Recently, I spent a day travelling with a church member. The two of us were together in the car for most of the trip. We have known each other for more years than either of us wants to remember and probably more than I can count. During the course of the trip, he gave me a significant compliment–I don’t think he actually knew he was doing it but I took what he said as a compliment.
He said he had begun to wonder about how he was going to survive spending a whole day in the car with the pastor–something I would worry about as well, at least with some pastors that I know. But he followed that up with a statement to the effect that he stopped worrying when he realized he was travelling with me. We spent some time on that distinction–we had the whole day and what else was there to talk about.
He made the distinction because we relate as friends first and foremost. Another factor, I think, is that I have never self-identified as a “pastor”. Certainly, that has been my occupation for a lot of years and in truth, there are many people who see me simply as that. I have contact with a lot of people who just want the “pastor”–they want the wedding, the funeral, the signature on some official form. But in my mind, although I do the work of a pastor, I have never seen myself first and foremost as a pastor.
That may seem to some like the sort of academic distinction that you would expect from someone who loves teaching and research and is sometimes more at home with a book than with a crowd of people but I think it is a very important distinction. And a lot of what I read about and by clergy suggests that many pastors do self-identify as “pastor” and that self-identification can and does create problems.
I read of–and hear from–pastors who complain of the loneliness they experience in ministry. I read books on ministry and have heard lectures that suggest that we in ministry need to be careful in our relationships with the people in our church–too much familiarity is somehow a threat to the overall success of ministry. The literature and practise of ministry seems to have built into it a need for a distinction and separation between clergy and laity.
And the result of such thinking has created something of a problem for churches and ministry. The pastoral role can and does create a separation between clergy and people. As I write this, I am wondering if this need for a distinction can account for at least some of the well recognized reluctance of men to be part of the church–when the pastor is seen as some sort of a special, set apart, holier than others individual, it might be kind of intimidating to other men. Maybe the traditional emphasis on the traditional pastoral role occupied traditionally by men primarily has scared other men off.
Whether that is true or not isn’t really the issue at this point. For me, the issue is honesty and integrity. The more I feel it necessary to define myself as the “pastor”, the less able I am to be honest with myself and others about who I really am and about the reality of my spiritual life. The “pastor” either doesn’t have or can’t have spiritual problems or struggles like “ordinary” people. The “pastor” has to have answers to all the questions of life, not confused and conflicting problems like “normal” Christians.
But if I am not the “pastor” but a believer who does the job of pastor, I can and do have spiritual problems and struggles. As a typical believer who just happens to perform the job of pastor, I have a few answers that sometimes work and a lot of part answers and even more confused questions.
I am a pastor because God has both called me to that position and given me the spiritual gifts for that task. But then again, the woman who is our church treasurer has also been called and gifted for that position. While she probably can’t do my job, I definitely can’t do hers. And, I have discovered, when we relate to each other as honest and open people, ministry goes a lot better for all of us, something I will explore in the next few blogs.
May the peace of God be with you.