Who is the pastor?

I find myself torn between two or three ideas about what it means to be a pastor.

John Wesley — the saver of souls and spreader of Scriptural holiness as a thing that spreads from person to person.

Adam Hamilton — the architect of a congregation as a system and organization.

Eugene Peterson — resident theologian and contemplative poet.

Of course, there are other ways to conceptualize the pastor. These are just the three that most readily spring to my mind.

These all overlap in some ways, but each one has its own center of gravity. The United Methodist Church is not clear about what it sees as the pastor’s identity. I am still sorting through this.

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6 thoughts on “Who is the pastor?

  1. John, of your three mentioned the first one is apostolic and the later two more of pastor/shepherd. Wesley was an apostolic leader/pastor. These are very rare. Ephesians 4 gives us our job description as pastors: To lead, feed and equip believers for the work of sharing Christ and building up the body of Christ in love. What the church lacks today is apostolic leaders who are more concerned about “reaching” than “keeping”. When you equip laity to reach they in fact will become fully devoted followers and find purpose in helping others find their way back to God.

  2. John,
    In response to your thoughts, it sort of depends on what day of the week it is. There are certain things that the pastor of a congregation is expected to do, sometimes because no one else is doing them.

    When I was serving the Walker Valley church some years ago I took a survey that “determined” my skills. It wasn’t that much different from the Spiritual Gifts Inventory that we are asking our Lay Servants to take these days but it did give me an idea of where my gifts and strengths were.

    I think that each individual pastor needs to know what their skills and gifts are so that they know where their strengths lie and what their weaknesses are. That way they can make the best operational plan for their church. I would also recommend that the lay leadership of a church take some form of spiritual gifts inventory so that they also know what their strengths, gifts, and weakness are.

    No one pastor should ever have to lead a congregation alone. But if the laity doesn’t know what it is that they can do, it sometimes ends up that way.

  3. I do not know about the poet part, but a pastor, like a mother to the congregation, must serve many roles at different times to different people. Some are better system architects, some are better theologians and some are inspiring spreaders of holiness. That is one reason I liked the itinerate system, which is weakening as pastors serve longer appointments.

  4. Looking at what Wesley did, not just at what he said, it’s easy to see that he was an organizer. All the band and class groups over England can testify to that. Additionally, if we include his sermons we can see someone who took theology very seriously and then if we include his brother Charles, we have the poet. Although Wesley had saving souls as his primary driving purpose, he included the other two definitions in his ministry.

  5. The Discipline lists a pretty comprehensive set of responsibilites for an Elder and comparable lists for Deacon, Local Pastor, etc… Enough there to keep anyone over worked and under-performing all their lives.

    I have my weekly pattern of preparing an outline for the bulletin early in the week, including a few ‘preaching points’ for those who want to take some notes as they follow along on Sunday morning. These 3-4 brief comments form the outline for the sermon I complete much later in the week. They sit with me and accompany me as I attend to my other duties.

    I attend a lay-led Bible study of mostly retired women on Wednesday morning. These are some of the real leaders of this rural congregation I serve as pastor. I’m considered the resident expert there (theologian sometimes, or devil’s advocate depending on what I contribute).

    My home visits are usually limited to the frail elderly and some hospital procedures. After seven years I’m considered a family member by some of my folks and receive invitations to holiday meals and occasional family celebrations.

    I’m beginning to understand the affection that this collection of souls I serve have for me and how our Roman Catholic friends can call their priest, “Father”. This is not a congregation I serve but a family – and I have become one of them as much as they have become mine.

    I’m not sure our itinerant structure encourages this with the ‘cut and paste’ appointment system. That said, this particular period of my ministry has become something entirely different than we learn in seminary or hear about at Annual Conference.

    The productive pastorate I’m enjoying right now is grounded in the relationships that have formed naturally, not on a job description or even the Bishop’s assignment letter I received when appointed. The youth mission trips, the funeral visits, Vacation Bible School, church dinners and the hundreds of coffee hour conversations after worship have provided the context and opportunities to become a shepherd to this flock. They now know my voice and I know theirs. I can speak now of God’s grace and mercy and the sometimes hard words that come through preaching the lectionay. Those words can challenge me and I cannot avoid bringing those challenges to this congregation too…

    We grieve together. We laugh together. We serve one another and our neighbors together.

    This is the Bride of Christ that he loves so very much. I do too.

    I am a simple country pastor.

    1. Thank you for your witness and testimony. I think in many ways Eugene Peterson would echo your thoughts about being a pastor. In my only clumsy way, most of what you describe is what I call the poetry of pastoring.

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