To my fellow pastors:
If you have been following these series of posts then you probably care as much about the church as I do. I know that many of the people we pastor don’t get this, but I do: We are not only committed to Christ, but we truly love Christ’s body. We are pastors because we love the church. I am writing this as one of two final installments of this series inspired by the pain I have come to know first hand in five churches, because I believe that we are all pained when one part of the body is suffering.
Let me offer these thoughts to you, my colleagues.
First, we must believe, know and teach the truth. Our congregations are filled with people who are awash in relativism and the backsplash of overly rigid dogmatism. If our congregations are going to be places where people “speak the truth in love” then we must be custodians of the truth that is found only in Jesus. We must learn differentiate between “big T” and “little t” truths; between that which is categorically and objectively True that we must hold to with firm conviction even at the cost of unity and those “truths” of our life experiences and perspective that are personally cherished and important for us to share with each other to build trust and intimacy, but not necessarily worthy of division. Some of the truth is that we polarize around non-essential issues, personalities and preferences. Let us follow Paul’s example in 1 Cor 7 where even when giving instruction in the sticky matter of sexual ethics Paul could differentiate for his people the difference between “I” and “the Lord”.
Second, whether we like it or not, our ministry is about both the Word and the People. Always. We are not Bible scholars or professors who have the luxury of just studying and teaching the Word, nor are we social workers, politicians or non-profit leaders who only worry about our constituency. We always serve both. To paraphrase Eugene Peterson, we must always be in the middle of the mystery of God and the mess of people. Always.
While the authority and relevance of the Word is certainly under scrutiny, it not attack by the world these days, I believe that the notion of The People is being attacked from within. We Christians have taken in the values of a “divorce culture” and have perpetuated it in the church. People are unconvinced about, inexperienced in and incompetent at building lasting covenant relationships. We pastors must teach them another way. We must work on being good with people and not just “caring” for them, but also creating the environment for people to grow and flourish in faith. We must learn to humbly lead them in both life-transformation and ministry. And teaching them that to be in Christ is to be in Christ’s body in a local congregation. That is the Christian way.
By the way, the People part is far more difficult than the Word part, I believe. Most of us nailed down the World part in seminary, but seminary probably didn’t help us one bit at the people part. Working with people will also push your own emotional buttons and trigger your own psychological hooks. Personally I believe pastors should invest at least as much time and money in psycho-therapy, mentoring and supervision as we did in seminary. (I think I spent more money in therapy than in seminary believe it or not, and I got a Ph.D!)
Third, while you were probably at one time one of the “star players” in your church or a para-church ministry (which is why someone told you to consider going “pro”) as a pastors you are now on the bench. We are not the “star players” of the church, but the coaches. We are supposed to be on the sidelines, as it were, instructing, equipping, encouraging and leading a church of “teammates”. Beware the temptation to take the ball and run with it.
When people come to you to lead a new church, a breakaway or some other split, beware the ‘we need a shepherd’ line.” More than they need a shepherd they need to be part of the flock. They need to be part of the body. In choosing you, they are rejecting each other. Make them stay and work it out. Teach them to know the Word, obey Jesus, and forgive and love each other.
And finally, the toughest news for us pastors to remember: If it’s about you, then it’s not about Jesus. This is true in every sermon, every meeting we lead, every decision we make. My family and I know that all that we enjoy in life is for us to fulfill the calling of leading San Clemente Presbyterian Church. We often say to each other that we know that the only reason we get to live in San Clemente is because I am the pastor. If I stop being the pastor, I’d have to leave.
This is a tough thing to acknowledge for most of us. We want to have a life, build some job security, sink deep roots and provide for our families. This is all good. But remember, you accepted a call to be a pastor. There are many other ways you could be serving Christ (especially as a lay person). When you accepted the call to pastor, you became betrothed to the Church.
Minister means servant. And in the end that is all we do. We serve Christ, we serve the Word, we serve the People. Period.
Friends, I believe this is a high calling and great privilege. As pastors we are part of more holy moments than most. But our goal is not ourselves but Jesus, seen through His body faithfully living out the gospel in a particular time and place. That is why we are here.
Your brother and fellow pastor,