A pastor’s life, by one who loves it

Oct 12, 2015 by

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Aw, shucks. Larry beat me to it. I’ve been dreaming of writing a memoir of pastoral life describing critical moments of formation and practice. But Hauder, a Mennonite Church USA pastor and retired area conference minister, just published his exceptionally well-done book.

51mSZILBq5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This highly accessible series of essays traces his own spiritual and pastoral journey in 12 chapters (122 pages) from “formation” to “conversion” to “candidate interview” to “missional leadership” and finally to “sabbatical” and “friendship.” What’s not to like about that?

Hauder has a gentle touch to topics which are huge and often complex. He acknowledges his experience as his own, but I experienced the book very personally. The chapter on “candidate interview,” for example, was exactly my experience in several pastoral opportunities. Balancing my own sense of call with a search committee’s process was a high-wire act requiring patience and stubborn prayer: “God, is this of you?” The anxiety and the thrill of being “chosen” in a congregational system were expertly treated, with articulate Anabaptist theology and biblical foundations.

He begins where I think pastoral identity should begin: family systems. How does our DNA, our family of origin and our self-understanding prepare us for the enormously challenging profession of being clergy? How does one learn to work? to think? to read contexts? to deal with stress? to navigate conflict? to deal with tragedy and death? Hauder maintains these are learned patterns in our families, and everyone has “tapes” that run in our minds (conscious and unconscious) continuously. I, too, found my training in family systems to be invaluable as I traversed the slippery rocks in the river of my own life and then in the lives of congregational members.

Hauder outlines the challenges of work-week rhythms (usually totally out of sync with spouse and children). Then he cites positive counterweights: flexibility of schedule and work pace. The weekly pace — Sunday after Sunday of sermonizing and bulletin preparation — and the constant turnover of congregational leaders shows the necessity for administrative carefulness and personal self-care.

Pastors do not survive without spiritual, physical and emotional strength. Each must be attended — carefully, thoughtfully, relentlessly.

If Sunday is a work day, when does a pastor take a day off? Hauder shows his maturation over a lifetime of service from the Monday day off to the Friday day off. I was grateful for his perspective.

Some topics are missed, of course. Most of Hauder’s experience is in solo positions or as part of a small paid staff. What about multiple-staff dynamics? Gender wasn’t treated. And, naturally, I know that gender issues are huge in leadership decisions and relationships. What about abuse, violence and trauma? Not much here, because that has not been Hauder’s experience.

This book is not comprehensive of all pastoral issues or dynamics. It is an authentic story of his ministry and his obvious love of the pastoral profession. Let others write their stories of pastoral identity and add to his.

Who should read this book? Pastors, for sure. Search committee members, church council members, spouses of pastors, conference ministers and denominational leaders. Students in seminary should be required to read this book. Faculty, especially those who supervise field education, should grab this book and never let go.

What I particularly cherish about this book is its unapologetic love of being a pastor. The current literature and assessment of clergy in the wider press is full of scarcity, doomed systems, failed policies and performance and general hesitancy of being clergy. “Would you really want your daughter or son to be a pastor?” Hauder exudes joy and satisfaction yet with a clear-eyed view of the complexity of this vocation. He tells his story, gives advice, tests ideas and formulates a path that is important to both pastors and to congregations.

On further thought, if you’re a member of a congregation, you should read this book.

Dorothy Nickel Friesen is a retired pastor and conference minister now serving as interim pastor for Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kan.

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