Brothers and Sisters, Let’s Be Professional

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I love John Piper. As a seminarian, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals was incredibly formative in developing what Scripture says about the pastorate. (It’s on the list of books that I recommend to aspiring pastors; so this is in no way a knock on the book.)

I believe that a business and a church are not the same. Leadership development and biblical discipleship are not identical. A CEO and a pastor are different.

Over-calculating can be dangerous, over-strategizing can be unhealthy, and an obsession with performance can be unbiblical. However, I do believe that there are certain things that we as pastors can and should glean from businesses, leaders and CEOs. As distinct as they are, there is some overlap between business and church and I want to carefully speak on the space in-between.

Professional Work Experience

Church ministry was all I knew. As an undergrad student, I served as a youth leader and made my way on the payroll. After college, I went straight into seminary and my role changed and expanded as time went on. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do ministry. I loved it. But when I couldn’t pay for our wedding, that is when I had to get a part time job.

I found an opening online, sent in my resume, went in for the interview, and got the job. I was a valet for a hotel chain in my hometown. It was my first “real” job. It was not glamorous but it was convenient and the tips didn’t hurt.

A “real” job meant that we had to clock in and out. A real job meant that there were consequences for not doing my job well or completing my job late. A real job meant that I had to listen to my manager even if I didn’t enjoy it. Honestly, it was a challenge for me to be punctual, to not cut corners, and to take orders.

Professional Work Expectations

Prior to my real job, I did not understand why some churches required outside work experience before being hired on, but now it started to make sense. Sadly the expectations and standards in other professions are often much higher than in the church—especially in youth ministry.

At work if someone doesn’t do what they should, there are consequences. But in my church context, it was usually different. I do believe that churches should be patient, kind, merciful, gracious, and understanding (especially to young inexperienced youth pastors). These are great values to have and practice in the church. But what about discipline, truth, and respect?

I am not saying that we must implement time cards in the church and that the hammer of justice should drop at every mistake. But I do think that for some of us, our expectations of ourselves are too low. Our ministry is a calling and a career and we should set the bar high for ourselves and others around us because that is what God wants and expects.

Professional Work Ethic

What is the difference between an amateur and a professional? Often times it comes down to the money. If someone is willing to pay you, then in some ways, you are a professional. I understand that not all pastors are paid staff and not all churches have the budget to compensate all who serve faithfully. But it’s not about the money, it’s about the attitude—the work ethic. Being paid is one thing, but being professional is another.

So what exactly do pastors do? Well, it depends on our role and our season. We prepare sermons; we read the Word; we pray; we lead meetings; we email (a lot); we counsel; we budget; we plan; we dream; we design; we marry people; we bury people. The job description is broad. While the day-to-day looks different for each pastor, our work ethic should be professional.

For pastors, especially those who are paid, we ought to be outstanding employees of the church and faithful servants of God. Our church pews are filled with professionals who work hard, put in overtime, raise their kids, and serve the church for several hours on top of all that. We ought to work just as hard, and be as responsible as any other Christian professional, if not more so (1 Tim. 4:12).

Call it what you want, whether it is “taking things seriously,” “getting it together,” or “being professional”—there is a work ethic that pastors ought to have. I believe that being professional means to be disciplined (Titus 1:8). This includes punctuality, communicating quickly and clearly, being prepared, following through, and finishing tasks. We should be weary of our tardiness, laziness, not finishing what we start, over-promising, and under-delivering. If companies hire employees who work hard in order to represent their brand well, then churches should be filled with pastors who work hard to represent our God well (Matt. 5:13-16).

There are many areas where I am frustratingly unprofessional. I need to own up to and at times repent of my bad attitude and when I do, I am met with patience and grace. Being professional isn’t easy.

This notion of professionalism in the church has come to mind because I have been inspired by the leaders I serve with. They are professional. We have staff who are full-time, part-time, and unpaid—but they work remarkably hard, as most churches do.

Being professional will not cause God love us more or less but it does play a part in our effectiveness. The drive, focus, and discipline to be professional cannot be mustered up from our own strength but is given solely by God’s grace.

Being professional is not a performance, not for the pay, not for the platform, it’s for our God (Col. 3:23-24). Brothers and sisters, let’s be professional.

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