I remember a day when – as a parish pastor – I chose cover art for a worship bulletin, did Greek word studies for a sermon on the Gospel of Luke, visited a new mom in the hospital, testified as a character witness in a military trial, moderated a session meeting, and talked with a newly retired member about her suicidal thoughts. I remember feeling like I was in a pinball machine with no time to process these experiences.
[Note: one of the added stresses was that I also couldn’t share with anyone what I had done that day – but self-care is the topic of another post on another day.]
This memorable day came to mind as I read this article by John Dickerson. He writes about President Obama’s week before Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011:
The events that took place immediately before and after those secret bin Laden meetings included: an education-policy speech; meetings with leaders from Denmark, Brazil, and Panama; meetings to avoid a government shutdown; a fund-raising dinner; a budget speech; a prayer breakfast; immigration-reform meetings; the announcement of a new national-security team; planning for his reelection campaign; and a military intervention in Libya. On April 27, the day before Obama chaired his last National Security Council meeting on the bin Laden raid, his White House released his long-form birth certificate to answer persistent questions about his birthplace raised by the man who would be his successor.
In the two days before the raid itself, Obama flew to Alabama to visit tornado victims and to Florida to visit with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was recuperating from a gunshot wound. On Saturday, April 30, with the operation under way but its outcome uncertain, he attended the White House Correspondents’ dinner, where he had to entertain journalists with a comedy routine. In the joke-writing process, he had removed a quip about bin Laden. His aides were given no hint of why.
Dickerson mentions in this article that the President of the United States is expected to master pastoral skills.
Actual pastors are expected to be emotionally intelligent, theologically impressive, media savvy, administratively gifted life hackers. Oh, and the pastor must be Christ-centered. Of course. And a good preacher. Other helpful skills include: accounting, mechanical engineering, fundraising, and social work.
What actually happens is that the superbly gifted preacher might have weak bedside manner. The mission leader might be an ineffective meeting facilitator. The deeply faithful shepherd might be a failed administrator.
Now more than ever, we need what Forbes Magazine calls “unbundling.”
We need leaders – in church and beyond – who know how to share power and break up hierarchies. We need leaders who understand our limitations and welcome authentic partnerships. We need leaders who are not threatened by the leadership of others.
No one person can excel in all the areas needed for excellent leadership. But a good leader assembles a team that not only covers all the bases well but they work together for a common mission.
Pastor as Pinball is not a model for ministry. We need time to process and pray and stare into space.