Thursday, June 05, 2014

Three Things That Pastors Are

Earlier this week, I posted a list of three things that pastors are not: therapists, case managers, and CEOs. There are certain aspects of these positions with which the pastoral role experiences a certain overlap, but that ultimately pastors are not qualified to fulfill beyond a knowledge that helps one recognize what is happening and needed in parishioners' life situations.

So, if a pastor is not one of these things, what can we say that a pastor is? What has a pastor been trained to do and to be? If we made a negative list, it would certainly be helpful to make a positive list to complement it. Here, then, are three things that a pastor is.

1. Spiritual guides - While it is helpful for pastors to have a working knowledge and skill set in counseling techniques and administration to be used within appropriate boundaries as the institutional church requires, it remains that pastors are called primarily to tend to the spiritual side of individuals and the faith community. This includes reflecting with people in crisis as to where God is actively present and loving even in uncertainty and despair. It also includes reflecting with the entire congregation about God's calling, vision, and direction for how to use its resources most faithfully in its context.

Pastors are called to the practical: we write reports, we coordinate volunteers, we plan events, we work on committees and teams, we offer care to people. But we do this as spiritual caregivers and commentators, called to point out the divine in our midst, the "why" underneath the activity and organization, the larger purpose behind the institution. We're called to remind the community of those deeper roots meant to ground us as a people of faith, and guide them toward a commonly discerned purpose.

2. Theologians - If you're meant to interpret where God may be in people's lives, you probably should be read up on how to do that. This includes a knowledge of tradition and scripture, but also developed skills in how to connect them with real time human experience.

Theology is not the stuff of dry, dusty books written and read by old guys in tweed jackets. It is the way we try to describe how God interacts with the world and both how this is informed by and reveals what both God and we are about. Pastors are called to help give language to what individuals and the faith community are experiencing; where God is moving and what God's mission is in a particular time and place. Being theologians helps us be spiritual guides.

3. Part of a holistic care team - While I wrote a few days ago that pastors are not meant to fulfill several other roles, we can nevertheless work with people serving in those other roles to help care for the complete person. Financial hardship, struggles with mental health, grief, long-term illness, fractured relationships, and every other issue with which congregants deal have an inevitable spiritual effect. In these moments, both the questions about where and how God is present as well as one's own internal movement may call for a guide; an extra person to ask and struggle alongside them on the journey.

We're not meant to provide everything, but we can provide something. And that something is helping give name to the spiritual highs and lows that occur within individuals, families, and communities. That is our calling as pastors. May we serve well.

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