I’ve thought a lot about my first letter to you. Before we get to any of the lessons I have learned over time, there is one thing we probably need to get squared away. I’m pretty much at odds with a lot (maybe even most all) of the other pastors I know or read or listen to. I am definitely the minority. Let me explain…and I’ll try my best not to be too judgmental. Lol.
Many years ago, I faced a theological, as well as a practical, crisis of sorts. I was struggling to see the role of the modern pastor anywhere in the Bible. As a matter of fact, much of what I was seeing looked awfully different than what I was reading of the life and leadership of the New Testament church…not to mention the character of Jesus.
So I made a decision. I rejected the corporate model of church leadership. The pastor-as-CEO has been extremely successful. I just don’t see it as particularly “pastorly”. Or biblical. It’s totally ridiculous to me that some churches let, or even expect, their pastors to be the bosses or the authority figures or chief decision makers.
Prophets, priests, and kings played significant roles in the era before Jesus. However, the only truly anointed One in the New Covenant was Jesus. A pastor is simply a shepherd who cares for the sheep. Maybe sometimes a little more, but certainly nothing less. What’s wrong with us that we have let…or even required…pastors become the “face” of a church and the central figure in the life of a local body of worshippers?
Now here’s where it gets dicey, fledgling warrior. You must choose the path you will walk, or it will be chosen for you. Let me explain.
Most every person you will have the opportunity to shepherd will have a preconception of what your “pastoral” role in their life should look like. Young and old. Seasoned and newbie. And not only their life, but the whole church as well. It’s one of those occupations where everyone has opinion of who and what you are, and how you should act…and they’ll most likely tell you. And if you disagree, whether it’s expressed or held close to the vest, they will feel they are right and you are wrong.
Their perception of you and your role will be influenced by a lot of things: their past church experience, their family’s belief system, the immediate culture, your church’s structure and history, and maybe even their interpretation of the Bible.
And you will need to listen with humility and serve them consistently, with love, no matter what.
Since I rejected the modern definition of the pastor, I have always earned my paycheck by living out the role that was expected of me by the church (both leaders and members), while fulfilling my calling as a shepherd of people and kingdom worker in more subversive and less culturally acceptable ways. (This was always much easier to do as a youth pastor, rather than the Big Dog role. Youth ministers can be stealth and ninja-like, because most people see the youth guy as a wannabe, rather than a real minister, anyway! Just sayin’…).
We’ll get into this more in other letters, but let’s just say I have opted for a definition of pastor that was as free as possible from the modern, cultural picture of a leader and as similar to the life and character of Jesus as I would dare to be: lead from weakness rather than strength, lift others up, serve with humility, be a peacemaker, focus on the least, live and guide with simplicity, hold people close, forgive ridiculously, extend grace with no limits, find my significance and worth in Who I know, not what I do, and define leadership by integrity and character, rather than decision-making and results.
Here’s the good news: This has always allowed me to be a pastor who can build deep, meaningful friendships with anybody in the church, live free from the pressure of performance, validate my worth apart from numbers (budget, staff, attendance, facilities, etc…), laugh at myself and the church, ignore the spotlight, be free to be wrong, say “I don’t know”, embrace and express my doubts, change my theological mind, put my family first…like, really put them first, have the freedom to fail without fear, lead from my giftedness and not the expectations of others, preach honestly, care deeply without obsessing, enjoy every Sunday morning, and lead with no need to compare or compete. And that’s just the tip…
It also means I pastor at the slowest growing church in Denton county…but that’s for another letter, rook.
Like I said, you choose the way you define pastor, or it will be chosen for you.