jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

confessions of an r.p.m.

I am an R.P.M. (Recovering Professional Minister), and I have a few confessions to make. I have been working as a teacher in public school for a little over a year now. I have also become a normal member of a large church with no “official” ministry responsibilities. The experience has helped me recognize several misconceptions and misunderstandings that I had about life as an average American church goer. So, here’s a few confessions.

(1) As a professional minister I was distracted by the crises that arise in people’s lives, as well as demanding personalities. Because of this the majority of my time was taken up by unusual circumstances. I worked hard as a minister, but I was mostly out of touch with the average Christian’s life. Interestingly, public school has helped me see this. It has become evident to me that in public school teachers’ time and energy (as well as state and federal funding) is mostly taken up by the top 5-10% and bottom 5-10% of the student population. It is your average student (80-90% of the school population) that is losing out. Because of this it often seems that teachers are working harder than ever, and your average students are getting less and less from those teachers’ efforts than ever. Unfortunately, the same is often true in ministry.

(2) As a minister the personal and spiritual demands were often overwhelming. Nonetheless, there were always certain flexibilities that are just not options for most working adults. Because of this I was out of touch with what I was really asking of members when putting together special events and ongoing classes and asking people to commit to them. I had no idea how difficult it was for most members to find more time in their schedules.

(3) I thought content was much more valuable than it really is. As “Joe Member” I have come to realize that the things that build me up and feed me in church have very little to do with church service programming and sermon content. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying those things are useless. But I’m fed much more by simply being around the people in my church. I’m thinking of things like the conversations in the hallway and parking lot, the intangible feeling of gathering with others in one place, and the overall sense of community that grows out of those things.

(4) I had no idea what I was trying to prepare people for when they returned home and prepared to return to work. This one is tricky, because as a minister you face all kinds of difficult situations. So, you sort of slip into an assumption that you can speak with authority to how people should deal with the “less difficult” situations of the work place. However, those situations, though often less critical, are no less difficult and demanding. I had no idea how to help people deal with ups and downs of spending 40-hours a week with an assortment of colleagues who have a wide variety of personalities.

(5) I had a hard time knowing what “spreading the Light in your workplace” really meant. And so I did a poor job of equipping people for life in the world.

11 comments on “confessions of an r.p.m.

  1. Don Warrington
    October 4, 2008

    I hope that many COG pastor read this, especially those who aspire to the designation “missional.”

    Recently here I complained that Evangelicals are too deep into their own stuff. That applies doubly to pastors and other clergy. Sometimes, because of my own background, I find many things that COG ministers say and do not resonating. But perhaps that’s not entirely a “background” problem.

    Christianity is remarkable in that God himself came and shared our human estate. In this way God is uniquely connected with man through Jesus Christ. Pastors who want to really shepherd their flock need to have at least some of that. I think much of the success with Evangelical churches in general and Pentecostal churches in particular stems from the fact that many ministers connect better with their flock, in part from their experience. This needs to be cultivated.

    Jesus Christ is the “anointed one.” Ministers spend a lot of time wanting to be elevated and anointed while forgetting that Our Lord’s own anointing reached its culminating moment in his life, death and resurrection while walking amongst us.

  2. joel clackum
    October 5, 2008

    I’m teaching 8th grade English. I also teach some online courses at a bit higher level. You are so right about how the job gives you a much more accurate view of “average life.” It really helps you see how out of church the church (I mean universal) is with so many of the “programs” offered and its concept of what will win people over. No wonder so many churches have grown carnivorous, seeking to devour the congregations of the churches around them in order to grow. The questions I am constantly asking myself are: How can we build a real community that includes/invites everyone? Is the church (real people attending real churches) in the USA at all willing to make the changes it needs? What will we do if the answer to the second question is “no”?

  3. joel clackum
    October 5, 2008

    Pardon my sleepy comment. I meant “out of touch the church… is”. I suppose that’s pretty bad form for an English teacher! 🙂

  4. darrellbjr
    October 9, 2008

    Great post. I’m currently dealing with a lot of this stuff.

    Personally I have been struggling with not being able to disconnect from the “stuff” of ministry…waking up in the middle of the night freakin out over what’s going on with this member or that program.

    What I am learning is that the “stuff” is not who I am. For too long I have given up my identity to be identified with what I do. In all reality, what I do should flow out of who I am, not the other way around.

    So, who I am is the little kid wanting to go with my Father where ever He goes, and out of that I end up in my community building relationships and hopefully exemplifying the life of Christ in the process.

    Along the way I pastor, evangelize, preach, teach, lead and disciple, but this is what I do, not who I am. As long as I keep this in mind, I can sleep at night, because my fulfillment comes from knowing who I am in Christ even while struggling with some of the things I do for Him.

    Still a work in progress,

    Darrell Buttram, Jr.

  5. Peter P
    December 3, 2008

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!!

    Thanks for the awesome post!

    Getting out into the ‘real’ world would change the lives of many, many ‘professional ministers!’

  6. Phil Hoover
    January 7, 2009

    Jon,

    Of course, you hit the nail on the head. I know many “ministers” who need to try on the “Joe Member” shoes for a few weeks….

  7. Jonathan Simmons
    December 28, 2011

    So now that you’re back to being a “P.M.”, I wonder how the above has affected your ministry? Does your programming/discipleship reflect these same sentiments? Do you feel tension again to meet the expectations of “church”?

  8. jonathanstone
    December 28, 2011

    Jonathan, there have been some very interesting developments since returning to p.m. status! One of the things that I have seen is that the non-p.m.’s are very concerned with knowing that certain things are offered at their church, but not necessarily willing to invest much of their personal time in seeing those things succeed. It is difficult to balance people’s “wants” with what people’s willingness (or sometimes lack thereof) to serve and volunteer. So, some of my overall “sentifments” have come back into balance a bit. Nonetheless, my some of my ministry has definitely been affected by my r.p.m. days. I am much more sensitive to equipping for the workplace, for example. I am also much more sensitive to the “callings” of the non-p.m.’s. However, the move back from r.p.m. to p.m. has indeed created some of the old “tensions.” I’d be curious to know about you experience, given that you have gone from p.m. to r.p.m. to p.m. again. Any thoughts?

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  11. Chuck Ramsey
    December 31, 2011

    Love the post and discussion. I particularly like number three regarding the appreciation for the sense of community over content. Also, I would humbly suggest we use the term “vocational ministry” instead of professional ministry. I love the post and understand your use of the r.p.m and p.m. term. As you well know, we are all “in the ministry” however, many do not realize it and many lead their “ministry” as if they’re the only ones in “it”.

    I highly recommend you read Jonothan Campbell’s book, The Way of Jesus. Also, anything written by Alan Hirsch such as “the Shaping of Things to Come” or “The Forgotten Ways”. You can see some great stuff from Alan on YouTube as well.

    Thanks again for the great post!

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This entry was posted on October 2, 2008 by in missional and tagged , , .
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