Before we move on to consider other elements of a shepherd’s heart, I want to stay with the idea of “professionalism” one more week. This is one place where I run the risk of being misunderstood, and when I speak of this in clergy retreats, I often have to expand upon my idea.
I begin by pointing out that I have devoted many years of my life to theological education. I believe in an educated clergy, and I want clergy to be “professional” in the best sense of that term.
But the problem comes when “professional” becomes “professionalism.” My friend, Dennis Campbell, first put me on to this through his excellent book, Doctors, Lawyers, and Ministers. Campbell convinced me then, and I remain convinced now, that to turn the vocation of ministry into another of “the professions” is to do damage to it.
But there is also an upside to the word. If we use “professional” to mean “excellent,” then we should never settle for anything less. The word “excellent” is a word which is rooted in virtue—in character. In other words, our practice of ministry flows from the wellspring of a deeper devotion to Christ.
When viewed this way, being “professional” means practicing ministry with all the depth of spirit and expertise of skill that we possibly can. Or to say it another way, as a friend of mine has recently done, being “professional” is an act of stewardship.
When I go to my doctor, I do not want “sloppy” medicine. I don’t want her to treat me with the least she knows, but with the most. I don’t want her settling for “making a good guess” (although I realize the practice of medicine includes a measure of guesswork). No, I want her to bring her knowledge of medicine and her desire to be a “good doctor” to bear on my sickness. I want her to be “professional.”
I want the same to be true of my ministry and the ministry of those men and women I have been training for nearly 30 years. I want it to be true of you too. The heart of a shepherd includes being “professional” when our being that is an expression of Romans 12:1-2.