Are you someone who looks to the past to understand the present? Perhaps you view the past as a blueprint to future solutions. By understanding pivotal decisions, patterns, and original intentions, you are able to understand how a situation or person came to be. Through sensing an underlying structure to the present, you are able to be more confident about the future. You make a great partner because you understand how your colleagues came to be. If this sounds like you, you may be a person with the talent theme of Context.
Dan is inquisitive, thoughtful, and positive. The first thing you notice about Dan is his joyous smile. He can converse with anyone by adjusting his own communication style to that of his audience’s. He is gifted in listening and is wise about the past. Dan excels in his Context talent by using the lessons of the past to communicate how we can function in the present.
Dan gives us a look into the world of a Pastor below. The lessons he has gained while working as a Pastor is applicable to many other industries. For example, in the last question Dan proposes future pastors to think “bi-vocationally.” Read on for the whole story.
What’s your title? What do you do? How long have you done this?
For the past 24 and a half years I have been an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the US. In that time I have served 8 congregations—four of them in the suburbs (Detroit and St. Louis), two of them in the inner-city (Kansas City and St. Louis), one of them in an exurban setting (St. Louis), and one of them in a small town in a rural county (Potosi, MO). Currently, I am the Pastor of Hillside Presbyterian Church in House Springs, MO and Potosi Presbyterian Church.
As Pastor, I am considered the spiritual leader of the congregation. My main activities are designing and leading weekly worship services, preaching (which is a 20-25 minute talk about a portion of the Bible), providing pastoral care (visiting and counseling with people, often in crisis), moderating the Session (which is the governing council of the congregation), and helping shape a vision for the congregation and working with the Session to implement that vision. Both the Hillside and the Potosi congregations are small and struggling and are wanting to discover a new direction that will, they hope, result in greater vitality and greater numbers of visitors. The other part of my work is being engaged in the local community, meeting leaders who can interpret to me the texture and needs of the local communities, and to meet potential members of the church
Because I am part-time in these congregations, most of time is taken up by the above activities. At other churches I have spent significant time teaching members at times other than during Sunday morning worship, and leading the administrative work of the church.
What jobs or past experiences have led you to the current thing that pays you money (your job)?
Before I was ordained, I served a variety of churches and para-church organizations (e.g. a church-based anti-apartheid lobbying organization in Washington, DC) as an intern. After college, I enrolled in seminary to earn a Master of Divinity which is the degree that my denomination requires in order to become an ordained pastor. I also come from a long line of pastors (5 generations before me) and my mother earned a degree in Christian education, so this was in the air I breathed and the water I drank from the very beginning of my life.
What occupation did you imagine having when you were 5? What about at 25?
When I was 5, I imagined that I would be a pastor like my father. When I was 25 I was in seminary training to be a pastor. Since graduating from seminary in 1990, it is the only work I have done.
The Best: Tell us, what’s the best part of your job?
Preparing and preaching sermons and designing and leading worship. I am good at this work and gain great satisfaction in helping people to feel God’s presence and to have transformational spiritual experiences. This does not happen every Sunday for every person, but when it does happen, it makes the whole job worth it.
I also enjoy helping congregations struggle to discover their particular mission in the world. For much of the 20th Century, most Presbyterian congregations did not think about their particular mission—you built a building, hired a pastor, put together a series of ministries (worship, Sunday School, fellowship, support of local and international charities and missionary work), and that was that. But as the church has lost influence in the culture and is declining in membership, the church must rethink and reimagine its mission in the world. This is both exciting and frustrating—exciting because the church hasn’t had to do this for a long time and yet we have a great tradition of responding to a new day with new approaches; frustrating because we have largely lost the language and practice of change and let’s face it, people don’t like change, especially in an institution that serves as an anchor for their life.
The Stink: Tell us, what’s part of the job that you really wish were different?
- Churches have lots of paperwork, bills, upkeep, and procedures that are mostly (but not always) necessary for its survival and well-being. Much of this falls to the pastor (especially in smaller churches) and it is both a time consuming and soul killing (for me—some pastors love this).
- The very common assumption and practice that pastors exist to do the work of the church and members exist to receive their services. While this must be the case some of the time, it frequently becomes the standard operating procedure. The Presbyterian has a strong belief in the “priesthood of all believers” which means that every person is called into service. When we operate from that premise, the pastor’s main role is not primarily to satisfy the members’ needs, but to help them become ministers in their own right.
- Passive aggressive behavior. If you don’t like something, just tell me, don’t tell me that “some [unnamed] people are upset.”
Outside of your job, how do you spend your time?
As a husband, father of three (two of whom are out of town in college, one in high school) and a home owner, much of my time out of work is spent in fulfilling those roles and obligations. I like to watch movies on tv, cook, and listen to music. I also serve on the Board of Directors of a local organization that trains young people to be the next generation of civil rights activists.
Who is someone you look up to for career inspiration?
The two most important inspirations for my work are my father (now deceased) and my wife—both of whom were/are pastors. For the first 20 years of my professional ministry, my father was an important mentor to me. He was innovative, flexible and smart.
While my wife and I have similar approaches to many things, I greatly appreciate the ways she is different from me. I run most ideas by her and value her insight and wisdom tremendously. Two years we worked on starting a new church together—we gave that work up after a year due to health issues she was experiencing, but it was great to work with her on the same ministry for that year.
What is your advice to people who are interested in a similar career?
- Make sure this is what you really feel called to do. Ask others if they see these gifts in you. Test out your call by working in different church settings—because the churches you work in will not resemble the churches of your past.
- Know that the church is in a state of high flux. Do not simply hone skills for the church that you know right now because it will be different within a decade. Rather prepare yourself as a life-long learner. Don’t do this if you are not a flexible person.
- If digital is not your native language, learn it—it’s how the world communicates.
- Don’t do this if you don’t have a high tolerance of experimentation and failure—we’re going to have to throw a lot of spaghetti against the wall in order for some of it to stick.
- Think bi-vocationally—more and more churches need part-time pastors—and thus they cannot support you. You will need other creative ways to earn income.
Thanks Dan for sharing your time with us!