Seth Gheen on the Craftsman in the Pulpit

Seth Gheen is pastor of discipleship at Community Bible Church in Omaha, NE. You can follow him at clergycraftsman.com.


I’ve lost my passion for ministry.” Many pastors have heard this ominous statement uttered by a colleague or maybe even said it themselves. The statement is always taken seriously. Why? Because in ministry, passion is considered an essential ingredient. A passionless pastor is depressing (and often depressed). So, here’s the question: How does a pastor find and sustain a passion for ministry?

“Passion” is a slippery word. True passion is not an adrenaline-fueled burst of emotion. It’s also not the unbridled enthusiasm that initially allows us to pour ourselves into a really good business idea or topic for a book. If that’s passion, we’ll all eventually lose it. Emotional highs wear off. Enthusiasm dissipates, especially when we begin to realize how much work that business or book will require.

What we’re after is sustainable passion. Sustainable passion is that long-term zeal that reminds us month after month, year after year, that despite the sometimes-crummy aspects of our occupation we love our work and don’t want to do anything else.

Attempts to sustain passion for ministry often rest on the assumption that the issue is spiritual—the pastor must increase his personal time in Scripture and revitalize his prayer life. If spiritual focus fails, the next possibility usually considered is burnout.

Certainly, a lackluster relationship with God points to spiritual problems. Yet not every pastor is in this boat. Many pastors I know devote conscientious time and effort to their walk with God, yet over time still see their passion for ministry subside. They assume the problem is spiritual, when in fact their waning enthusiasm may have less to do with spiritual stagnation and more to do with how they approach their work.

What about burnout? Again, this is possible. There are pastors—particularly solo pastors—who are terribly overworked. But I don’t readily buy the burnout excuse. An exhausted pastor might be spending beaucoup hours at the office; however, a little time-tracking will reveal how many of those “working” hours are wasted on web surfing, social media, podcasts, YouTube, or obsessively checking texts and email. Burnout is often alleviated by using the time available to do the work that matters. In fact, within this idea of focusing energy on work that matters, we find the solution to the passion problem.

In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Georgetown University computer science professor Cal Newport described his own career journey and search to answer this question: “How do people end up loving what they do?”

The answer Newport discovered is surprisingly simple and applicable to any field: Find a job that people value and get really good at it. If you do this, then in your work you will enjoy the freedom, creativity, and impact granted to people who possess an in-demand skillset. It follows that anyone who finds freedom, creativity, and impact in their work will love what they do (sustainable passion). Or, as Scott Galloway puts it,

Your job is to find something you’re good at, and after ten thousand hours of practice, get great at it. The emotional and economic rewards that accompany being great at something will make you passionate about whatever that something is.

Newport and Galloway are highlighting an often-overlooked piece of the passion puzzle. Simply put, loving one’s work has less to do with finding the perfect job and more to do with getting really good at one’s job.

Proverbs 22:29 communicates something similar: “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings.” Proverbs doesn’t directly state it, but I think it’s safe to assume that a person with that level of skill and opportunity thoroughly enjoys his or her work.

Now as pastors, we have an advantage. We already have a vocation that adds immense value to people’s lives. Now we must ask: How do we not just “do ministry,” but instead get good at ministry, and thus obtain the kind of long-term, sustainable passion described by Newport and Galloway? The answer requires us to quit worrying about passion for a while and instead embrace what Newport calls the craftsman mindset. The craftsman mindset means that we choose to approach our work like an aspiring master craftsman, regardless of how we feel towards our work on any particular day.

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Source: Christianity Today