Monday, October 02, 2017

Who Is Your Pastor to You?

I'll soon mark 13 years in full time pastoral ministry. I've served two churches over that stretch and ministered to a few hundred people in different contexts and with different needs. Before sitting down to write this, in fact, I hadn't considered just how many people I've related to in some way as a pastor, whether they've been considered members of the church I serve or not.

I suppose that I could make it a point to think hard to try to come up with an exact number, but I don't have that kind of time. The point is that it's been a lot.

The more interesting thing for me to consider is who I've been to each of them, or to put it a different way, how each of them have viewed me in my pastoral role. Depending on how I've needed to interact with them; by virtue of how different relationships develop, I can say with safety and certainty that as a pastor, I have not been viewed the same way by everyone. Different people have needed or wanted me to be different things to them.

Over the years, some have viewed me as more of a friend than a pastor. This is inevitable.

Some have viewed me more strictly as an employee or staff person.

Some have viewed me as the hired help (mostly when it comes to weddings).

Some have viewed me as a resident expert, whether in terms of theology or church governance.

Some have viewed me as the boss who signs off on everything, while others have viewed me as a consultant to the congregation who offers one opinion among many others.

Some have tried to use me as an amateur therapist (resist this, colleagues; we ain't got the training).

In a select few instances, some have viewed me as their personal social worker (again, colleagues: RESIST).

It is often the case that individuals hold more than one of these images of their pastor at once. Depending on the moment, need, or desire, a different image may come to the forefront at different times. People might appeal to Pastor Joe the Boss during a council meeting, then hope that Pastor Joe the Friend can make it to their party on Friday. People might express appreciation for the change that Pastor Mary the Consultant made in the worship service, but then question whether Pastor Mary the Employee should be given a raise during budget season.

As you can see, this can get complicated.

How people view their pastor affects how the two parties relate. And as with any relationship, some of this will be positive and life-giving, and others hold the potential to be destructive.

If you view your pastor primarily as a friend, will you be able to receive constructive pushback from them? And when they move on to a different ministry setting, will you be able to accept the person who comes in to replace them?

If you view your pastor primarily as an employee, will you be able to work with them as they deal with medical-related limitations, or understand when they sometimes prioritize their child's ballgame over the scheduling of a meeting?

If you view your pastor as a consultant or as the boss, will you recognize that they can't truly provide the programming you want all by themselves, and that congregations are meant to do the work of ministry and planning together?

Images matter, because they affect behavior. And behavior matters, because only some of it will reflect who pastors are really meant to be to their people, and in turn who the church is meant to be in general.

Not every pastoral relationship is going to be the same. But the question for the church is whether there will be enough grace in any of them for healthy ministry to take place.