So because I’m both an insatiable learner who thrives on new challenges and a married man approaching middle age with a need for more income than what church ministry was providing, I recently took the crazy step of accepting a job with the city of Portland as a 911 dispatch trainee.
It is, quite literally, the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. By the time you read this, I will have either passed my basic ten-week training academy by getting an 85 percent or better on every weekly test, midterm, and final (the first major step in a two-year training process), or I’ll be looking for another job.
Speaking in faith, I believe God will carry me through, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a certain measure of everything-on-the-line pressure every time I clock in at work.
The high scores and high standards are necessary because of the nature of the job—every single day at my office, people’s lives are at stake. If I screw up in the field and use the wrong call type or dispatch responders to the wrong location, that mistake could prove to be deadly.
As such, I try not to resent the pressure but instead accept that it’s part of the job and I strive to do the best I can, even when it feels like I’m pressing against my own limits for information retention and recall. The incredibly high stakes justify the attention to detail. In this way, my new job is not all that different from being in church leadership.
Every single day at my office, people’s lives are at stake…not all that different from church leadership.
I was hired as a dispatch trainee, which means I’m being trained in both the art of call-taking—receiving 911 calls and interacting directly with the public—as well as dispatching, which means providing management and oversight to the various responding police, medical, and fire units around the city. People at my office have their preferences, but in order to be excellent in either role, you must display a mastery of both because of how well they fit together.
Neck-deep in the learning process, I realized that this work is similar to pastoring. There is, and always should be, an element of pastoring that requires direct interaction with parishioners. Preaching is a part of this, but for most pastors that also extends into other types of interactions—lunches, hospital visits, counseling sessions, social events, etc.
On the flipside, if pastors want their churches to grow, they might need to learn to prioritize their interactions and spend more time discipling and building up staff or other team members. This kind of leadership development doesn’t always feel as satisfying as direct involvement with ministry programs—especially for those of us who like to be hands-on—but ultimately it’s required if we want to experience exponential growth.
After all, we are finite individuals, and we cannot be everywhere and do everything at once. There are probably some pastors out there for whom the biggest step of faith would be to send someone else in their place to do a portion of the work they’ve become accustomed to doing.
And yet, there might be others—perhaps pastors at the helm of larger churches with sizable staffs—who need to be more directly involved with ministry programs. When it comes to cultivating awareness and compassion, there’s no substitute for stepping outside of climate-controlled conference rooms and getting one’s hands dirty ministering to those in need.
So whether we’re serving as church leaders or emergency responders, we can always trust the Spirit to guide and empower us, but that doesn’t excuse us from having to put in the work.
On the other hand, the next time your pastor screws up, just be glad nobody died because of it.