Lutheran Church Extension Fund

"A Quivering Mass of Availability"

Reading time: two minutes. The expression that a pastor is nothing more than “a quivering mass of availability” is widely attributed to Stanley Hauerwas, and is also, to a large degree, accurate.  I don’t know exactly why we pastors and other church workers feel that we are on call 24/7 for every crisis, real or imagined, that might prompt someone to call. Certainly our passion for ministry and our love for people are part of it, but living as a “quivering mass” can be detrimental to both our passion and our capacity to love.  So, how do we keep the appropriate balance of availability to people in need and our own need to keep the quivering within bounds?  Here’s a couple of thoughts. It’s really a matter of boundaries.  Appropriate practices of when to drop everything and when attention to certain matters can be delayed are not easy to establish, but important to develop. I remember thinking years ago what a wonderful gift the answering machine was to me and my family.  In my early years in ministry, my small children joined in the dinnertime refrain, “Five o’clock; call the Pastor!” because so many people called and said, “Oh, I knew I ‘d be able to reach you now!” A well scripted, kind and compassionate voicemail inbox message can do wonders for the quivering mass. The pastor at our church makes much better use of the “Out of Office” reply on his email than I do.  That’s a great idea.  When he’s away, he lets us all know so.  We also know that he checks regularly and will get back when appropriate. I set a boundary on Thursday night meetings.  For years at that point in the meeting when we all whipped out our calendars for next month’s meeting date, I’d feel that I must be at the whim of when the members of the committee could meet.  Eventually I blocked out all Thursdays as family time, (mostly because my day off was on Friday, or as soon as I could get away on Thursdays.)  I learned to say, “Nope, sorry.  I can’t make it.  How about the 19th?” Thom Rainer had an excellent blog on July 3 on pastor’s being called away from their vacations for emergencies, typically funerals, but often much less critical crises.  Thom’s suggestion was to have a good conversation with congregational leaders to set a policy about such matters.  When is it absolutely necessary for the pastor to cut vacations short?  What can wait?  What can be  delegated to an appropriate substitute?  Be sure the policy is advertised well. Quivering?  Stop that!  And talk to the congregation about how your service and ministry to them will be far better received from the heart and hands of a minister who’s mass is more calm and settled! Thanks for reading. Do you serve on a professional church worker conference planning committee?  Our staff has vast experience leading groups of all sizes from every church work background through innovative wellness programs custom designed to meet your needs.  Contact Program Director Darrell Zimmerman today to begin exploring the possibilities or visit our website to see some of our ideas for your conference!