he discredit my planning for Friday’s event? How could he disregard my investment in parents? Wasn’t he aware of my current reading of N.T. Wright’s “Surprised By Hope” or C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”? When was the last time he showed up at a Bible study? I need to do something?! My frontal lobe lit up as reactions to such an arrogant perspective came to life. But being the good pastor I am, I asked for clarification and I think his response deserves some consideration. 

He went on, “You’re a passionate guy. You have great talents. But just because you get to work with youth and share the Gospel with them doesn’t excuse you from being called to God’s mission. You need to do something outside of your employment for His Kingdom and stop using work as your excuse for participating in God’s missional community.” 

I was suddenly lost for words. 

Ever since that conversation, I’ve been awestruck at how much I think I do as a youth pastor, and how little I tend to do voluntarily. And that’s the paradox we find ourselves in as a youth pastor. Is all our work for nothing? Not exactly. But is all our work done for the right reasons? This is the serious question we must beg with ourselves as leaders. Even if we are in this business for the right reasons (which I assume most of us are), there’s a hidden expectation of entitlement and  gratitude for the work we do.

This is why the challenge I received in that cafe was not only a challenge of my role, but a challenge of my character. It’s deeply sincere questions we have to ask ourselves as youth pastors and leaders. Are we doing what we’re preaching outside of our “work”? Are we leading by example? The perception I received by enacting mission locally outside of work surprised me, it might do the same for you. 

  • Are you involved in any missional activities outside of your employment or role at your church?
  • Is your perspective on this issue different? 
  • Maybe you’d like to chip in from a participants level: would it be more encouraging for you as a participant to see your youth leader more involved locally?
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You can just cut and paste those thoughts right into the network sites for other pastors!  I think most of us pastors of all kinds struggle with the same reality.  Our jobs as pastors fill as many hours as we let it right up to 24/7 if we let it.  And our circles of relationships are almost completely within the church community we serve.  How missional is that?  I know of one church situation with a coleague a while back where the church complained because their pastor was coaching hockey (on his off time of course).  "If he has spare time, it should be doing something with the church!"  Then on the other hand, I also know a pastor who has discussed with his Council the matter of being an active presence in the town community the church is in and of having Council hold him accountable to doing that so he can lead by example as well as in word what they hoped would be the reality for the church members.  Thanks for raising the question.

Colin.

Colin! Thanks for your intuitive response. I'm always amazed at certain perspectives we have in our faith communities (ie: the coaching experience). But it's also my belief that we're beginning to see a movement towards organic mission: mission localized and internalized by leaders and lay leaders alike. But, as always, ignorance towards issues is no reason to go on denying them. So thank you for your agreement and we'd love to hear more success stories of your and others work. Grace and peace.