Professional...what?

Fall is here with a vengeance. It's rainy, it's dreary, if you look out the living room window you can see the leaves in all their oranges and browns beginning to gather around the foot of the tree. I bet if you walked outside right now you'd smell that leafy rainy fall smell. This was the day I'd been waiting for since the first of September. All I need now is a cup of cider and a hayride or cornmaze or something. But a cup of Ethiopian and Jack Johnson will work.

I came upon a realization the other day about the nature of ministry. The M. Div is considered a professional degree (as opposed to an academic degree, I suppose), and so I've been asking myself what I'm a professional in. Why, ministry of course. Right? I'm a professional minister. That works on a theological level: all are called to be ministers, and some are called to specialization. I get that. That's not good enough, I'm afraid. I want to parse 'professional' and 'minister' as just throwing those terms together only reinforces the dilemma.

Here's where I get to share one of my favorite lines that was actually shared during a morning sermon (though not by me): 'Ministry is like pornography. It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.' Note to the hornballs who find this site because of that keyword or who feel the need to leave their own site in the comment area: you're pathetic.

What was I talking about? Ah yes...what does it mean to be a 'professional minister,' to hold a professional degree in ministry? The best way that I can figure this out is by working backwards, by considering what I do on a weekly basis and coming up with a definition from that list.

Preaching and leading worship on a weekly basis.

Providing care for members wrestling with matters of life and faith whether in my office, in their homes, in the hospital, nursing home, mental facility, baseball field, public park, parking lot, etc.

Teaching matters related to Biblical, theological, social, and cultural issues.

Ex-officio member of all committees, thus present at all committees with voice but not vote (this varies in local churches and denominations, but I like this model the best).

Providing direction (sometimes when it is asked for and sometimes when it is not) for various church programs.

One could add administration, budget matters, and all those institutional nuisances, but I prefer for our purposes to stick with this list. What I see as common to all of them is that people look to the pastor in these matters for their opinion, even trusting their best judgment, and if nothing else taking comfort that the pastor is there. What other sorts of vocations center around lending a professional opinion?

A consultant. I am, for all intents and purposes, a religious or spiritual consultant. Perhaps we could parse that out into more ceremonial and practical duties, but when people come to me they are mostly asking how God is present or could best be realize to be present in a particular situation, be it Aunt Gertrude's illness, the war in Iraq, our relationship to the wider UCC, the youth group, the Music Committee's purchase of a CCLI license, and so on.

While the business language is antithetical to the purpose of the Church, the description fits. 'What do you think, pastor?' is a question desiring a professional opinion. And of course people can and do consider that opinion worthless. An 'expert' or professional opinion is still an opinion. Like I have a corner on what God is thinking. Really.

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