I am fully aware that there are things other people can do that I cannot.
I cannot knit or play guitar or remove a gall bladder. Just because I cannot do these things, it does not mean I am judging people who can.
I hope you can keep that in mind as I write what follows, because, you see, there is something I see many of pastoral colleagues do that I cannot.
I know clergy who live two lives. There is the life they live when they are pastors, and there is the life they live as “normal” people. To them, this kind of distinction not only makes sense, but it is seen as crucial. It helps them preserve boundaries and a sense of self. If I have heard them properly, it helps them to remain authentic and even sane.
I’m sure I am not doing justice to why people do this. I struggle to explain it as much as I would struggle to explain how it feels for a fish to breathe water.
Here is the source of my problem in comprehending this strong need some of my fellow clergy experience. I cannot see this distinction within myself. There is no “me” that needs to be protected from the impinging demands of my vocation. There is only one me, and that me is a pastor.
All of us Christians are supposed to live our whole lives as an outflowing of our baptism. We do not have parts of our lives that are Christian and parts that are something else. We are Christians on Sunday morning and at home and at the ball game. We are Christians when we go to the doctor or when we are haggling with government bureaucrats about something petty and annoying. We are a new creation, the old has passed away.
For a small number of Christians, our baptism finds its expression in our call to pastoral ministry. My teachers told me that a pastor is merely one kind of Christian, a person set aside to do certain things in the life of the church. Being a pastor is not a separate thing from being a Christian. It is the way some of us are Christians.
Indeed, to be completely honest, my observation is that being a pastor relieves me of many of the strains that other Christians suffer. My work does not conflict with my faith. I do not have to navigate the tensions that so many Christians experience when they live huge chunks of their lives in settings and under rules that have nothing to do with the Gospel or may be hostile to it. Being a pastor — for me at least — is an opportunity for work and faith to overlap in ways that the great majority of my brothers and sisters in Christ do not get to experience. Far from being a burden to carry, being a pastor has given me a way to live with integrity.
Yes, I can imagine that I could cease to be a pastor and still be me, but I don’t think I could cease to be a Christian without being a radially different person than I am. I can’t take that part of myself off and just be “normal” me. Being a Christian may be abnormal, but it is who I am. And, therefore, at least as long as the church and the Lord deem me worthy, being a pastor is who I am, as well.