MLCI Series: Pastoral Identity

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be hearing from various guest writers as they reflect on their own sense of pastoral/vocational identity. We’ve asked these writers to share their thoughts believing that an essential piece of overall health and well-being for clergy is a sense of self that extends “beyond the pulpit”, but that also embraces the realities of their calling to ministry. We’re grateful for the thoughts of these fine pastors and welcome your engagement with them in conversation.

This week’s post is offered by the Reverend Troy Tatum, Senior Minister of First Christian Church, Birmingham, AL and a graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University.




I love movies, but I don’t go to the movies all that often. 

When we want to watch a movie with our kids, it is usually more enjoyable at home – we don’t have to worry about bothering anyone when Luke (age 6) asks questions incessantly or when Riley (age 4) decides now would be a great time to sing her ABCs.  When my wife and I have a child-free evening, we usually prefer dinner and conversation to sitting quietly in a theater.

Recently, though, I went to the theater on my own.  I thought this particular movie might shed some light and inspiration on my sermon preparation for the week, and it probably would have, if I had just arrived at the theater a few minutes later.  But I got there early, in plenty of time not only to see the movie previews, but also the commercials that come before the previews.

In between advertisements for the SuperUltraBladderBlaster 72 ounce soft drink and the bathtub-sized popcorn bucket, there was a commercial for an app called RunPee.

Yes, RunPee.

According to their website, “The RunPee app is surprisingly easy to use. When the app starts it shows you a list of movies.  Each movie has a list of carefully selected Peetimes. We try to find 3-5 minute long scenes that don’t have crucial plot twists, or LOL moments, or exciting action.”  Apparently, Hugh Jackman is a fan.  Anne Hathaway, too.

“The Timer is our ace in the hole,” says Dan Florio, CPO (Chief Pee Officer). “You start it when the movie begins and it will vibrate before each Peetime. Now you can sit back, enjoy the movie and never wonder again, ‘Is this a good time to go?’”

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anything that is so ridiculous, and yet so useful, all at the same time.

I spent the first half of the movie wondering if it was a joke, and the second half    67 ounces into my BladderBlaster    wishing I’d downloaded the app while the previews were rolling.

More than anything, though, I found myself wishing somebody could find a way to utilize this technology beyond film.  Finding time to go the bathroom isn’t such a big deal, but can’t somebody invent an app that will tell me which finance meeting I can miss so that I can take my son to baseball practice?  Which date night I can forego so that I can finish my sermon before Sunday morning?  Whether it is more important to make that hospital visit, or to see my daughter’s ballet recital, or to proofread the bulletin, or to finish that blog post I’ve been putting off?   Wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and not have to wonder, “Is this a good time to go?”

A seminary professor used to tell us that in our ministry it was important to remember what it is we do for money, and what it is we do for Jesus, with the implication that there was a clear line between the two.  I’ve been in ministry for twenty years, and that line is fuzzier now than it ever was.  The truth is, I get paid for what I do for Jesus.  I certainly don’t do it for money (I like to think I’d be smart enough to choose a more lucrative profession if it was about money), but I couldn’t do it for long without money.  This calling is more about who you are than what you do, much less what you do it for.

The upside is that I don’t have to live with a false dichotomy between my personal life and my professional life.  The downside is there isn’t much distinction between my personal life and my professional life, and if I’m not careful, my personal life can get swallowed whole by my profession.

I’ve been to the workshops on boundaries, and I’ve read all the research about self-care, and I don’t disagree with any of it.  But the choices are never easy, the decisions are always pain-staking, and competing priorities take great and continual effort to balance, because I do not get to decide when I am a pastor and when I am a parent; I am always a parent, always a pastor, always a husband and a leader and a teacher and a friend.

So, I long for a “ding” on my phone that will tell me where to go and what to do, what I can miss and what I can’t, what is essential and what isn’t.  But until then, I’ll settle for a family and a church who, in their best and brightest moments, love me like God loves us all: not in spite of who I am, but precisely because of it.