Signs of the Kingdom: The Pastor as Generalist

Date Posted: 
Thursday, January 7, 2016

By Louis Lotz

In a world of specialists, pastors continue to be generalists. I’ve heard it said, “Pastors are the last of the generalists.” I wouldn’t go quite that far. There are other generalists out there: secretaries, family physicians, farmers, stay-at-home moms. Nevertheless, it is true that the pastor is faced with a wide array of expectations: teacher, preacher, social worker, counselor, evangelist, Bible scholar, prophet, administrator, liturgist, omnipresent visitor of the sick and suffering.

There are hazards in being a generalist. For one thing, there is professional guilt. (“I don’t measure up.”) Nobody does everything well. It is ironic that clergy, who are in the business of helping people unload their guilt, often feel guiltier than their people do.

There is personal frustration. (“My work is never done.”) The pastor is on call 24/7. No matter how much you work, there will still be hospital visits you didn’t make, articles you didn’t read, meetings you didn’t attend.

There is professional burnout. (“I’ll never be able to keep up this pace for another 20 years.”) Well-documented studies show ministerial dropout rates approaching 50 percent. The very language of “going to church,” as opposed to “being the church,” reveals a mindset in which church is a religious community where clergy do the work and churchgoers are consumers of religious goods and services. It’s not hard to see how this consumerist view of church feeds into clergy burnout.

I will concede that not all pastors, present company included, are richly endowed with the gifts of their calling. But given the hazards of their situation, the varied expectations of the job, the constant travel to and fro, the grow-or-you’re-gone job insecurity, I’d say the Reformed Church is blessed to have the kind of clergy we have. On the whole, our churches are staffed with men and women of calling and competence. They have led us and fed us for most of four centuries, and I expect the trend to continue. If the RCA is looking for a hero, we need look no further than the pastor’s study.

“Signs of the Kingdom” is written by and reflects the opinions of Louis Lotz, a retired RCA pastor who lives in Hudsonville, Michigan.

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