Thursday, November 18, 2010


One of the more familiar concepts that has surfaced in the reading for my interim training work is the idea of the "overfunctioning" pastor.  Pastors have a tendency to work...constantly.  The demands of a congregation, particularly a mid-sized community in which the pastor is the lynchpin and go-to-person for most everything, well, those demands can be immense.  Pastors never let themselves take a break, and as I've listened to those around me, it's evident that the pressures and expectations that make the pastorate one of the more burnout-prone professions weigh on many folks here.

That's not overfunctioning. 

It's overwork, but not overfunctioning.  Overfunctioning is when a pastor begins to take on things that are not part of a pastors call to teach and proclaim the Gospel and to provide care for a community.  Often, it's done from a well meaning desire to do things right.  But as a pastor takes over jobs that really and truly should be done by lay people, it can stretch them thin.  It can also crowd out the ability of folks to grow within the community.

I am, without question, an overfunctioner.  I'm not overworked, mind you.  Farthest thing from it.

I just overfunction.  Take, for instance, my role in worship.  We moved this year to an entirely contemporary service, which requires someone to run the presentation software that projects both the music and the liturgy.  During our gradual evolution, we handed this responsibility off to several different folks, and they...well...they really flailed at it.  Worship was clumsy.  No one could sing the songs, because the wrong lyrics or wrong slide was almost always up there.  We're a tiny church, so such things are understandable.   But if you fail at worship, there's no chance anyone will stick around and join your community.

So after trying and failing to find someone able to commit to it, I took over.  I'm not perfect at it, but I made sure systems were in place (like a pre-worship presentation review meeting with a praise team leader) that were more likely to git 'er done.  So now I run the presentation, then pop up to read scripture/preach/administer the sacraments, then run the presentation. Up until the moment I stand up to preach, I'm just the guy who does the presentation. 

On some levels, that works theologically.  But I'm overfunctioning.  In the same way that I'm overfunctioning when I manage the website...which no-one wants to do, but which is as necessary as a church sign.  Oh, I maintain the church sign, too.  And the email newsletter.  And the email system.  I slop out gutters.  I rush to the church in the middle of the night with a wetvac.  I'm constantly doing things that are barely tangentially related to being a Minister of Word and Sacrament.

There are others, working really really hard to maintain the structures of the church.  But in a tiny and likely dying congregation with a big building, there aren't enough hands to go around.  It's really difficult to sit by and watch as things fall apart, and not pitch in where you know you can.  Just saying,'s not my department...seems a bit too much like the Levite who walks on by that Israelite in the ditch.  You know, before the Samaritan comes along. 

Talk about an overfunctioner.