This is a repost of an article that first appeared here in May 2010. Recently I have been working with clients who are struggling with congregations who want the pastor to be a 'chaplain' care-taker of the congregatio, while the leadership recognizes the need for a more transformational leader. In December 2011, I enjoyed a fruitful exchange of posts with the current editor of Christianity Today, Mark Galli on about the chaplains vs. leaders discussion. Those posts can be found here, Mark's response here, and my response to his response here.
I tend to think of myself as a “Take the Hill” kind of guy. I like a challenge. I tend to think of myself as leading “a band of brothers (and sisters)” on an offensive to spread the Kingdom of God. I get all inspired by “Henry V”-type speeches about charging “once more into the breach.” I resonate with the idea of a pastor as a “leader of a mission.”
One of my colleagues is really different than I am. Maybe it’s because he’s had enough of “challenging the troops.” Maybe he’s seen enough pain in lives and congregations to be skeptical of the kinds of ‘charges’ that pastors like me seem to relish. My colleague has been called to minister to a church that is in the middle of a retirement home. He tells me with a sigh of great satisfaction that he spends his days, “hugging and kissing, teaching and ministering to some of the greatest saints you’ll ever meet.” Sometimes I am jealous of him and I get the sense that sometimes he thinks he’s supposed to be more like me.
I take the hill, he cares for grandma. And mostly I think that most of us assume that these are two different types of pastoral ministries. It is common to hear talk about the differences between “missional” ministry and “chaplaincy”; about “leading” vs. “care-taking”; about “church renewal” vs. “church hospice”. And in some ways, the distinction is really apt. But in other ways, I think those distinctions reveal both our own projections about ourselves and a convenient way to avoid what is true about all churches. Here’s the reality as I see it: We all have “hills to take” and all of our churches are filled with ‘grandmas’.
None of us who are in leadership of churches get the luxury of a single-focused call no matter how important we think it is. No pastor is only a chaplain to a fellowship of saints, a preacher of the gospel, a teacher of the theology, an administrator of a church, or a “leader” of the most fit, trained, and motivated “spiritual warriors” Pastoral ministry, if done well, is always about a myriad of oftencompeting roles. Our call is to further the mission of the Kingdom of heaven, to expand the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, with the very people whom God has given us. The church is both a mission AND a family. It is both something to do and something that has intrinsic value even when nothing is being accomplished. It is a complex web of paradoxes to manage and competing values to live out.
It’s one thing to imagine being the leader of a mission if you get to personally select, train, and deploy the most able and eager. It’s another thing to accomplish the same mission with whoever happens to be given you regardless of ability (or even interest) in the task. It’s one thing to create a church family that loves each person just as they are, and another to try to inspire and equip that people to take on a challenge that will require it to change, grow, and expend resources that it may not even have currently.
We have to love the kindly grandmas and grandpas, cute little children, cranky aunts and uncles, over-committed brothers and sisters, and sometimes-irascible and often-inspiring teenagers with whom God has called us to be “spiritual family” and then we have to try to motivate that group to work, sacrifice, give and take on the responsibilities of furthering the mission of the Kingdom in our local community and beyond. We are a family that wants to sit cozy by the campfire together that has to get up and charge the hill (at potentially great cost).
To me this is the most demanding aspect of being a pastor: The complexity of it all. We pastors live in an emotional field filled with competing values. I often remind my church that in this way, we are like a “family business.” We love, care, and value each other with a kind of unconditional love and, at the same time, we need to make decisions based on the conditions of what will further the spiritual “bottom line” of furthering our mission as a church.
This daily dealing in competing values is the tough terrain of pastoral leadership. We are all called to take the hill with grandma. And we can’t neglect either. The church is BOTH a mission and a family. And holding that tension and leading a church that is faithful to both mission and family is indeed the challenge for most of us.