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.