fiction fridays: rusty price, ministry agent 2

read from the beginning here
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Over a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and toast at his kitchen table, Rusty thought back over the past eight years and what it had been like to carve out this niche for himself as a ministry agent. It wasn’t easy. Remarkably, he had persevered. Rusty wasn’t entirely sure why this was the case. After all, he had lasted only two and a half years on staff in a congregation and 4 years with the non-profit. Odd that he would have the staying power to make this crazy venture work. Positioning oneself as an agent for ministry professionals stared up, from the beginning, at a daunting uphill climb. For one thing, retaining an agent seemed so…well, secular. And pompous. (“Who does he think he is anyway, expecting us to deal with…an agent?!?”)
 
But he had managed to demonstrate his usefulness. Proving one’s role to be an immensely practical solution to an immediate-feeling problem will usually overcome ideological queasiness. His evolution as an agent, in approach at least, was not hard to trace, looking back. Rusty took another bite of sausage and thought about how he had progressed over these past few years.
 
Years One and Two he had been sheepish but determined. The moment was definitely right. Seminary enrollments were up, but the number of seminarians going into congregational ministry was dropping. Plenty of experts, self-appointed and otherwise, were hypothesizing about why. But no one was thinking about the practical issue of how these churches and pastors would connect with one another in an age of fewer clergy. And, market forces being what they are, Rusty figured that churches wouldn’t mind competing with one another just a little bit to get the right person when the time came to make a change. Not so much competition as to be unholy or anything. Just…well…hmm. Anyway, Russell T. Price, as he had it on his business cards in order to sound professional, carried himself unevenly those two years. On the one hand, he was convinced of the personal opportunity in the coming ministry market milieu. On the other hand, he himself was a little squeamish about introducing the professional agent to clergy-church relations.
 
Years Three through Seven he had dropped the sheepishness. Rusty emerged from the start-up phase a success, which went to his head and produced a wheeler-dealer version of himself that made him even more successful financially, but disconnected relationally from others…and himself. Sure, by that time, he’d seen too many egotistical clergy who thought they were worth the moon and too many cheap congregations who were convinced that the pastor ought to sacrifice his or her lifestyle for the gospel, and were happy to assist them with that in the compensation department, though they did little to adjust their own habits out of Christian conviction. Too much time seeing the sausage get made, and participating in it. But too little perspective also. Perspective was one thing he realized, during Year Eight, that he had lacked as a ministry professional himself. Hard to tell the forest for the trees and such. Church folk and pastors were human, after all; capable of pettiness and kindness both. Don’t get your heart set on one, you’re likely to run smack into the other. Just live to be surprised and you will enjoy when you’re surprised to the good. Years Three through Seven, looking back, had been the out-of-body year. He was there for every bit of it, but remembering it he felt as though he was watching a film of himself rather than recalling personal experiences. What was with that?
 
So Year Eight began a turn for Rusty’s business, and himself. Over the first several years, he had developed a handy statistical rating system, sort of like the quarterback ratings for the NFL. It turned out to be a good way to sell a church or organization on a pastor’s value, and it communicated. But an unanticipated side-effect was the competition between clergy for a better LP (Lead Pastor) rating than their buddies (yes, it was mostly the men). He continued his use of the LP rating formula. It was simply too practical to give up. But he relied on it less exclusively in years past, pairing a narrative sketch of the person as well. And while before he was looking for the best financial deal for his client, now he was looking to establish trust and work himself into potentially long-term relationships with both churches and organizations and the individual clients. And, in Year Eight, about three months ago, he found himself unwittingly doing some self-reflection. “Why am I the way I am?” he thought one late night on a drive home after a church personnel meeting. It was the first time he had asked himself anything like that in years. And it felt awkward. But promising.
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