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Layman's Walk

What makes a “pastor?”

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I find this question intriguing at times–and for a number of reasons.

As a kid, my mom always took us to church; my dad wasn’t much for it. Looking back, I think one of the reasons was because of the hypocrisy of the individuals in the congregations he knew (including, regularly, those I demonstrated) and the artificial elevation that some pastors received. (Dad, if I’m talking out of school on this, say something and I’ll correct it.) Having said that, this was always one of the things that kept me at arm’s length from what I have since started calling “Ameri-Christianity.” In that vein, my dad did me a major favor.  But there will be more on that at a later time.

I hold no fault with my father for his views–none; if anything, his questioning, his calling-out of the, well, B.S. that he saw in his own world that was being committed by Christians made me think critically about myself and my own faith. At the time, it may have weakened me. It made me question my credibility as a “Christian.”  It made me think hard about what I claimed to value and how my actions often did not reflect those values.  Ultimately, I think it made my faith stronger because what I ended up learning was how imperfect we all are and how hypocritical we can be. (“Do as I say, not as I do.”)

I recall my dad talking about a few local pastors he had come to know through casual acquaintances from being about town. One such pastor was Richard Jumper who was the pastor at the Disciples of Christ church.

I didn’t know Pastor Jumper, as I had already left for college at that time, but I did know his congregation. We at the United Methodist Church had conducted joint Sunday Schools with the DoC church in my youth and I had been the organist/pianist for them when they needed a substitute while I was in high school. They were, as my congregation was, small, loyal, and as imperfect as anyone else I knew.

But I’m getting off track here.

My dad always liked Pastor Jumper because he was someone who he could engage in conversation about the real world. He was someone who didn’t come across with some “holier-than-thou” garbage, and his efforts were simply friendly–he wasn’t out to “convert all the heathens,” per se.

I have often reflected on this as I’ve considered the pastors I’ve known–both those I’ve admired and those I haven’t been particularly fond of (for which I will equally claim fault as I assign it).

What I have found, is that people often make the mistake of assuming that the pastor is somehow in a position that makes them superior to others.

This is utterly FALSE.

Sure, in the nature of human-organized religion (as in any human organization) there are bureaucratic mechanisms that keep order and we leverage them in our churches.

And there certainly is value in the incredible amount of training that pastors receive and the knowledge and experience they possess.

But, this does not make the pastor “above” anyone else.

He or she is only a human; no different than any other in the congregation or in the world.

Perhaps, as in some cases, the Spirit has guided them from very early in their life and that individual has made fewer “big mistakes” than others.  Of course, it’s not as though God is keeping score.

In many cases, pastors come from lives of chaos, of trouble, and from places we would never think God would go to gain a follower, let alone a leader.

The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite historical examples. This was a man who was literally persecuting and murdering Jesus’ followers until Christ confronted him while he was journeying to Damascus.

And he was changed. Transformed.

From a murderer of those who preached the truth (“Love one another as I have loved you.”), Paul became one who proclaimed that truth even unto his own death.

That is the miracle we share; that transformative power of Christ’s love for each and every individual–in each and every person.

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, the founder and pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints is my favorite modern example.  I truly look to her as an example of God’s transformative power.  Spend a few minutes reading her story and see if you are not amazed at God’s work in her life.

No matter how screwed up you think your life is; not matter what you have done or what you didn’t do that you should have, God loves you.  You are valuable.  You have tremendous worth.

No one is any different from anyone else. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).

And this includes sinners who are church leaders and the sinners who make up their congregations.  They are no better nor any worse than what we consider the “worst” of us.

As it was once told to me, “We [pastors] are simply fellow beggars who have found a meal and a warm place to lay our heads, and we’re inviting all the other beggars to come join us.  That is all.”

Christ’s grace and peace are for all–no restrictions or reservations.


Layman's Walk

Putting It Out There

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As incredibly excited as I am about starting this journey towards ministry, I have admittedly been rather quiet in my discussions about it. I’ve shared this only with my immediate family, some very close friends, and my church congregation. Well until I started this site, I suppose.

Frankly, I’ve been quite nervous to share it. If you’ve read my “about” page or my post about my call, you’d know that I do not consider myself to be worthy of ministry. So I’ve been hesitant to speak of this to those who might question my decision or my motives. I suppose this illustrates most clearly where my shortcomings in my faith exist.

However, this morning’s Old Testament reading really spoke to me. It was the beginning of Isaiah 49:

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
This is what the Lord says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

There are many interpretations of this scripture, but one of the things I learned in my synodically authorized ministry training was to listen to not only what the scripture says historically, contextually, and critically, but what it says to me spiritually.

To me, on Sunday during its reading, it confirmed to me my call to ministry and what I have felt God pushing upon my heart to pursue.  The idea that this was a path God had chosen for me before my conscious decision–even before my birth, the thought that he kept me until his time was right, and that he might use me as a medium to share the Gospel, I find exceptionally humbling.

The response that I would give to such a claim is, “I have labored in vain.”  Literally, all I have ever really done in my life has really been for me, about me, and to the benefit of myself, and for my own personal gratification and benefit.  I can truly say that to this point, I have spent my strength for nothing. (For what is it for a man may inherit the whole world, but lose his soul?)  I deserve nothing if not condemnation, but instead God has provided me with a reward–a purpose, and a mission.

He has called me to be one of the team who works to bring people to faith in Christ, to let my light shine for Him, that others might see.  He does this even knowing that when Christ claims his throne, the kings and rulers of the world will relinquish their power to Him, without the aid of any human.

I love that idea and seek to do all I can to spread Christ’s message of love and salvation for all of humanity.