Ambition, Pastoral Identity, and Your Schedule

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Last week Christianity Today / Leadership published an online article entitled "Pastoral Narcissism: The shadow side of ambition."

Last week Christianity Today / Leadership published an online article entitled “Pastoral Narcissism: The shadow side of ambition.”

In it, a Chicago pastor named JR Kerr confesses to “the sin of self-promotion” and outlines some principles and practices he uses to control that temptation.  Then just a few days later came the new issue of Circuit Rider, which features an essay by Bishop Robert Schnase entitled “Ambition in Ministry.”  (Back in 1993 Bishop Schnase published a book by the same title.)

Photo provided by zen sutherland, Flickr Creative CommonsClearly a tension exists between one’s personal calling at one pole, and faithful service to a congregation and community at the other pole.  In thinking about interventions to improve the health of parish clergy, Duke CHI staff is quick to preach the benefits of time management, of claiming a sphere of family or personal time that is inviolable.  But we should not neglect the notion that interruptions and false starts and mundane interludes are near the heart of ministry — are often where we encounter the Holy Spirit.  Vital leadership, personal growth, indeed vocational health, are found by dwelling amid this tension between ambitious long-term plans and the near-term needs of our community. 

Bishop Schnase lists a series of attributes of ambitious pastors:

  • Ambitious pastors take initiative.
  • Ambitious pastors are future-oriented.
  • Ambitious pastors are achievement-driven.
  • Ambitious pastors display a competitive spirit.

All these are powerful qualities, and all of them have potential drawbacks, or a shadow side.

One practice JR Kerr recommends is sharing his daily schedule with a circle of friends and congregational leaders: “If no one else knows where you are on a regular basis, you face the danger of isolating yourself and therefore exalting yourself.  By opening my calendar to others, I am forced to consult with them before committing to another event, meeting, or trip.  They help me to keep merely personal ambitions from ruling.”  Speaking personally, in my life and work, the danger of not sharing my daily schedule is that I isolate myself and lose focus, drifting from my core priorities. 

So pastors, do any of you have ongoing disciplines regarding your schedule?  Do you use a Google or Outlook calendar?  Do you have a circle of people who can view, comment on, or edit your calendar?  Are there ground rules you impose on this practice?  Tell us in Comments what works for you or what doesn’t.

The new edition of Circuit Rider explores the theme “Calling & Career.”  The whole magazine is well worth reading.  It has several thought-provoking articles on itineracy, guaranteed appointment, and other aspects of ordination and calling in the United Methodist Church.  We do consider pastors’ vocational well-being as part of our charge in Spirited Life and the Clergy Health Initiative, and would welcome a discussion of these issues.

Shalom y’all,
John James, M.A.
Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative

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