07 September 2011

untasked: the pastoral vocation

A few days ago I had an unplanned visitor come into my office.  We had not had an extended conversation for some time and we spent a while catching up and covering a good number of issues.  It is not uncommon for those in pastoral ministry to have days where unexpected visitors and even unexpected tasks suspend the list of activities that occupy one's calendar.  I will readily admit that any time unplanned events take away from some of what I was hoping to accomplish in a given day it can be somewhat difficult to swallow.

As I was reflecting on the fact that the majority of my office day was spent in the company of this gentleman, I was once more reminded of something I've been learning over my years of experience in the church.  Perhaps it is a sign of youthful exuberance moving to wisdom's experience, or maybe it is the movement of sanctification in the heart of this believer. But as Christians, especially those in pastoral ministry, the people are the job.  We are called to make the gospel a significant presence in their lives through our spiritual leadership within the church.  When we lose sight of that, we miss the purpose of our vocation.

I would suppose that one of the reasons why we pastors are often frustrated by unexpected encounters is that too many times church leadership is cast as a task-oriented endeavor.  Many pastors are overwhelmed with jobs within the church building and structure that they are simply too busy to be reflective, both in their own spiritual maturity and in giving guidance to others.

Eugene Peterson's memoir (The Pastor) speaks to this same condition within pastorate, where the actual ministry is overshadowed by the 'need' for momentum of the congregation.  It seems that many who are in the leadership of the church will agree with this assessment, but few will take the opportunity to help bring about the change that needs to happen for the life of the church.  This has been the experience of many, and my own journey has not been different.  There is a sense within many congregations that we know what we want our pastors to be, but we do not provide the how (or perhaps even the why) to become.

It is perhaps accurate to assume that this shift has come out of the increasing view of pastors as CEOs or employees or something worse (. . . personally, I feel that trainee comes closest to how many of us are regarded), when in fact we have a calling from the Almighty to be the voice of spiritual leadership and direction within the church.  When such a shift happens, not only do we have unhealthy congregations but we also have handcuffed our means by which we can recover from such sickness.

We must remember that this is not about the tasks and programs.  It is about the kingdom and its people (both the initiated and uninitiated), and the summons to develop disciples of Jesus.  Churches all across the wide spectrum of evangelicalism have this in common: we are desperately in need of changing the dynamics of the pastoral role of ministry.

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