Don’t suck

If you’re answering a call to professional ministry, please don’t suck. This work is too important for anything less than excellent.

By Amy Butler

Asked recently if I had any advice for young women considering pastoral ministry, I responded with an answer that perfectly illustrates why I should never speak without a manuscript: “Don’t suck.”

What I meant to say, of course, was that your goal should not be to just become a “woman” pastor but to be a “good” pastor.

After the panel that evening a young woman from another tradition came up to me and said: “Please don’t ever tell women ministers not to suck. We get enough criticism from other quarters; the last thing we need is other women in ministry putting more pressure on us.”

With some time now to reflect on her comment, I’ve decided that — except for chagrin at my perpetual inability to be eloquent and graceful when I’m winging it — I don’t think I want to change my answer.

Women have worked long and hard to find a place in the pulpit, and we have a long way to go. But gender isn’t an indicator of fitness for ministry. Calling, commitment and excellence are, perhaps, more reliable measures.

The church doesn’t have room for leaders who slide by with mediocre, reheated leftovers. In addition to the fact that whatever we offer to God should always be our best, there are more reasons not to suck.

The church in society is now facing a time rife with possibility for creative, innovative expressions of gospel community. The church needs leaders passionate and committed, ready to do the work of creatively acquiring skills and finding resources to usher in a future we cannot yet see.

The message the church institutionally represents is too important to bungle ineptly or water down fearfully. The gospel of Jesus Christ is compelling and life-changing. It speaks truth to power and challenges the status quo.

It’s an upsetting message constantly calling for change, both personal and institutional. If the church represents anything less, anything easier or more palatable than this kind of radical message, we are wasting our time.

The work of the minister can intersect the lives of people at deeply profound moments. Our influence can shift situations in powerful ways. In the work of ordained ministry we hold precious and painful confidences. We are present at some of the most holy moments of human living. We are consulted for guidance at critical life crossroads.

We should, as doctors like to say, do no harm. But more than that, we should approach this holy role we’ve been invited to play with utmost care, bringing all the resources of our training, calling and commitment to the gift of representing God in the lives of others.

So, if any of the following inform or narrate your impetus for pursuing professional ministry, I’d like to ask you to take a step back and reconsider your vocational choice:

— I work to live. My job is how I make money.

— I’ve got my diploma and I’m done with all those books forever!

— I’m hoping that being a pastor will make me popular/please (or shock) my parents/make me seem super holy.

— I’m a lone ranger. I’ve got this ministry gig down and I don’t need any help.

— I’m doing this because I need emotional affirmation and I’m too scared to go to therapy and figure out why.

— I love to talk but I hate to listen.

I’m a Baptist, so I’ll be at the front of the line of those who affirm God can call whomever God wants to call. And it’s true that God can (and often does) work in deep and profound ways even in and through our mistakes and ignorance and incompetence.

But, insofar as we can diligently prepare and continuously equip ourselves for the important work of ordained ministry, we ministry professionals must do that. And we must keep doing it in innovative and excellent expressions.

I wondered this week if I’ll ever find myself on a panel where someone asks me what advice I’d give to men who are thinking about going into ministry. I might be waiting a long time for that to happen, but if it ever does I think you know what I’ll likely say: “Don’t suck.”

I don’t care who you are. If you’re answering a call to professional ministry, please don’t suck. This work is too important for anything less than excellent.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.