Archives For Clergy

imagesIf you attend my church, read this blog or listen to my sermons then you know I tend to give Dennis Perry, my associate pastor and partner-in-crime, a lot of crap.

Good-natured, ribbing.

You know I tend to talk about how Dennis is old, forgetful, lazy, obvious, boring, tired, uninspired, old, predictable, vain, shallow, past his prime, full of himself, phones it in, takes credit for others’ work….just to name a few things.

As more than one parishioner has expressed with not a little exasperation, we have a ‘unique’ relationship.

He’s my Jerry Lewis to my Dean Martin.

My Kramer or Costanza to my Jerry.

Case in point:

Earlier this summer Dennis and I gave a presentation for a group of clergy at an annual conference. Because we were riffing off of one another’s comments, it was perfectly natural and predictable that I would start to yank Dennis’ chain in the course of our presentation.

He was the only one laughing.

Besides me.

It’s true that clergy in particular and Christians in general aren’t particularly strong in the  funny category, but the silence suggested something else too, I think: how unique our relationship actually is.

Behind the lack of self-seriousness is an actual friendship, a partnership that has no need for competition, oneupsmanship or self-aggrandizing- all of which, sadly,  are rare among clergy.

And it started a long time ago. Right around the time I was learning to drive, I was learning about Jesus.

From Dennis.

He’s not just my Kramer.

He’s my Yoda too.

And that’s not an age joke.

The thousands of books in my office began with one book (on Aquinas) Dennis handed to me as I left church one Sunday morning. I was just one out of 1,000 people he rubbed elbows with that morning but it was an important gesture.

The theological wrestling I’m wont to do on a daily basis began with just one question (Time vs Eternity) to which Dennis sketched an answer on a dry erase board- and suggested still another book, Screwtape– one confirmation class long ago.

The friendship and ministry we share today began back then with mentorship. Quick casual gestures of interest and encouragement.

It was he who boiled down the pained ‘How do you know if you’re called into ministry?’ agonizing to its essence: ‘It comes down to whether you can really see yourself doing anything else and being happy.’


This nostalgia has been brought to you by the article I was forwarded from United Methodist Connections, “Why I’m Called to be a Mentor.”

The article, by Rev Melissa Pisco, a pastor in Florida, is the sort of unsurprising institutional promotion you’d expect from any organization, and it’s certainly the sort of bureaucratic PR you’d expect me to mock and satirize.

But I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

In the United Methodist system, ‘mentors’ are pastors you don’t know- and, chances are, will only get to know slightly better- assigned to tugboat ordinands through the hoops of the ordination process.

You’re not supposed to refer to them as hoops but that’s what they are.

Or, more accurately, that’s how they’re experienced.

As hoops.

Psychological tests, district committee interviews with open-ended questions, conference board interviews with open-ended questions (‘What can you tell me about the resurrection?’), essay questions, interviews about the essay answers.

It’s an anxiety-inducing process. It was for me and I got through without a hitch, and it was for my peers in the process too.

And that’s my point.

It doesn’t allow for the kinds authentic relationship-building that I think makes for fruitful mentorship.

Ordinands, who’ve already invested years and cringe-worthy amounts of debt, don’t feel permission to be themselves in front of ‘mentors’ who’ve been assigned to them by the people who soon will be examining their fitness for ministry.

It’s like asking a defendant to confess to the jury instead of his counsel.

I remember the first time I revealed a particular struggle I was having in my rookie ministry (the lack of anyone anywhere near my age within an hour’s drive).

The response I got from my mentor: ‘Well, I’d recommend you not share that with the board.’

Signal received.

I’m not trying beat up on Rev Melissa Pico or others who serve like her. And I understand that every process has to have…process.

But true mentorship doesn’t happen just because that’s the name you’ve affixed to an institutional process.

Actual, fruitful, vibrant mentorship is relational and while it’s not equal, it is safe; and therefore, much more likely to happen within the local congregation than inside a top-down prescribed process.

I had a handful of assigned ‘mentors’ as I wound my way to being a full-fledged minister and all of them were/are good guys and effective pastors.

But the mentoring that really made a difference in my life and for my call was the relationship I began with my local pastor and continue to this day, the kind that can’t be assigned but must instead evolve.

The same is true, I think- I pray- for the three friends in my own congregation for whom I’ve assumed the role Dennis played and plays to me.


tumblr_m7mc5pcuS01rr0fewo1_1280This is from Tom Rainer:

Most church members give little thought to the amount of time it takes a pastor to prepare each sermon. In reality, sermon preparation is a large portion of a pastor’s workweek. Unfortunately, this work is invisible to typical church members. They don’t realize the enormous amount of time it takes just to prepare one sermon.

I recently conducted an unscientific Twitter poll to ask pastors precisely how much time they spend in sermon preparation. For this question I asked for the amount of preparation time for one sermon. Many pastors must prepare more than one sermon per week, so their workload to prepare to preach is even greater.

I am pleased and appreciative for the number of responses I received. Here are the results of the poll by three-hour increments:

1 to 3 hours — 1%

4 to 6 hours — 9%

7 to 9 hours — 15%

10 to 12 hours — 22%

13 to 15 hours — 24%

16 to 18 hours — 23%

19 to 21 hours — 2%

22 to 24 hours — 0%

25 to 27 hours — 1%

28 to 30 hours — 2%

31 to 33 hours — 1%

The results were fascinating to me. Here are some key points I found in the study:


  • Most pastors responded with a range of hours. I took the midpoint of each range for my data.
  • 70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.
  • Keep in mind that these numbers represent sermon preparation time for just one sermon. Many pastors spend 30 or more hours in preparing messages each week.
  • The median time for sermon preparation in this study is 13 hours. That means that half of the respondents gave a number under 13 hours; the other half gave a number greater than 13 hours.
  • Most of the respondents who gave a response under 12 hours indicated they were bivocational pastors.
  • If the sermon was part of a series, the pastors indicated they spent even more upfront time to develop the theme and preliminary issues for the sermons to be preached.
  • Many of the pastors are frustrated that they don’t have more time for sermon preparation.
  • A number of the pastors indicated that finding consistent and uninterrupted sermon preparation time was difficult.

Most pastors have workweeks much longer than we realize because of the invisible nature of sermon preparation.

Coming Out of the Closet

Jason Micheli —  February 15, 2013 — 10 Comments

I have a collared clergy shirt. A couple actually.

I don’t often wear it.

I usually only pull it out for burials (it’s hard to drive to a cemetery wearing a robe and even more awkward getting dressed beside my car in front of mourners).

I sometimes wear it to weddings (because wedding planners often think I’m 14 years old and attempt to treat me accordingly).

I often wear it to nursing homes (where the collar communicates better than my words to someone who struggles with hearing or memory).

I usually don’t wear it. Much like clergy robes themselves, I believe anything that exacerbates a distinction between clergy and laity is unhelpful in a Post-Christian culture where most Christians are incapable of articulating their faith to others. Because, as the unspoken assumption goes, ministry is the minister’s job. Not mine.

I did a funeral and burial this morning.

Clergy collar? On.

Afterwards, because my cleaning lady was at my house, I stopped at Starbucks where I now sit.

Coffee still in my hand, butt not yet all the way in my seat, laptop only halfway opened and the person next to me asks: ‘Is it strange having everyone around you know what your faith is.’

I was taken aback because, let’s face it, most of the time I can glide through my day with no one knowing that part of life and identity save for the people I meet in the safe confines of the Church.

And most of you can glide through life with no one knowing that part of your life.

And most of you do.

Just sitting here for the past 90 minutes, I’ve had three other questions from three other people- and one of them bought this ‘Father’ a coffee too (which was kinda embarrassing).

I’ve always had a beef with clergy robes and clergy shirts for being antiquated (the average unchurched person has no idea why I would dress like a 4th century lawyer- or Obi Wan- on Sunday morning).

I’ve always taken issue with the fact that robes aren’t really traditional (Methodists only started wearing them around WW II), and, as I mentioned, I genuinely believe smashing the clergy/lay divide is a necessary task for the Church to survive into the 21st century, for if pastors are the keepers and dispensers of holy things the Church will never reach unchurched people.

But sitting here in Starbucks suggests something different to me. Maybe there’s something ‘invitational’ about the collar.

It outs me as though I were wearing a storefront sign around my neck

I know some clergy say they don’t wear collars and robes because they want to be able to ‘relate’ to people. I think, and always have, that that’s stupid. Especially in the case of the collar. After all, if I were just sitting in a t-shirt this afternoon, as I usually do, I never would’ve been in a position to ‘relate’ to anyone.

Because I could just avoid them. As I usually do.

Maybe there was something to all those Levitical commands about God’s People cultivating a very precise, distinctive appearance.

Which leaves me with a conundrum.

  1. I don’t think clergy/lay distinctions are helpful.
  2. This stupid collar that’s crimping my overlarge Adam’s apple is more helpful than a cross around my neck- because everyone wears those.

So maybe the solution is:

  3. All Christians should have to wear these out and about.

I doubt I’ll get many takers among the laity on #3, but I’ve decided on a little experiment during Lent. One or two days a week during Lent, I will hang out in a public place (SB, Pub and the like) and see what sorts of conversations come.


I don’t know which depresses me more: that the only way Methodists make a mention in the Wall Street Journal these days is through an in-house dispute over pastor job security or that we Methodists long ago surrendered our distinctive Christian identity, not to mention our theological imagination, by patterning our governance after the United States’ secular model.

That’s right, for those of you who don’t know- and really, lay people, there’s no reason you would need to know- we’ve got a Supreme Court!

Ours is called the Judicial Council, which, admittedly, makes it sound a little like the Star Chamber. 

Unlike the actual Supreme Court (or the Star Chamber I bet) ours apparently doesn’t observe the sabbath because on Sunday, the Judicial Council struck down a plan by denominational leadership, passed late this spring, to eliminate ‘guaranteed appointment’ for clergy.

Guaranteed appointment works just like tenure does for public school teachers. Just like public school systems, the United Methodist Church is beset by problems of outdated bureaucratic largesse and ineffective clergy that bishops are powerless to remove from ministry positions.

That’s right, as long as I don’t steal the offering plates or sleep with someone in my congregation, I can be demonstrably ineffective at my job but still be guaranteed an appointment at a church near you. 

The motive for eliminating guaranteed appointment was to give bishops the freedom to make appointments based on ministry rather than the minister. One bishop quoted in the WSJ says:

“I’m frustrated, I’m saddened, and I’m disappointed. The church is upside down in that we are so focused on clergy, clergy rights and clergy security that the church can’t be in mission.”

As the WSJ went on to explain:

Bishops argued that the policy hinders their efforts to energize the denomination, which, like most mainline churches, is facing declining membership. The bishops, who make or reaffirm clergy appointments each year, say they must place some ineffective pastors in churches, or go through an administrative process that can take months or years to remove them from ministry.

Obviously this move was not without complaint.

Many laity and clergy pushed back, arguing that it gives greater power to bishops, puts clergy’s lives further in bishops hands, adds more risk and less reward for incoming clergy and makes the appointment of women and minority clergy less secure.

Of these arguments, the only one I found missionally compelling is the one about women and minority appointments.

I think the fear of bishops is largely a misguided scare tactic.

Any honest assessment of how the UMC is structured would point out that one of the reasons for our decline is that we do not empower our leaders- bishops- to lead. And on the denominational level there is no other person or body to do the leading.

Any honest assessment of the UMC would also point out that clergy ineffectiveness is a fact. Just ask the laity.

While it’s true removing guaranteed appointment would have made clergy’s appointments less secure, that reality would make us no different than all the clergy in Baptist, Pentecostal and Non-Denominational traditions (you know the ones who tend to have stronger, growing churches and innovative, entrepreneurial pastors).

Strong leaders, I think, invite the opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness and grow from not hide from assessment.

Here’s Bishop Will Willimon earlier this year speaking about this issue. He puts it better than me and I agree with him wholeheartedly.