As I pointed out in a recent entry, I still like family practice. The fact of the matter is after 23 years of ministry I still like people. (Not all of my colleagues would say that!) Doing the kind of work I do can easily be compared to the role of a physician in family practice. Unfortunately I am aware of physicians who specialize in family practice that are choosing to do something else.
Family practice doctors end up taking a lot of calls after hours. They meet patients in the emergency room. Some of them are delivering babies too. There is even a lot of phone contact with patients in need after normal clinic hours. The intensity of their schedule coupled with increasing red tape associated with both Medicare and Medicaid is prompting capable physicians to choose another specialty in the medical field. Their profession is not nearly as lucrative as what the average person perceives. I know all of these facts to be true, because I have several friends who have been this field for a long time.
I can’t help but pause for a second when I list the causes of family practice doctors bailing out of their specialty. The similarities for those of us serving as generalists for local churches are striking once again. I take my fair share of call after hours. It is not nearly as intense as that of a medical doctor, but it happens. I responded to a death at the emergency room on Christmas Eve one year. I don’t have to do deal with Medicare or Medicaid, but the administrative challenges are more pronounced than they were a few years ago. Technology is indeed a mixed blessing.
Are ministers serving churches bailing out like doctors in family practice? The answer is yes. I find that my colleagues are increasingly drawn to very specialized opportunities in the field of ministry. This includes being a specialist of some kind on a church staff and it also entails working for a variety of para-church organizations and other non profits. In some ways, I don’t blame them.It is appealing to be able to focus on one very specific area and hone your skills accordingly.
I still like family practice. I gladly take the after hours call, because I care about the people I serve. It is a challenge to stay current more than one area. I need to stay current in the fields of homiletics, pastoral care, church leadership, and law enforcement chaplaincy. Someday I may find that I am a dinosaur. But even during an age where mega-churches dot the religious landscape, people still desire to have someone to provide personal pastoral care. It is a new week. I look forward to reporting to my pastoral “clinic.” In my job that could be most anywhere….