On Job Satisfaction

“What gives you satisfaction in your work?” the reporter asked.

It’s probably not the best question. Sounds a bit self-serving. But it was the question asked me by a reporter some twenty or so years ago. I still remember my answer. “I love the privilege of a ringside seat near members making sense of their lives, particularly during hard times.”

My answer still rings true after all these years. My role as pastor invited me alongside when a rug was pulled out from beneath a member’s feet. The sudden stroke, the dying and death, the end of a marriage or friendship or job — losses of every conceivable kind. We see up close the rawness of grief and the groundlessness from pain, watching protective shields shatter before our eyes. But not just crises. Gains too. How do people make sense of the good events in their lives? The birth of a long awaited child, the transformative “ah ha” of some breakthrough, the realization of a personal dream. But mostly the courageous struggle for meaning comes with the hard stuff.

These pastoral conversations might occur in my office or over a cup of coffee. More often they took place in the home, in the “living room,” a safe space.

I was invited to be there not as a voyeur, but as a presence, a living symbol of the More-than-me and a face to a congregation’s care. I could listen to their questions, and add a few of my own. I could watch the resources they turned to draw upon. I could participate, in some small measure, in the fears, doubts, and faith that rose to the surface demanding a hearing. Up close I could feel their yearning for meaning. Holy ground it was. A sacred privilege. And to think, I was paid for doing this.

But, upon reflection, there is a major flaw in the metaphor, “a ringside seat.” Being pastor is more than having a close up view of human struggles in the “ring.” The metaphor denotes detachment. Quite the opposite, in coming “alongside” you go “inside.” We become a part of the action, thrown into the ring, so to speak. There we are, when life events send the presence of God into eclipse. There we are, in the midst of the push-pull energy of relationships — parent-child, spouse-spouse, friend-friend, member-member, parishioner-God. There we are, immersed in the contentious energy in a budget committee or congregational meeting. There we are, preaching a counter-cultural gospel that generates a dissonance that takes some to deeper meaning and drives others to angry resistance.

In that “ring,” we learn — if we are to thrive — to be present looking for signs of the Spirit at work for healing and hope, to receive reactivity and not be reactive, to know a joy not tied to results, and even come to value the energy within conflict. These relationships, especially the difficult ones, kept forcing my ego out of hiding, shining a light on my desire to control, to look good, to achieve. Challenges, lessons and occasional taste of transformation — but not from a detached ringside seat.

If asked today the same question of satisfaction in my vocation, I think I would say, “I loved the privilege of being in the same arena (not ring) with multiple people in covenant, my teachers in disguise, seeking the meaning of their lives — just as I was.” And to think, I was paid for this.

Now it’s your turn. I am the reporter asking you, “What gives you satisfaction in your work?”

9 Responses to On Job Satisfaction

  1. amy says:

    I look forward to returning to the kind of work that you have described. Hard times within the system make for distractions from the ministry to which I am called. Thank you for giving me something to look forward to! Amy

    ________________________________

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  2. Mahan, I have enjoyed in the recent days the ability to take risks in the classroom (Hear me correctly, please. I do not engage in risky behavior!).

    In the taking of risks, there is an implicit freedom.that shows up more explicitly. Modeling risk myself, maybe the students feel the freedom also to take risks, go on adventures, add curiosity to their every-day routines.

    At such risk-intensive moments, there is a silence in the classroom. Everyone is “present,” but pondering. How does one say one feels the Spirit hovering more closely?

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    • Joyce Hollyday says:

      Mahan,

      This beautiful reflection reminded me of a rather cynical quote from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip that I used to have posted on my wall many years ago: “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand.” Because, for me, what you have named as privilege and joy is what I often find most burdensome. I feel far more at home with the “prophetic” part of ministry than the “pastoral.” And yet, as the years roll by, I have come to understand that good preaching can only come out of deep relationship and presence in the never-ending delights and crises.

      Thank you,
      Joyce

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  3. Stan Dotson says:

    Mahan – how about the pastor as trainer and cornerman (or cornerwoman)? You are the Angelo Dundee of pastoring in my book!

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  4. Rev. Fran Hemstreet says:

    Hi, all. i am new to this covenant group, but I have pastored for 32 years, and hope to keep it up in some capacity until I have to quit for health reasons.
    I resonate deeply with all that Rev Siler has said, but the reason I find parish ministry so satisfying is that those holy moments are not just in the tough

    times, but also in also in the times of congregational creativity and giving–in mission work, in Christian ed classes,in the holiday celebrations, in the baptisms, weddings, and baccalaureates at which I officiate, and the anniversary celebrations I am invited to attend. I get spiritually fed by the whole spectrum of work in the parish ministry. Life is never boring, even in tiny towns, in tiny congregations with tiny budgets.
    My current appointment (in the UMC) is full of people who know how to laugh together and have fun as well as to work together and pray together. the fact that some of them are willing to risk to have koinonia encourages me to do the same. And that has made all the difference.

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  5. Rev. Fran Hemstreet says:

    Hi, all. i am new to this covenant group, but I have pastored for 32 years, and hope to keep serving.
    I resonate deeply with all that Rev Siler has said, but the reason I find parish ministry so satisfying is that those holy moments are also in the times of congregational creativity and giving. I get spiritually fed by the whole spectrum of work in the parish ministry. Life is never boring, even in tiny towns, in tiny congregations with tiny budgets.
    My current appointment (in the UMC) is full of people who know how to laugh together and have fun as well as to work together and pray together. the fact that some of them are willing to risk to have koinonia encourages me to do the same. And that has made all the difference.

    Reply

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  6. Rev. Fran Hemstreet says:

    Hi, all.
    I find parish ministry satisfying because holy moments are on the mountain tops, too–as in times of congregational creativity and giving. I get spiritually fed by the whole spectrum of work in the parish ministry. Life is never boring, even in tiny towns, in tiny congregations with tiny budgets.
    My current appointment (in the UMC) is full of people who know how to laugh and have fun together as well as to work and pray together. The fact that some of them are willing to risk to have koinonia encourages me to do the same. And that has made all the difference.

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  7. Doug Murray says:

    Mahan,

    Thank you for the reflection “On Job Satisfaction.” That was so fine.

    Doug Murray

    _____

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  8. Anne Langdon Hewett says:

    Mahan, You meant so much to a little struggling church in southern Indiana so many years ago. I still remember how much the congregation loved you and Janice. Find me on facebook. Anne Langdon Hewett

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