As I was writing the last post, I realized that it could suggest that I have a very high opinion of my pastoral abilities. And I do think that I am pretty good at what I do–I have been a pastor for a lot of years and have helped congregations through some difficult times. And while I have never been called to a large congregation, I think I have been good for the churches that I have pastored. As well, I have been called to teach pastors both in Canada and Kenya.
But at the same time, I have to confess that most of the time in ministry, I really don’t know what I am doing. Sure, there are some basics: I need to preach, teach Bible study, visit people, attend (and sometimes chair) meetings, do some counselling, and be there for life transitions like funerals and weddings. But beyond the basics, I don’t always have great plans and inspiring visions. I don’t dream (much) of seeing the congregation become a mega-church; I am never sure where we will be next month let alone 5 or 10 years from now. In truth, sometimes, I can’t even tell you what I will be preaching next Sunday, although that only happens when I forget that the current sermon plan actually ends next week.
None of my congregations have ever given me a coffee mug with the message “World’s Greatest Pastor” printed on it–nor have I even felt that I deserve one. Even more, there are times when I am convinced that I made a serious mistake when I decided that God wanted me to be a pastor–and more than a few times when I have been convinced that God made a serious mistake by calling me to be a pastor.
I get tired of what I am doing; I get depressed when the stress of ministry leads to overwork; I waste time when I could be studying or seeing people; I wonder why God didn’t call me to some other work; I get angry at things that happen in the church; I fantasize about winning the lottery and retiring; I sometimes hope for snow days for more than just the opportunity to go cross-country skiing.
I am a pastor–but even after all these years of pastoring, teaching pastors, reflecting and writing on pastoring, I am still trying to figure out what it really means to be a pastor. Maybe after I retire sometime in the not too distant future, I will have some time to figure out what it is that I am really supposed to be doing.
I have actually made some progress at figuring it out. I have learned some things that pastors shouldn’t do. Some of these I have learned from my own painful experience. Others I have learned from watching the experience of others–those lessons have been less painful for me but no less painful for congregations and pastors. Knowing what not to do is actually a helpful start on the road to knowing what to do.
If it is a mistake to scold the congregation with every sermon, as it is, then not only do I know to avoid that but also, I have an opportunity to discover what might be a better use of the sermon. Teaching during the sermon, encouraging with the message, inspiring congregations through the preaching–all these are much better for everyone than a ranting scold every week.
And even more importantly, I have learned one of the most basic realities of my profession. Ministry is really about developing relationships with people that can help them and me develop our relationship with God. In the course of developing those relationships, we may discover God’s leading and empowering to do interesting, exciting and inspiring things but the development of the relationships is the key issue. We have to really know each other before we can trust each other. We have to trust each other before we can really open to each other about faith. We have to open to each other about faith before we can experience the fullness of the presence of God in our midst.
So, day after day, I take my introverted self and go be a pastor–I joke with people, drink coffee with people, cry with people, pray with people, teach people, get taught by people. I do my job, a job that I don’t always understand and which I sometimes struggle to explain and am not sure how good at it I really am but which God has called me to do.
May the peace of God be with you.