I’m a big football fan and usually watch a fair amount of Sports Center as a result. This morning, as many of you know, the sports world was rocked by the decision of Lane Kiffin to leave the football program at Tennessee to become the head football coach at USC.
What makes it so shocking is that he’d only been at Tennessee for one year. While we all know coaches will eventually leave a program (either of their own volition or not), still one year is highly unusual, even by modern standards.
So the cry on ESPN has been, “How can a guy like that sit in a kid’s living room and say with a straight face that he’ll be there for him, knowing the whole time he’s just looking for the next big job?”
And, as I ponder that question, I can’t help but think of all the times I’ve sat there in a church member’s living room trying to sell them on some idea for mission and ministry only to have the subject come up of whether or not I’ll be there to see this project through. And all I can think to say in response most times is, “It’s my full intention to be here to see this thing through.”
But, the truth is, I don’t know that. None of us as pastors do. We are all itinerant, even the congregationalists among us. We all go in knowing full well that one day soon we’ll be leaving.
Now, mind you, some are more ambitious about that move than others. Some pastors are Lane Kiffin pastors. They are just looking for the next big step up, and when that opportunity comes, they’re gone no matter what.
The rest of us, I suspect, aim for something far more reasonable. But all of us know that eventually that day will come. One day the DS will call, and that’s it: we’re moving. We don’t really have much choice about it. We can say ‘no’ on occasion if we have a really good reason, but we all know to do that very sparingly. Most times we simply say ‘yes.’ Why? Because that’s the way this business works, and this is the profession we have chosen.
However, all of that brings me back to that living room. How can I ask a lay person to commit to a long-term ministry when I can’t (or won’t) do the same? How fair is that?
And how different does that make me from a guy like Lane Kiffin? Maybe we’re all Lane Kiffin pastors. Maybe we all suffer from the same kind of lack of commitment.
All of which raises the question for me: Is the itinerant system still the best way to deploy pastors? Would it be better for us to consider a much more long-term approach to pastoral ministry? After all, what would happen if I could look that lay leader in the eye and honestly say, “Yes, I’ll be here as long as it takes”? What difference might it make?