You hear these words bandied about quite often. So-and-so is goal oriented, as ompared to so-and-so who is process oriented. I’ve been thinking about these two concepts in connection with the Office of the Ministry. It’s up to y’all to tell me if I’m crazy or a heretic.
The goal oriented person takes a long view, and looks toward the measurable success which will come from achieving such goals. Goal oriented people tend to be in easily measurable fields, such as sales or maybe engineering. You identify steps as they relate to the end goal, and achieve those steps with the end always in mind. Fulfillment is had in achieving goals, and measuring toward that end.
The process oriented person is more concerned with what is right before them, doing it well, and not so much in looking over the horizon. Is the purpose of a vacation to get somewhere or is it the journey itself? You may fill in your own cliche here as you see fit.
Now which better describes the pastoral office? I would commend to you that the pastor who is goal oriented is setting himself up for disappointment at every turn. Here’s why:
- There is no common agreement on the goals. We could say the goal is to get everyone to heaven. Or to get everyone to church. To increase communion attendance or frequency. To build up the faith. To forgive sins. To grow the church. To get more members hearing the Gospel. There may be others.
- Even if you agree on the goals, how to measure them is elusive and deceptive. How do you measure building up the faith? Doesn’t this contradict the theology of the cross and the hiddenness of the Gospel?
- Because these goals are not commonly agreed upon and nearly impossible to measure, the opportunity for fulfillment in ministry is nil. I know, confessional Lutherans shouldn’t talk about fulfillment. Get over it. Pastors are human beings, and in order for them to survive and thrive, they have to believe that what they do day in day out has worth and merit. This isn’t pandering. It is how God made us. I am not Sisyphus.
In order for the Lutheran pastor to find joy and fulfillment in ministry, have have to be focused on the process, not the goal. The process is Word and Sacrament. The process is the daily work of preaching, teaching, administering the Sacraments, exhortation in doctrine, showing care and compassion for the flock, and the like. It is in the actual doing of these things that the pastor finds fulfillment, not in measurable goals.
For me, this has been liberating. I, like most pastors, often have doubts about whether anyone is listening. Does this matter? Is anybody out there? The more I look at the goals, the more depressed and discouraged I become. There may be glimpses of light and joy, but generally they do not come in the goals. Conversely, when I focus on what God has given me to do each day, there I can find joy. God is the one who provides the growth, not me, however that growth may be defined.
The parable of the Sower perhaps expresses this well:
“And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:3-15 ESV)
Amen. God grant it. Amen.