Individual | Creed of Jesus | A blog by Scot McKnight
Every pastor will face the seduction of being “one of the bunch.” The temptation will begin in the interview process. Someone on the committee will say, “We’re looking for a pastor to be one of us.” What they mean is that they are looking for a pastor who will understand the values of their community, someone who will appreciate their humor and understand that there are certain days in the community that need to be noted. What they’re saying is, “We want a pastor that we can identify with and who will identify with us.
It looks good.
But it’s a trap.
Here’s how the trap works. The pastor will fit in. They will attend local social functions. They will laugh at all the jokes. They will agree with many of the opinions expressed and all will be well until the pastor has to take a stand. Maybe the pastor will find out about a friend having an affair or someone in the gang will tell an inappropriate joke and when the pastor confronts the misbehavior, the gang will dismiss the pastor’s concern.
“We’re not going to listen to you,” the gang will say. “You are like us.”
The temptation to fit in can be strong for a local church pastor. Few people understand how lonely the ministry of a local pastor is. For a reason, pastors spend a lot of time with people. And, because pastors are always with people, others assume that we are always with friends. Were not. Most of the time when pastors are with members of the congregation, it is because the members need something from their pastor. They tell the pastor about a need for pastoral care – an upcoming surgery or a family member who needs prayer – or they want money from the church budget for a special project. Rarely does anyone ask how the pastor is doing. After all, members assume that the pastor is there to serve, not to be served.
That’s the nature of the call. Just read the stories of those who have been used by God. John the Baptist, Elijah, Ezekiel, David, and yes, even Jesus, were marked by deep loneliness. There is something in the encounter with God that marks the pastor’s life. The pastor can’t just fit in. They are different. They see things differently. They react differently to things. They cannot help themselves. There is an unease with the status quo – a vision of what could be that can never be reconciled with what really is. Living in this “if only” is extremely painful.
Our church could do so much more “if only”…
Their marriage would be so much happier “if only”…
Our people would be so much freer “if only”…
This feeling of “if only” is hard to live with, but even if the pastor wants it, he can’t let it go. They know too much now. The curtain that hides what might happen in people’s lives has been lifted. The pastor who loves his church wants the gap between what is and what could be to be bridged—or at least close.
In the solitude of Bible study, in the solitary elaboration of the sermon, in the quiet moment in the pastor’s head just before preaching time — the Spirit comes. In the coming of the Spirit, the pastor will be changed, and the pastor cannot be changed again. Even if the pastor does not want this distinction, the people around them will recognize the mark of Christ upon them. They will treat the pastor differently even if the pastor insists on being treated like everyone else.
And yet it is from particularity that the pastor derives his authority and power. When the disciples were brought before the religious leaders of their day, the leaders concluded that although the disciples were not gifted theologians or Bible scholars, the disciples had indeed been with Jesus. This is what congregations want to know about their pastor. Have their pastors been with Jesus? Do Pastors Know Jesus? I mean, does the pastor really know Jesus? Not only did they meet, but did they talk?
And when the pastor speaks to Jesus, what does Jesus say about his church? About them?
Like Moses, being stuck between God and his people can be an uncomfortable place. Standing between the righteousness of a holy God and the mercy needed by a sinful congregation can put the pastor in a bind.
But where would the pastor be? This is where the shepherd always stands – with his sheep. That’s where Jesus was standing. That’s where He’s standing now.
Pastors are a special group, but we must learn to embrace our particularities. We cannot lose it, ignore it or give it away. Without it, we have nothing to offer our people. Our people look to us to be different and while Jesus has indeed touched our lives, we can’t help but be a little special.
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