THE STRANGENESS OF BEING A “PASTOR”
If I may be honest, hearing the word “pastor” next to my name feels strange. This is not just a recent sentiment, given my appointment as pastor on 1 July. It has been the case ever since I became an assistant pastor five year ago. I am not sure why…
Perhaps it has something to do with the title “pastor”. The Bible Church which I grew up in had no vocational (full time) pastors. It never crossed my mind to be a pastor because we had no pastors to begin with. We were a “lay led” church, meaning, our leaders had day jobs and diligently gave of much of their discretionary time to attend to the matters of the church. Our elders and deacons were therefore our “pastors”. (I know how committed they were because I grew up as an elder’s kid). This “lay led” leadership model was one that served the church well for the first four decades of our existence. A “pastor”, as we know it today, is thus a relatively new thing in The Bible Church’s history. Given this, hearing some of the ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ from church (some of whom were my childhood Sunday School Teachers) now call me “pastor” is strange.
Perhaps it has something to do with the reputation of the “pastor”. As I grew and was more exposed to the wider Christian community, I became acquainted with pastors. Then, they seemed like a special breed of Christians to me and I was in awe of many of them. These were the ones our church invited from time to time to speak at our worship services and church camps. These were the ones I listened to on cassette tapes and CDs (there was no YouTube then). These were the ones who came to our monthly Christian Fellowship gatherings while I was in University and delivered expositions of Scripture with such brilliance that I was often left spellbound. (It was in fact at a Christian fellowship camp that I first opened my heart to the possibility of vocational ministry when a pastor challenged us to consider it). Growing up, I looked up to many of these pastors, and I still do. To be now considered as one among their ranks is therefore strange.
Perhaps it has something to do with the role of the “pastor”. When I eventually heeded the call to serve God vocationally after my university years, first as an intern in church, then as a youth worker in a parachurch organisation, then as a ministry staff worker back in The Bible Church, I realized that “pastor” meant different things to different people. The modern pastor is sometimes expected to strategize, plan and execute programmes, create and cast a vision for the church-as-organization. He needs to understand how to market and sell his product (the gospel) in a way that appeals to the masses. He needs to be able to run a ministry or a church efficiently. In short, the modern pastor is sometimes expected to be more CEO than shepherd, more entrepreneur than spiritual mentor. At least, that is what some church growth experts suggest. No doubt, these are skill sets pastors of 21st century congregations would do well to grow in. Trouble is, none of these come naturally to me. I am at heart a Bible teacher, a shepherd, a spiritual friend. I am more at home sharing life with one or two at a coffeeshop table than I am sharing plans with many at a conference table. When I therefore think about who I am in the face of what is sometimes expected of the modern pastor, being a “pastor” seems strange to me.
All of this brings me to a question I have been asking myself for some time: what is a “pastor” anyway? And what should a pastor do? Among the many leading voices out there, Eugene Peterson’s speaks loudest to me. He says in his memoir, “The Pastor”, “the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God – this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful “without ceasing””. In other words, a pastor is one who takes God seriously, takes people seriously, and through listening intently to God and people, helps them make sense of how God is presently at work in their lives, even as they are on the journey of “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasingly glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).
I know that there are other ways this vocation can be conceived, and it will probably take me a lifetime to discover what being a pastor truly means. But for now, I find the above description of “pastor” both convicting and comforting. Given who I am and what I believe in, if this is truly the call of a pastor, I embrace it wholeheartedly. And maybe then, being a “pastor” is not so strange after all.