Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pastors and Pedestals. . .

There are not a few folks who think I run the congregation where I serve.  From their perspective, I suppose that is how it seems.  I am in my 25th year here.  I have become the pastor, the only pastor, the vast majority of my people have known (except for a visitation pastor and now an associate approaching the end of his second year here).  I am the keeper of the corporate memory.  I can remember how we did this what that happened and how we that when this happened.  I know where papers are stored, where the Christmas decorations are kept, how to renew the non-profit corporate status, how to renew the tax exempt status, when the voters meetings are held, and how many folks to expect when Christmas Eve falls on a Tuesday and Christmas Day on a Wednesday. . . I seem to be the voice of caution when new things are planned and the voice of change when the predictable is chosen yet again.  I remind them who we are, why we are here, what worship is and is not, and what a pastor is (and is not).  So, because they think I am almost as old as God, I must run the show.

The truth is I often wish I did.  I wish I could substitute my opinion for the will and desire of others (except, of course when neither of us wins and only God does!).  It would be easier not to have to coax reluctant leaders through the hard decisions and to simply make them myself.  Since I will probably be blamed if it does not work right, it would be easier if I could decide what course we shall pursue.  I do not know a pastor who does not think this way.  It is not because we are prone to arrogance or control freaks.  It is because we are here nearly every day of the week, every week of the year, for as long as it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.  For me, as for most pastors I would assume, it is not simply a job but a vocation, not simply a congregation but a family, and not simply a range of choices but the best option.

Although some folks probably wish that the pastor was not so intimately identified with everything, they also want it just this way.  They don’t want to get involved to the level of the pastor (and they complain that they cannot be expected to abandon jobs and family to do that).  They don’t want to give up their time, talents, and treasures if it might mean somebody might suffer (aren't we all that way?). They know that if pastor does it, they won't have to do it and that is often too attractive for their own good.  The pastor wants it because so much of his calling involved intangible things that every pastor likes to be able to point to something concrete and real and say "I did that."  Every pastor has a little desire to be father to their people (and more people than who would admit it also want the pastor to act like dad and remind them of the things they know they ought to do).  Many folks always feel a little uncomfortable with the pastor and his family so it does not bother them to keep them at a distance (even if that distance ends up putting the man on small pedestal).  So we feed off each other in the foibles of pastors too involved for their own good and people who want their pastors to be holy.

Everyone really knows that the pastor is not large and in charge.  They know that because they have dumped many problems into the lap of the pastor and the family was still broken, the child still rebellious, the money still tight at home, and the sick still died.  Part of the reason we want pastors to be on a small pedestal is the hope that he will come through every now and then with the miracle we do not think we can do or get or deserve on our own.  We all know it helps to have an ace in your hand.  So we ask the pastor to pray for us and to intervene in family wars, to speak to the errant child, to reconcile angry spouses, and to generally follow us around to clean up our messes.  No pastor I know would deny wanting to be able to do just that -- except that we can't and are mere mortals.

Pastors dream of self-sufficient congregations where the ordained need not know how to use a toilet plunger or repair the copier or fix a computer that refuses to boot up.  But we also yearn to be loved, respected, admired, and heeded and so it does not hurt too much when do what is no pastor's job description.  We want everyone to get along, for the church to prosper, and for God and everyone we serve to be happy (especially with us).  So it is okay if the pastor is a bit more invested in things at church and if the folks in the pew count on him.  What is not okay is if the pastor takes over and the people let him or want him to  -- we have different roles but we ought to be equally invested in and working toward God's purpose.

Some people think I run things but don't think I should.  Unfortunately, those are the same people who expect others to step up and do what is really theirs to do.  Some people think I run things and that is how it ought to be.  Unfortunately, there are both folks therein who just want to avoid having to be responsible and others who want me to be happy and think being CEO will make me happy.  So I guess it will always appear to some that I am in control and to some that this is okay as long as things keep going well.  In the end, it is my job to hold them accountable for what is theirs even as it is their job to hold me accountable for what is mine.  Our vocations do not replace each other but complement each other.  As hard as it is to explain, it is wonderful when it works.  As hard as it is to repair when it is broken, it is wonderful when, in spite of ourselves, it finds the sweet spot.   I have erred on both sides over the years and my people have forgiven me and I have forgiven them.  2017 is one more chance to try and get it right. . . again!

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