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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

This is my job?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

There is no unanimity when it comes to answering the question, "What is a pastor's job?" I recall, prior to seminary, criticizing without reservation the pastor of the church I attended for being, as I put it, "the least pastoral pastor I've ever met." What I meant by that was that he didn't keep regular office hours at the church; he didn't make the rounds of pastoral visits to the homes of parishoners.

If I'm honest, part of what appealed to me about the call to ministry, particularly ministry in an institution like the Presbyterian Church (USA), was a certain concreteness. As a minister of Word and Sacrament, you know what you are called to do: preach the Word and administer the sacraments. Beyond that, be a good pastor. But they don't tell you what a pastor is or does. You just have to kind of figure it out on your own.

So today, being a pastor meant meeting a woman from my congregation at the public library, so that I could show her the basics of using a computer and accessing the world wide web for the purpose of looking for a job. Then it meant delivering to the office of the school district a letter of appeal on behalf of a middle school student who has been suspended for fighting. Then it meant writing a thank-you note to the church's office manager. Then it meant intervening in a pseudo-conflict between the church's preschool Director and the church's volunteer handyman. Then it meant, as I prepared to go home, helping someone start the church's lawnmower.

Almost one year in, I have concluded that, in this calling, I am my own worst enemy. Or, rather, my own conscience is my worst enemy. Or, rather, my pervasive need for affirmation is my worst enemy. If someone were to throw at me the kind of "non-pastoral" criticism I myself threw around just a few years ago, I would likely be devastated. And that's the bigger part of the problem. It's not that the work is fluid and demanding and delicate; it's that many of us in the work need solid, measurable signs for us to pat ourselves on the back. I'm starting to see that grace doesn't work that way.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:57 PM


Hey Rocky. My old man, who is also a pastor (I know you know that) has always said that the pastoral role of "pastor" is the simple act of 1) making yourself willingly open and available to support, serve, and help those in your congregation and 2) making yourself communicate clearly to all that your priorities are, and will forever remain 1) God, 2) Spouse, 3) Family, and 4) Ministry.

While both of these individually carry some merit (in my mind) as issues to be aware of when in professional, pastoral ministry, it has been watching him artfully do both at the same time (albeit in some seasons of time he has done better than in others) that has really hit home to me. That is one of the best things Dad ever gave me....watching him give his heart and his work and his energy to his calling as Christian, Husband, Dad, and Pastor (and in that order).
commented by Anonymous Scott, 11:56 PM  
The most potent image that I have retained from my, honestly, very good training in pastoral work is the idea that ministers are "representatives of the sacred."

The reason I bring it up is that the list of activities that you laid out demonstrates very well some of what I believe God is about: helping someone get a job, appealing for someone to have a second chance, letting someone know that the work they do is valued, helping people gain perspective on their relationships, showing us how to utilize the resource we have to do the jobs we need to do.

Here's your affirmation (which I know your not seeking): If you are a representative of the sacred, and what you have done is what God does, then I can worship your God.
commented by Blogger landon, 7:04 AM  
oh, I hear you dude. I wish I had more time for eloquence... but another day has slipped by... and Personnel Committee and Premarital Counseling loom.
commented by Anonymous matt, 2:22 PM  

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