Professional Spirituality … Really?

I wonder if at times we get a little confused about the professionalism of ministry? I wonder if what we’ve got, or what we’re aiming for, is really how it’s meant to be? I wonder what God thinks of our desire to be “professional” ministers. Professional in our actions—maybe, but how does one become a professional Christian? And what good will that do anyone, anyway? The way I see it, making ministry or pastors more professional isn’t really helping God’s mission, and I’m not sure it’s helping those we seek to minister to become more like Jesus. It’s as if we need to look “good” or “sharper” in order to be “successful,” and that somehow defines our success. But what of professional spirituality? If we as pastors are called to be professional, first and foremost, then I imagine that every part of our lives must be professional. Not only do we become professional pastors, but professional parents, preachers, leaders, worshippers, prophets, etc. If this is so, then it means that I must exude professionalism through every aspect of my life, and that includes being or having a professional spirituality. The two words just do not go together. You simply cannot have a professional spirituality.

According to the Bible of the Internet (Google search engine) a professional is: “A person who prosecutes anything professionally, or for a livelihood, and not in the character of an amateur; a professional worker.” So if we take that at face value, yes, ministry can be a profession, and yes, pastors can be professionals, but the second part of the definition makes things a little hard to swallow. What does “not in the character of an amateur” mean for those of us who are not paid to do youth ministry. It brings into question the reasons why those of us who are paid, do ministry. Is it about money, or is it about something more? Is it about prestige?

I have opportunity to minister in a couple of different contexts–my paid job is as a high school chaplain. Completely separate and outside of that role (as much as one can be) is some voluntary ministry at my local Church. Am I to be professional in one role, yet an amateur in another? Is my spirituality at school “professional,” while at church, “amateur?”

It may look like we are playing games with words here, but the idea behind the words is really important. What we are really doing here is dancing with dualism, something that will end up burning us, rendering us useless for ministry if we are not careful. Dualism, in this context, is the “concept that humans have two basic natures, the physical and the spiritual,” and that these two natures are linked (because we are one person), but mutually exclusive. In theory this sounds like a good plan, because my spiritual life can be very different from my physical life, but in practice we know the opposite is true. Who I am is not two separate beings, but one person. My spirituality must impact my physical life; in fact, it needs to be the basis for my whole life. We can see in our congregation that people live a different life at work, or home or wherever they spend their time, than they do at church. I see it in myself (and I don’t need to dig too deep to find it!).

Ministering to post-moderns isn’t going to happen with slick programs, tighter worship or more professionalism. I’m not sure how long we are going to leech off the business world to get all our ideas, but isn’t it nearly time we gave it away? The Church in the western world is in crisis (except for maybe 1 percent of the so called “successful” ones), where the only way forward might be a giant leap back. I’m talking back to where it all began.

Professional ministry has created as many problems as it may have fixed, and I for one don’t want to be more professional. I want to be more like Jesus. I want my spirituality to reflect the love of God. I’m not talking a WWJD mentality or any other marketing ploy. I’m talking loving Jesus, because of who He is, not because of what I get paid or how I earn my living. I’m talking a spirituality that doesn’t make people run away from God, but tempts them to explore God and to take it further with Him. Not a “here’s five minutes of God so you better bless me quick cause I’m a really busy person with plenty of important people to see and plenty of important stuff to do” type spirituality that’s more about me fitting God into my schedule than about God impacting my life both for who I am becoming and to make a difference to those I come in contact with. Not that time is the issue here, or maybe it is, and we’re just not seeing how urgent the need is?

But our world, my world, cries out for instant everything. I can get instant everything, everywhere, why not here? Instant coffee, instant noodles, instant access, instant chat, instant answers—so why not instant spirituality. If only God would create a pill …

Don’t kid yourself. This isn’t easy. And don’t come to me looking for easy answers, because you’ll end up being disappointed. But I will tell what I think. We need to look at a holistic approach where spirituality is not just a part of me, but is my whole life. It is who I am, where I’ve come from, where I’m going, how Jesus’ life impacts my life and how my life impacts others.

Just for now, that’s plenty to think about. Chew on it!

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[Matt Zarb is an ex-youth pastor, now High School chaplain from Perth, WA. He wants his life to reflect Jesus without having to tell people it does. He loves his wife Rachelle, his three kids and the Freo Dockers]

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