As someone seeking the role of pastoral ministry, one of the challenges I face is mentally separating the idea of personal mission from the mission and calling of the church. Too often, people’s idea of a church is a group of people listening to a single voice. While it is clear that this is not true, it becomes a goal to promote the idea of mission outside of personal mission.
While it is obvious that a community has reasons for seeking a pastor, and there are advantages to having status and position in some contexts, I believe that the most important thing a pastor can do is encourage others to find their own calling and gifts. Very often, the most important pastoral mission is to get out of the way.
A pastor, in order to meet the needs of the church, must find a way to pray for his or her congregation without praying for them vicariously. The pastor’s spiritual practices cannot replace those of the members — and while the pastor works in the name of the church, the pastors work cannot replace the work of the people. In this context the pastor’s role is to discern whether or not helping is doing too much.
The role of the church becomes to seek God’s will together, and when God’s will is discerned to plan a way for the community to work out God’s will. My hope is that I will be able to help maintain the community, facilitate an environment of listening and discernment, and to encourage those who discover God’s calling as best that I can.
When people have discerned what it means for them to be a Christian, I see my role as a facilitator and a listener, someone to help them find the resources they need — and offer a listening ear. The mission of the community is to find life giving vision — my mission is to keep to help keep that vision vital and encourage others to continue seeking.
When encouraging people to seek their calling, the pastoral role should encourage a deeper seeking than what might come to mind. There is not only the question of home and local community, but the relationship with the broader community and secular society. The Church is broader than an individual groups of people — so another pastoral role would be to help guide the group to a broader self understanding — not only facilitating communities, but working to create communities of communities. In the process, it would be necessary to build bridges, and try to keep personal issues within the community and wider community from being overly disruptive. A pastoral role would be to encourage people to live well in community — and as much as possible, live well with every community that one participates with.
A pastor does not build a church, nor can a pastor truly be effective at carrying out the mission of the church — if an individual could do that, then it would not be an assembly. The role of someone in the pastoral position is to smooth the way so that church can more easily happen. The role is also to preserve right relationships and keep the community healthy. The ministry is one of keeping a flock, instead of letting it scatter.