The Ramblings Of John Campea

Life Beyond The Movies

Is working in a church

Is working in a church a hindrance to your spiritual development?
At first the question may sound a little silly. After all, what better spiritual environment could you work in than a church? At least that was always my way of thinking. Yet working in “full time ministry” (a stupid term) always seems to present certain challenges to my personal faith journey that until recently have been difficult to define or identify. Here are some of them:

1) Being in the public eye
When you are a member of the church, you are a fellow traveller with everyone else. It is understood that you make your share of mistakes and have your share of flaws. Itís ok that you donít have all the answers and people donít really mind all that much that you have some different theological views than them. No one “expects” you to do this or that. However, that all changes once you are “STAFF”. Now, its perceived as everyoneís right to comment on your personal habits or preferences. Your mistakes are now cause for everyoneís concern. Your flaws become fuel for the gossip machine. Your character is scrutinized and evaluated by hundreds of people who each bring a different set of criteria for judgment to the table. Your opinion on frivolous matters such as Harry Potter or shopping on Sundays are viewed by some as a negative reflection of your personal relationship with God. Now, everyone has an opinion about what you should think, what you should teach, what films you should see, how you should dress, how you should talk, who you spend time with, what your thoughts should be, what your political views should be, ect. ect. ect.

For me, itís impossible to not be constantly aware of this “Public Eye”. I find it all too easy to make decisions based on what I think will appease the masses and win their approval. I often shy away from the hard decisions out of fear. Fear of the negative feedback and judgment. In short, I find that in areas of church leadership and my personal spirituality my attention can become fixed on pleasing the church rather than pleasing my Father.

2) Being taken out of the real world
When you are a member of the church, you are engaged with the world every day. You work in the real world living out your chapter of the story of God. You engage people and hear their stories, discovering their perspectives on life, finding out how they view the universe and how they view God (if they have a view of Him at all). You have the opportunity to live out the Gospel story the way it was meant to be told: on a living page. People in the world see you as another human being. However, that all changes once you are “STAFF”. Your day is spent in a church office. When you are out of the office youíre sitting down for a coffee with a church person, talking about problems theyíre having with another church person. Your understanding of the real world becomes outdated and is defined by oversimplified Christian clichťs (People recognize that they have a hole in their life, that whole can only be filled by God). As a result, you find yourself trying tell the world the answers, without ever really understanding the questions theyíre asking. You canít give them accurate directions to God, because you realize that you donít know where on the map theyíre starting from.

3) The stigma of the “Pastor” title
When Iím a student/producer/web designer, I find that people are usually quite interested when I talk about spirituality. However, when Iím a “PASTOR”, people seem to immediately tune me out. Its as if they automatically suspect my motives. My story is almost instantly discredited in their eyes as irrelevant because after all, Iím a minister, Iím SUPPOSED to have a story like that. The roles have reversed in the last 20 years. Now, my testimony is MORE credible if Iím an average everyday person, and LESS credible if Iím a Pastor. Go figure.

4) The line between “Profession” and “Life” becomes blurred
Iíve caught myself several times confusing elements of my spiritual life as an element of my job and vice versa. It was actually in my last job description that “Prayer is a significant part of your job”. Prayer is a job?!?! How twisted is that! Prayer is an essential element of my faith and lifeÖ itís not my “job”. I would also mistake sermon preparation (which I usual spent about 20 hours a week or more on) as personal Bible study, or time with God. The reality is that when I was doing sermon prep, my goal was not intimacy with God, it was sermon prep. You see the pattern.

Iím not saying other pastors experience this. Iím only saying these are some of the things that I personally struggle with from time to time when Iím on a church staff. I will work on a church staff again sometime. The truth of the matter is I really enjoy working in the church. However, when I do, these are the things I need to face.

Am I alone in this? Can anyone else relate with what Iím feeling?

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July 2, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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