Friday, September 28, 2007

The wired pastor

I ran across the following article on "the wired pastor" on the Theolog blog, which is the 'web - log' (blog) of the Christian Century. As I sat at my desk drinking my Starbucks grande coffee, I thought, perhaps that it was an article about the "wired" pastor who drinks a bit too much coffee ... probably a good topic to engage. However, this wonderfully challenging piece is about pastors who feel the necessity to be "wired," to be "connected" at all times via blackberry, email, pager, cell phone, whatever; and is a challenge to those people who feel that 'need.'

The comments are also very interesting, as some who have responded think that the article goes a bit too far, that pastors may need to be accessible, but not available at all times. I wrestle with this issue, as I live very nearby my office, and am usually not more than a couple hundred of yards away from my telephone and email and all that. Who, in a congregation, needs to have the cell phone number of their priest or pastor? Perhaps some boundaries are needed, and also pastors may need to find a way to not answer every email immediately, and not every call that comes into them. On the other hand, I have had the occasion when emergencies do happen, such as when I worked in a hospital, and I did want to respond quickly to a situation, to be there for people in need.

I wonder how to work through this question of availability and accessibility, and just how "wired" the pastor needs to be. I wrote a bit about this in an earlier entry, "Which needs give our lives meaning" but the challenge and the discussion needs to go on!

Perhaps Jesus would have an ipod today? (But maybe not a blackberry!?)

The wired pastor

By Jason Byassee

You’ve seen them, maybe you’re one of them: pastors who must be in touch at all times. The cell phone is either in use or strapped handily onto the belt, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice. It’s best as a Blackberry or Treo, so it can vibrate every ten minutes with news of new messages. And just in case those fail, a beeper should be handy. You can never be too wired.

I can understand why some professions would cause one to need to be accessible 100 percent of the time: firefighters, psychologists with mentally ill patients and (given recent floods in this part of the country) plumbers come to mind. But why pastors? Certainly on large church staffs it’s a venerable practice to have one of the pastors on-call at all times in case of emergency. But I worry when I see wired pastors, ubiquitous as they are at church conventions and gatherings of clergy. I fear they conflate importance with accessibility, as if being incommunicado even briefly will lead to spiritual crisis. Must we be like other professions—doctors or financiers—and have a loop around our ear at all times? Or does pastoral wiring suggest anew the loss of confidence of the clergy vocation?

In response to our frenetic world, in which we can speak instantly to anyone around the world but have very little to say, I would argue pastors should be inaccessible more often than not. Part of our problem is that we get agitated if the email bell doesn’t go off every 30 seconds. Over against this, the pastor needs to teach us, to embody patience, or even silence. If my pastor, for example, is always instantly emailing me back, when is she praying for me? When is she quietly sitting in God’s presence, waiting for a word for us for Sunday? When is she nourishing her own soul in a way unrelated to her service to us, but just because God is good?

A seminary professor used to joke that church secretaries never tell callers, “I’m sorry, the pastor is unavailable. He’s praying.” Would that our cellphone voice mail messages would say the same or, better yet, that we wouldn’t have the devices at all.

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