Two years ago, as I stepped forward into local pastoral ministry for the first time, I wrote an article about the role of a pastor and the role of the laity in churches working together. At the time, I was making the transition from being a lay person to becoming a pastor. As I prepare for this exciting transition, I’ve reflected on what I had written. My key points are still relevant as we consider the pastor/lay person dynamic. As we begin our journey together, consider these realities as we step forward on this adventure.
Pastors need to practice their faith, not our faith. We watch movies to see stars perform on the big screen. We watch sports to see superstar athletes compete and entertain us. But we should never approach worship as an event to come watch the pastor practice our faith for us. Each person is responsible for their own faith practice and growth. Most pastors know the Bible already, and have strong convictions about their beliefs. Just being in the same room as a pastor does not mean their faith will rub off on us or transform us, our church or our community. We must apply what we hear, see and experience on Sunday to our own faith practice, study, worship and prayer.
The Pastor is not a voting member of this church. In the United Methodist Church, the pastor is not the final authority pertaining to church leadership, the congregation is. The book of Discipline actually prevents pastors from becoming members or voting on issues at Church Council, Finance, Trustee or Pastor Parish meetings. This does not mean that a Pastor isn’t a voice of leadership regarding the direction and focus of the church ministry and finances. But the design of each local congregation is that each church needs strong leaders capable of managing the decision making of the church with passionate but prayerful stewardship. Every church needs leaders who actively understand the financial position of the church, who know the direction of the church vision and mission, who hold each other accountable in a Christ-like way, and who are deeply engaged in a vibrant personal practice of the faith. When the laity owns that responsibility, the church flourishes.
Pastors are human beings, and they will make mistakes. I always joke that I allow myself one mistake per year, and then I hope that no one remembers last one when the next one happens. I am and will still be a human being and a sinner, even as I answer the call to lead this church. Pastors are humans and sinners. Though we try to live to a higher standard than most, we also need to receive the same grace and care that the laity expects for themselves. Pastors have families and hobbies; they have physical, emotional and spiritual needs and pains; they get stressed out, hurt and lose sleep at night; and they also need affirmation, joy and love from the people around them. Often times, pastors feel isolated and alone, especially in new communities that directly or indirectly mistrust outsiders. Show radical hospitality, work together, communicate directly and try to remember the fact that everyone is flawed and that’s okay. We’re all working towards sanctification, and none of us is likely to get there in this lifetime, even our pastor.
One point I left out of that article, one that I have grown to understand after my first two years in pastoral ministry, is that, being part of a church family needs to be fun. You have all chosen this church family, and while I have been appointed to you, I hope you choose every day to enjoy life together with me as a part of the body of Christ. God has called us all to this body together. We are all important parts of the body, we are all loved by God, and we should always and everywhere share God’s grace and love with each other as we seek to transform our own hearts, and the community of Henry.