Growing up as a Presbyterian there are parts of my faith that have been with me for most of my life. My earliest faith formation occurred in a white, middle class, suburban congregation that had a lot of life long Presbyterians. This planted a seed of faith that by most standards would be classified as traditional. Now, having served in three churches over fifteen years I have found some things about my faith and my pastoral ministry that surprise me:
- I wish we had chairs– For most of my life I have wanted to worship in a traditional setting with formal pews. Now, I find myself desiring the flexibility of chairs in the Sanctuary. I have growing frustration over a space that can only be used for a singular purpose. I also wish at times we could configure our worship space to meet the needs of special services.
- I don’t have to like everyone– Upon entering the pastorate I tried to make myself like people. The fact of the matter is that there are some people that will always be challenge to like. (Right now everyone is wondering if they are in this category) The important distinction I came across was that liking and loving people are different realities. Pastors and all other Christians need to love everyone. It took time, but I have learned to love the most challenging people, even though I have a struggle with liking them.
- Everyone doesn’t have to like me- When I entered the Pastorate I worked hard to be a likable guy. I wanted the whole congregation as well as the community around the church to like me. Much like number two, it took time to come to the understanding that we are all different and in the end there will be people who don’t like me. This doesn’t give me license to be obnoxious, but it is freeing to know that no matter what I must be genuinely me. This freedom to be me is one that I think many pastors struggle with. Not only are we often people pleasers but we feel like our livelihood is wrapped up in the likability survey of the congregation.
- I love preaching the most– Preaching was for me and for many of my colleagues in seminary the most daunting part of ministry. The idea of preparing a weekly sermon seemed like a lot of work. Seminary professors who talked about inordinate preparation time heightened this anxiety. Hours of preparation per minute of sermon, a six-month plan for sermons and many other unrealistic expectations were proclaimed as rules. There was also a sense that every week needed be a theological opus with engaging stories and a quote from my personal Greek or Hebrew translation. The fact of the matter is that sermons became a lot less pressure when I realized that sermons are a flexible art. Not every sermon needs to wrap the essential tenets of faith up in a neat package and answer every question. Focusing on interpreting the Word for application in daily life frees us to use the various aspects of Biblical preaching as necessary. (Oh, I also gave up on being cute and creative on sermon titles much to the disappointment of some congregants.)
- Questions are more important than answers– This is related to number four. Growing up in the church I was taught a tradition of the Pastor being the purveyor of answers. Parents and Sunday school teachers would often answer questions that they didn’t know the answers to by saying, “We will have to go ask the Pastor that one.” This is partially true. The pastor is theologically trained and should a have a depth of knowledge to answer certain questions. Over time, I have come to the humbling realization that I know far less than others or I give me credit for. This is true for all people not just pastors. This has given me not only a freedom to say I don’t know but also to consider questions in a deeper way.
Another aspect of this is that often when someone asks a “technical” question about the Bible they aren’t actually looking for that answer. Many times they are asking a question that reveals a deeper need. A question about Biblical healing often isn’t theoretical but often comes form a place of personal need. To simply answer the question misses the opportunity to minister to the deeper need.
Related to this is the fact that we are in a time where folks don’t want us to simply regurgitate the standard answers but would rather us help them explore the question to formulate their own answer. This is where the specific training pastors have can be put to use to help individuals use history, tradition, experience and their own intellect to discern God’s Word.
- Do these five statements resonate with you? What would you add to the list?