Pastors are people too

This weeks readings had a clear theme: “Pastors are people.” It seems like it should be obvious, as often people use Priest, Curate, Preacher, Pastor, Rector, and Parson as synonyms. Professional church ministry is one of the very few jobs where a common job title is properly translated “Person” — how is it we forget? I hardly need to appeal to my readings to say that forgetting our person-hood creates many problems.

I guess it is because we live in a culture that experts us to be persons on our own time. Whether we like it or not, the majority of us are ruled by the time clock — yes, there is something freeing about clocking in and out of work — but, a factory worker must lay aside what is personal for several hours at a time, and instead fulfill his function — there is time to focus on personal issues off the clock. Unfortunately a clergyman never clocks out. Even on scheduled days off, there is a sense of being on call (unless the faith community is blessed with other people who can cover the needs of pastoral care). If we are used to being a person ‘on our own time’. If we lack of a sense of own time we might forget to take it.

Another reason seems to be that the general population forget that pastors are also people. A Friend’s minister from Guatemala named Carlos Moran once attended a business meeting where a monthly meeting was discussing which side to take in a regional controversy. Two well known and well respected ministers were fighting. While Carlos was only visiting, he felt it was important to weigh in and he told a story.

When farmers plough their fields, they set up some sort of landmark so that they could keep their eyes on it and plough straight rows. One farmer went to plough his field, and set his eye on something white in the distance. He followed it carefully moving forward until he found that it was a sheep. Looking back, he saw that the row was far from straight, because as the sheep wondered he followed it ploughing a crooked row. Because he failed to do the work correctly, he was forced to level the ground and plough again setting his eyes on something that did not move.

He went on to tell them that they were arguing about which sheep to set as a landmark. No matter what they chose, they would still be using a sheep as a reference point, and either way they would fail to plough a straight row, because sheep move randomly. He suggested that they find a way to fix their eyes on Jesus, instead of sheep.

I notice something important from this story. Both of these sheep served their local worship communities in some sort of pastoral role. When we name someone pastor, the pastor is in some sense both shepherd and sheep. There is a danger of the congregation elevating the pastor to something beyond a person to their own ruination — yet, if they are looking for someone who is more than human, they might hire someone who has forgotten.

I still don’t have the answers, but I have questions:

What does it mean to be sheep and shepherd?
How can we be true to self while accomplishing goals set by others?
How can we teach people to look to stable landmark instead of another sheep?
How do we make enough time for self and family when demands are greater than total time?

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3 comments on “Pastors are people too

  1. For context — I am making a summary of what I learned in my ‘pastoral spirituality’ class as well as sharing a personal response. I think that this is a very practical topic — so I want to share with a wide audience… also, we are required to post our personal responses on a semi-public forum for other classmates. As I have a blog, I choose to share the process with a wider audience.

  2. Charity says:

    Hi Mike,
    I am one of the lucky ones whose congregation recognizes that I am a person. In fact, they often remind me of that fact :)
    In brief answer to the questions you pose, I will speak from my experience.
    I am both shepherd and sheep. This means to me that I must be as willing to receive ministry as to give. I must recognize that I am in need of a God who seeks and saves me. I must live with my feet on the ground, honest about my weaknesses.
    I would say that personally I let God set the goals and agenda for my ministry. I am given the freedom to do so by my fellow sheep, which helps, but even if they resisted it would be my responsibility to insist that God leads. So it is not a matter of being true to self, as much as it is being true to the calling of God.
    I point out my own mistakes publicly. This is a good reminder of my tendency to wander around like a sheep. It keeps me off a pedestal. I also talk about how I have to follow/trust/listen to God to do what I do. Not in a “God told me____” superior manner, but in a “I didn’t know what to do/I didn’t want to do what God told me/I have to rely on God’s strength” kind of way. It is a reminder that I am a follower, too.
    As far as time is concerned, I find that if my schedule is too busy I am the one to blame. Often there is a sense of obligation to be working every minute, and trust me you can always find something else to read/study/pray about to occupy your time. I have learned to let go of that sense of obligation to busyness. I do the things I must–sermon preparation, visiting the sick, small group/bible study prep, etc; schedule the things I want to do–like spending time with family and self-care; and then with what is left I make prioritized decisions on study and other activities. It is easy to complain that the expectations of others are eating up your time, but you are the gatekeeper of your schedule and at the end of the day it is about taking responsibility for your faithfulness in regards to time stewardship.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope mine are helpful in return!
    Charity

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