Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Risky Sabbaticals

Eugene Peterson once wrote (I think it was The Contemplative Pastor) about the need for pastors to take a sabbatical. He had been at his church for decades and he chose to take an entire year away (as I recall). He wrote of his insights and encouraged all pastors to engage in sabbatical discipline.

It sounded great if a pastor could actually swing the time off.

I learned early in my ministry that my opposition moved against me when I was out of town. If I took two weeks, that was time for at least two quiet business meetings and all kinds of phone calls. I know more than one minister who came home from vacation to find he was out of a job.

If I go on vacation, I weigh the stress of knowing someone is speaking against me while I am away with the relief of having time away from horses' asses.

This is one of those things about church work that I find shameful. Why is it that an organization which exists to do God's work can be so dishonest, cowardly, petty, and mean spirited?

Are they so frightened of the minister that they can't look him in the face to say, "We're not happy with the work you're doing."?

I got mad at Peterson for suggesting that pastors weren't cutting it because they weren't pursuing enough spiritual discipline. And I admit that I got just a bit of satisfaction when I read in his next book how he came back to his church and found things so turbulent that he couldn't stay.

Eugene, it's difficult to soar with the eagles when you're surrounded by wusses.


  1. Sad. Though I can't imagine all churches being like that.

  2. "Why is it that an organization which exists to do God's work can be so dishonest, cowardly, petty, and mean spirited?"

    Good question, but I am quite sure that not everyone has that agenda. It has been my observation that many participants in religious organizations are really not focused on doing God's work as much as doing people's work...power plays, politics, gossip and making sure they look good to a pastor or rabbi or priest so they can feel good about themselves. It's very disheartening! :( ~K

  3. Mike, no, not all churches are like that. I have been privileged to work with a couple who were quite classy in how they treated folks--even their preacher.

    K, you're right. God's work is not really the agenda of some folks in church. It's interesting that some of the very best hearted people are often on the periphery of the church. They'd help more, but they don't want to cause church.

  4. You're drawing a pool of people that think they can be on God's special side in a world where (allegedly) most people are either against God or do not know him, etc. Is it any wonder that among the people drawn to such thinking there are a number of unself-aware, perspectiveless, egomaniacal, self-righteous, power-hungry people? The hubris is baked right into Christianity's presumptions about itself and Christians' presumptions of their special relationship to God.

    I know you'll never take the advice, but if you want to focus on people and the charity you (unnecessarily) equate with "God's work" (when it's just as much the work of any human being with a conscience--requiring no approval from God for its goodness or the motivation to perform it), then get involved in non-prophet non-profits and cut out the superfluous theological excesses and extra temptations to self-righteous, egomania that come with them. Of course, even among the charity focused, self-righteousness and god complexes can arise (which is why Nietzsche warns so vigorously about the potential psychological dark sides of compassion), but at least you're not encouraging it with a slate of theological supports for it.

  5. Hi CWH, I always appreciate your strongly expressed thoughts. It’s hard to refute a lot of what you say, especially when I agree with much of it, but I define “God’s work” in part as work that gives love and aid to people in need. I define godly ideals such as kindness, genuineness, integrity, and hope. The point of what I said before is that people in churches often live antithetically to these values.

    Am I drawing from a pool of judgmental megalomaniacs? Probably. Megalomania is prone to using religion for it’s own purposes. However, I do not think religion causes people to be crazy. Crazy people use religion to confirm their craziness.

    Finally, I am well aware that many people do good works outside of church or religion (although I would still call what they do God’s work, but that’s just me being stubborn).

  6. As much as I hate to say it, the problem isn't just at the churches. If you were to go to a non prophet non profit, you'll probably find the same issues. There are assholes every where. A few years ago, and several boyfriends and jobs later, I kept thinking it's better somewhere else. It really didn't change till I realized that if I was going to wait for someone else to change, I'd be waiting a long time. Change, and/or acceptance had to start and end with me.

    Are all people assholes? No. But the situation you find yourself in isn't particular to church. If you've decided to do what your god is telling you to do (his work) then you do it. In any arena. If that's your objective, then you probably should start loving it.

    The only thing you can change is you.

    I hear tell there are some strip clubs looking for chaplain. At least the one I work in is....

    Love you, CG!!

  7. Sistermoon, this news comes as a total shock. I had been daydreaming about how I could escape the evil clutches of my church and retreat into the loving, idealistic, nonjudgmental arms of my agnostic friends :).

    So does this chaplaincy position include major medical coverage?