Do you ever wonder what the role of the pastor is supposed to be? I do (maybe that’s just because it’s my job).
I’ve done a lot of schooling for this job, including getting what’s called a Master of Divinity degree, which means I get to tell my kids that I’ve mastered the divine. They laugh at me.
But my schooling didn’t necessarily help me figure out what I’m supposed to do. I learned some Greek and Hebrew, and how to give a good (hopefully) sermon. I studied a lot of leadership books and systematic theology (as if the study of God could ever really be systematized). These were helpful things, but I no longer think they are the main thing.
And my work in the church hasn’t helped that much. I learned tons about getting things done, gathering people, and running meetings and budgets. Again, really great things. But not the main thing.
And the people of the church don’t always help either. So often they just want me to give them answers. Just yesterday a grandmother texted me about how to respond to her grandson’s tough spiritual question. My response? “Love that question! What are you thinking about answering back?” Her response, “idk, thought I’d ask the expert.” I just don’t think being a religious expert is really what my job is.
But the biggest problem for defining my role as a pastor, isn’t out there. It’s in here. It’s me. I want to rescue, fix, and save. Perhaps some of those impulses in my heart are noble, but we all know that most of them aren’t. So when I define my role as CEO or Messiah, I miss the point again, and usually make a mess of things as well.
Over the past couple of years my approach to my job has changed as I’ve come to understand that my work as a pastor is nothing more than to help people hear and respond to God.
Yep, that’s it.
Eugene Peterson, one of my heroes of the faith because he’s kept the main thing the main thing, recently tweeted this: “[The role of the pastor is] to help people pay attention to God and respond appropriately.”
That’s just so hard. It’s hard because there’s so much pressure in our world to pay attention to everything else. It’s hard because people don’t really want to pay attention to God a lot of the time. It’s hard because I can barely pay attention to God myself, much less for others?
And it’s hard because the last thing anyone wants to do is actually respond appropriately. Now I like the word ‘respond’ because it’s so much more hip than the biblical word ‘obedience,’ but let’s be honest, it’s really obedience that we’re really talking about here. And who wants to obey anyone besides themselves?
If you really listen to people, you can hear that hunger deep down, can’t you? It’s in there alright – that longing for closer connection with God, that desire for authentic relationships, that yearning for transformation. As the poet once wrote, “Deep calls to deep” (Ps 42:7). It’s the imago dei, obscured, broken and pushed down, but trying to break free and reconnect with the original Source of its reflection.
Although it’s faulty and fractured and it’s efforts are often weak and meandering, the soul still wants to hear from God. And that’s where the pastor comes in – not to speak for God. No, that’s not it. But to help the soul listen to God and respond. Like a midwife at a birthing, recognizing that the real thing going on here has very little to do with me at all – that’s my role. To hold a hand, to raise awareness of when things are really intensifying, to remind the soul to breath, to help discern when it’s really time to push, and, finally, to present to the weary soul the glorious fruit of her labor which I had no part in producing. So often that’s what hearing from God seems like, like labor. And yet the end result is so glorious. And as the midwife, I get to help from the second chair, watching with amazement every time it happens, every time someone hears and responds to God.