I'm Not Your Pastor... Yet.

May 21st, 2014

I love being a pastor. I love the sense of God’s call on my life and the way I have been invited to respond to the call.

Now as I prepare to join in God’s work among a people I do not yet know in a land I am only passingly familiar with, I find myself reflecting on how one becomes a pastor to a people. I suggest there is a progression of relationship I do well to keep before me as I explore this emerging opportunity. In fact, I think I will be called to serve in three related, but separated roles: Priest, Pastor, and Prophet. Knowing when to act as each may be the difference between successfully participating in furthering the Kingdom of God or not. (Yes. I think this is that important.) 

Start Here: Priest

When I show up on day one, I come as Priest. I bring the authority to order and preside over worship. I will administer the sacraments. I will officiate the weddings. I will bury our dead. It is the observance of our rituals where I will be called to lead. This is an important role rooted in the earliest expressions of our faith. It is a Priest who calls the people to worship. To remember and remind the people of God’s promises. To offer intercession and other forms of prayer. To sing the songs that shape us as God’s people.

This work was so important one of the twelve tribes of Israel was set apart to serve the people in this way with others supporting them and providing for their livelihood; a practice continued with many of our modern-day clergy.

Over time and through shared experiences, those I serve as Priest will come to be known by be and to know me. We will build trust in one another and come to see each other as companions on the journey. When trust becomes acceptance and genuine care and concern is shared, I will move from simply being a Priest into a more intimate role. 

Grow Here: Pastor

Though my title may be Pastor when I arrive, the title precedes the relationship. One becomes Pastor, one cannot be assigned as Pastor. Becoming suggests a growing or an unfolding. And this is the way of all relationships. Some will come to accept me as Pastor sooner than others. Some may not at all. That’s because relationships take time, they involve people and personalities, and they don’t follow formulas or well-defined steps.

When the relationship does blossom into one of mutual trust and care, the role of Pastor mirrors Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. The Pastor identifies with the people she/he serves as a friend and a partner in ministry. The Pastor willingly sacrifices for these friends as they explore increasingly deeper levels of love for God and for each other. There may not be a greater joy in life than to be considered someone’s Pastor.

The Pastor may fulfill their greatest responsibility, albeit their more difficult one, when they can speak into the lives of others, not from a place of perceived superiority (spiritual or otherwise), but from the place of deep love. Frequently the words spoken from this place are challenging, perhaps even confrontational, and yet they may be the ultimate expression of our calling.

Challenge Here: Prophet

Provocateur. Trouble-maker. Upsetter of apple carts and money-changing tables. Call them what you will, Prophets are change agents. Given enough time (Oh, how I have rushed this!), Prophets warn, remind, and challenge the people. It is as Prophet that we encourage people to walk to the edge of the comfort zone and step into new territory. It is the Prophet who declares “Thus says the LORD!” It is the Prophet who brings the harsh word that is often hard to hear.

I may never gain the level of trust needed to be Prophet. I may never get a hearing with the people I am called to lead. I will likely feel compelled to speak the prophetic word nonetheless. However, if I try to short-circuit the relationship, if I seek a fast-track to speaking the vision placed on my heart, if I rush to push/pull/prod the people without first building the relational capital necessary to share the fire burning in my bones, we will all suffer for it.

So as I make my transition to a new land and a new people, I will start where I can start; I will do what I have been given permission by the people to do. I pray for the wisdom to know when I have been granted more authority, when I have been invited into a new relationship and a new role. This calling is too important to do anything less.

Life is better together,

Shawn is a United Methodist pastor in Missouri. He blogs at Big Rubber Band Ball

comments powered by Disqus