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Pastor Practices
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Pastor Practices

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Now a word about pastors with doubts.

When I was in college, I waited tables at one of my then-favorite restaurants, which served amazingly soft rolls with cinnamon butter and allowed you to throw peanut shells on the floor, a brilliant combination of two of my favorite things: carbs and littering.

But after working there, I never want to eat there again. I will find my carbs and littering opportunities elsewhere.

For those of you who’ve worked at a restaurant, I bet you can sympathize, although this phenomenon isn’t confined to the restaurant business.

I have a friend in the music industry who, when he’s driving, will only listen to talk radio because he doesn’t want to hear work. I have a friend in sports radio who would rather not talk sports when we have lunch, because talking sports is work.

Our occupations alter the way we experience the subject matter they entail. Because my job is faith, my job alters the way I experience faith because faith can be reduced to just a commodity in which I trade. I’ve been rewarded for having a faith that appears strong since I started preaching as an eighteen-year-old. As T. S. Eliot said, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”10 That treason is an ever present temptation for people who do right things for a career.

I’ve also had the amazing privilege of making my life’s work something I care deeply about. I’ve had to learn how to name the ways in which resistance can take my critical thinking and use it to curve my soul in on itself. Everyone’s journey includes challenges; this just happens to be mine.

When your profession is spirituality, you’ve (theoretically) studied the complexities and have some awareness of the debates and discussions. So you carry an extra weight.

(How pastors can act as if there is no complexity to issues that have divided thoughtful Christians for centuries and instead just pompously preach their opinion as the only option an honest and intelligent person could take is another story for another time.)

Every path has particular obstacles and therefore requires particular practices. As someone who talks about faith for a living, I’ve had to develop the practice of not talking about part of my faith.

I was running with a new set of wireless headphones when a warning beep began going off informing me that the headphones’ battery was low. I was faced with a very First World problem: What am I going to do when the music fades? Am I going to keep running even when there’s no music to entertain me? Can I keep up this pace when the only sounds I hear are my own breathing and my feet on concrete?

My charismatic friends would say that what happened next was God speaking to me.

A question popped into my head: What’s going to happen to your faith when the music fades?

What are you going to do with your faith when you don’t have an audience to speak to? What will happen to your faith when you don’t have the external motivators causing you to believe?

My audit of my faith revealed that I wasn’t keeping enough of my faith for me. Too much of my own journey was being used for my job.

When entering into silence or opening up the sacred text is always done in a professional setting, little is left for one’s own soul. I had to create a practice of saving some spiritual experiences solely for my own formation. I didn’t have to share everything, because some moments are to be cherished on their own.

In the same way, I don’t want every experience I have with my kids to become a social media post, because then every moment devolves into a potential photo shoot. The moment itself doesn’t matter as much. The moments need to live on their own. They don’t need to be shared online or spoken of in a sermon.

A Jewish tradition involves not writing the full name of the divine. Instead, the shorthand “G-d” is used because some things shouldn’t be spoken.

For all of us, some things just don’t need to be spelled out for everyone else. We can share them with our closest people, not with the crowd. Especially for those of us who talk about God in public, we need to make sure that we also talk to God in private and keep those conversations there. Certain experiences with God can’t be explained. When we are constantly putting those experiences into words, those experiences lose their vitality. There are times when Word becomes flesh; we need to let it stay as flesh and not give in to the temptation to let it revert back into words.

Secrecy is a practice that people like me often need to partake in to keep our souls from curving inward because, as Thomas Merton said, “If we have no silence, God is not heard in our music.”12

Pastor PracticesLuke Norsworthy (MDiv, Abilene Christian University) is the senior pastor of the 1,500-member Westover Hills Church of Christ in Austin, Texas. A frequent speaker at universities, retreats, and conferences, he is the host of the popular Newsworthy with Norsworthy podcast on which he has rubbed shoulders with some of the brightest and most prominent voices in theology, including N. T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, Mirsolav Volf, Walter Brueggemann, John Ortberg, and more. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three daughters. Learn more at LukeNorsworthy.com.

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