Most days I don’t miss my former life as a college English instructor. The cramped office, the bizarre hours, the condescending male colleagues, the meager pay—I still have all of those perks as a pastor. Plus, in the church, I don’t have to assign grades.
Grades are what I hated most about teaching, because no matter how lovely a person you are, nobody likes you if you give them a “D” on an essay about their grandmother dying. Because how dare you insult their beautiful, dead, grandmother. And you just hate grandmothers, and are, therefore, a horrible human being.
So most days I don’t miss teaching college at all. But mid-May is not most days. Mid-May is when my college classes would be OVER. Done. Finished. And there would be an entire summer ahead with NO classes to teach.
The only time I get this kind of break as a pastor is when I go on sabbatical. Which is actually better than summer vacation because I get paid. But worse because it only happens every four years or so.
And even then, when I come back from sabbatical, I don’t get a completely new congregation. All the people I have come to know and love are still in the church when I get back (mostly). And the people that drive me crazy are still there, too.1
I suppose I should confess at this point that I am somewhat conflict avoidant. Which makes college teaching a comfortable profession for me. If there is someone I just can’t stand, I don’t need to spend my precious time and energy trying to “understand their position” or “reconcile our viewpoints” or “convince myself they are not really a complete ass.” I can smugly disdain yet tolerate difficult people for three months, then they are out of my life.
But I find the “tolerate yet disdain” strategy less effective in the church. Because most people stick around longer than three months. And because, as a pastor, I’m supposed to “set an example” and “create healthy community” and “follow Jesus.” So rather than comfortably avoiding conflict, I have to talk to people and work through differences, and generally act like an adult. Which is not always fun or easy.
The other thing about coming back from a sabbatical is that all the problems I created before I left for sabbatical are still there. Teaching college, if I set a policy (like accepting late work or reading student texts out loud or sharing my home phone number) that turned out to be a bad idea, I could just change the policy for the next semester. And none of my new students would know how bad I screwed up with my last class.
But in a church, there is no “reset” button. Yes, I can change policies. But it takes time. And even when new policies are in place, I still have to deal with the consequences of the earlier policy because, as I mentioned above, I do not get an entirely new group of congregants every three months.
Also, I can’t reuse sermons the way I could lesson plans. And people—normal, non-English-professor people—seem to care a whole lot more about my interpretation of Romans 1 than they do my analysis of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” And, did I mention the part about only getting a three-month break every four years?
So, yes, this time of year I feel a little twinge for the road not taken. But just a little one. All-in-all I think being a pastor is the best job in the world. And I expect to be completely twingeless by Pentecost.
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