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.


  1. I was so with you until the samaritan bit.

  2. @ Landon: Honestly, I feel that tension too, but for some reason, it seemed worth naming.

    To my eyes, overfunctioning is an error most of the time, as it crowds out the ability of others to participate meaningfully. The challenge comes when you encounter not just reparable dysfunction, but an absence of function, and the total absence of the resources and capacities needed to reach that function. In that environment, you do need to train and prepare others. But there may need to be some simultaneous overclocking to get 'er where she needs to be.

    In a healthy or mostly healthy community, it's an inhibitor. In communities in crisis, it may be necessary if we are to have any meaningful claim to be bearers of Kingdom compassion towards our neighbor.

  3. The good Samaritan is an interesting case of vocational discernment.

    It seems much less interesting to debate whether a congregation absolutely requires instrumentalists to accompany its worship or whether it would get along just fine with the pastor focusing instead on teaching, preaching and discipline in the absence of a suitable instrumentalist.

  4. @ Ben: I agree that the teaching/preaching/ training in faith component is central to being a Teaching Elder. If other stuff gets in the way, then I throttle back.

    But in addition to my specific gifts and call, there is a vocation that all Christians share, one that defines and takes precedence over all others. I think it was for that reason that I felt nudged to include that in this post.

  5. You mean naming the animals?


  6. Dear Frater Dave,

    So it was you who brought the norovirus to seminary!

    Seriously, bro, I'm sorry I missed ya. Did I not tell you that I'm at Union? If you saw a redneck wandering around the seminary in a cheap-ass cowboy hat, that was me.

    Next time you get to town, let me know.


    -Frater Dawg