Friday, January 01, 2010

So… What do you do for a living?

“So… what do you do for a living?” This question used to not bother me much when I played music as my main job because pretty much everyone likes music. So as careers go being a musician is a pretty non-confrontational kind of answer and usually gets a conversation going in a good direction. But now I’m a pastor and the reaction is a little different when I mention what I do for a living. Truth be told, most of the time I actually hate answering the question because all of the sudden the person who asked starts acting noticeably different like apologizing for having just said a curse word moments before or for smoking a cigarette in front of me or feeling like I need an explanation for why this person hasn’t been to church in a long time. Other times when I answer this question I will get a very antagonistic response as if I have suddenly become the enemy in our brief conversation because the person does not have a very fond view of the church or religion.

So I have tossed around ways of answering this question so as to disguise the fact that I am a professional Christian or at least framing it in a more hospitable light. One pastor I met has business cards that say community organizer. I liked that one but I am afraid that folks would then feel I was being less than sincere if they found out that what I meant by community organizer was simply – pastor. I’ve thought about the term spiritual guide but it sounds a bit too new age (which would work well if I wore my snuggie around more. One lady referred to me as “The Dancing Preacher” after one message I gave several months ago where I came out dancing to “If I was a rich girl” (you had to be there to understand… really… it seemed cool at the time… really) and I thought that might make an interesting business card (it might pose all kinds of other problems though).

Well once again this question came up last night at a party one of our neighbors was having. After a brief internal cringe I answered the question with “I'm a pastor” and a discussion about Baptists and Catholics and singles groups and alcohol and bingo ensued. Actually the conversation wasn’t all that bad and no one was antagonistic or defensive. I guess sometimes I would like to be normal or at least be able to have a normal answer as to what I do for a living but I guess that’s like Hollywood actors complaining about how everybody is always watching them and how it is hard to have a private life (Would you like some cheese with that whine?). Maybe this is simply the struggle that all people of faith have about going public with who they are, what they do, or what they believe. Any thoughts? I would love some insight on creative ways to answer this question or how you’ve struggled in answering similar questions yourself.

5 comments:

Donny Cannoy said...

I've bowled in a league for years. I started a new team this year, and experienced the "shock and awe" when some of my fellow teammates discovered I was a pastor.

I guess it's a little easier for me since I'm bi-vo, and often I opt for disclosing my paying job. It is strange how people start acting different once they find out you're a pastor. That is - except for a couple of guys on my bowling team. They still call me @$$hole or d!(&head when I beat them - but perhaps not as often as they used to. Then again, maybe that's because I haven't bowled that well recently, and thus haven't beaten them as much!

Sara said...

How about worship leader, prayer specialist or soul reconstructionist? But really, just get comfy with saying pastor. Anything else is just pretencious. I think it's wonderful you've found your neiche.

Pi Man said...

I used to dread telling people I was a math teacher/instructor because I knew they would come back with one or more of the following: I loved math! I hated math! Get thee behind me Satan! Ok, not the last one… yet. But then the conversation usually went on about which math classes they loved or hated and why, etc. I’ve come to the place now though that I understand that this happens to almost everyone regardless of their profession. We can’t stop the positive or negative association one makes with our profession of course. With that said, yours has the potential to be a bit more volatile, and in a hurry. So, maybe hitting it on the head with a slight delayed factor would help. For example, “I’m a musician (noticeable pause here), and the Senior Pastor at Northshore Vineyard Church in Covington” with your usual smile and no apologies, and then, hang on for dear life as you wait with minimum cringing as to what will follow. Hopefully they’ll focus on the musician part first, and that will lead into the pastor part after that. Hey, any guy who can keep playing his guitar while putting their guitar strap back on after it fell off can handle this… if you throw in a little dancing again….. 8^) TA

Rod Vedros said...

I like Pi man's answer; if u were a priest it would be obvious because of the uniform. I guess in a way you're incognito until the dreaded question, LOL

Claudia said...

Maybe instead of saying, "I'm a pastor," where it sounds kind of like a label, you could make it more active voice and say, "I pastor a church in Covington." Of course, you run the risk of someone thinking you said, "I PASSED a church in Covington," but either way the next question might be, "Which one?" and you'd be off and running in a conversation . . .

I remember when I changed professions, from teaching college to being a legal secretary. When I was teaching, I responded to, "What do you do?" by saying, "I teach college," which prompted them to ask, "Oh? What do you teach?" and so forth. When my answer became, "I'm a legal secretary," people just stared at me and turned away, believing that they now knew all they needed to know. Quite the conversation killer.

Nowadays (do people SAY that anymore?), when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I'm a lawyer and they usually have one of three responses: they tell me the latest lawyer joke they heard; they try to get free legal advice ("A lawyer, huh? Can I ask you something . . ?); or they just run.