A couple of times in my career as pastor, I have had people ask me an interesting question. Essentially, they want to know who is my pastor. One person who asked the question didn’t actually have much to do with the church but knew me and knew that I was involved in some pretty difficult situations with people he knew. Another was a church member whom I had helped through some difficulties as part of my pastoral activity.
The question is one that I have actually given a lot of thought to over the years. Very early, I was exposed to the myth of pastoral invulnerability–the idea that since I am a pastor, I have such a strong connection with God that I don’t need a pastor. My strong, deeply rooted faith and my powerful connection with God keep protect me and shelter me and take away the need for the kind of pastoral support I provide for others. Mostly, pastors who believe in this myth don’t talk about it–or much of anything personal for that matter. They just continue along, doing God’s work until they crash and burn, something that is always painful for them and the church.
I actually believed the myth–for something like 3.5 minutes. My own growing awareness of my weaknesses and witnessing the depressingly regular crash of “strong” pastors very quickly showed me the folly of that particular myth. And so even though I tend to be a fairly self-contained individual who has learned to handle a lot of things on my own, I am aware of my own need to outside help and welcome it.
All through my ministry, I have has people who were willing to be my pastor–of course, since I have pretty much always been a pastor myself, none of them were officially my pastor and in true church fashion, most of them never got paid for being my pastor. But they were and are there.
Early in my ministry preparation and career, I didn’t actually recognize these pastoral presences for what they really were. I knew there were people there who were willing to talk with me, listen to me and support me whose presence I deeply appreciated and would occasionally seek out but it never really clicked with me that they were being my pastor. At other times, there were people whose pastoral role I recognized–our denomination actually had staff people who were to be pastors to the pastors for a time.
I also had the tremendous blessing of marrying a pastor and we have provided mutual pastoral support for each other as part of our life together. Our relationship is about much more than being a pastor to each other but that is a factor in our relationship.
These days, our denomination no longer has a pastor to pastors because of financial realities. And many times, my advanced age puts me in the position of being a pastor to younger pastors in the same way other more senior pastors cared for me. But my advanced age and extended career in ministry haven’t brought me to the place where I am the living embodiment of the strong and unshakable pastor who needs nothing but the Bible and a “season of prayer” to deal with anything and everything.
I still need a pastor, just like the people I am called to shepherd. And so I find pastors. Often, my first choice is my wife. But I find others as well. I let the congregations provide pastoral care–I have told congregations for years that I struggle with depression and many within the congregation will check on me and offer care and prayer when I need it. Contrary to many pastoral theorists, being open to the pastoral care from the congregation makes my ministry with them stronger and more effective.
I also have people I meet with at irregular intervals and over coffee or lunch, we pastor each other. Sometimes, we both know this is a mutual pastoral care event, sometimes one or the other recognizes it for what it is and occasionally, neither of us knows that pastoral care is happening as we drink our coffee.
God has provided pastors because we all need something sometime–and we pastors are no different from anyone else. We may not have a pastor in the same way the people we shepherd have a pastor but God does provide us with pastors and those of us who are wise enough to see our needs take advantage of God’s provision.
May the peace of God be with you.