(Every Tuesday I try to post something here about pastoral ministry. Sometimes I’m reacting, sometimes sharing from my experiences and sometimes I’m spouting off about my philosophy of ministry. And sometimes it’s all 3 or none of the above.)
During this season of pandemic there have been a lot of voices coming at us with information, plans and procedures. As one Facebook meme said, “Last week, all my friends were political scientists and this week they’re all immunologists.” But it’s not just Facebook friends. It’s our government leaders, medical professionals, scientists, TV personalities, news outlets and people protesting for their right to play golf.
For all my friends in pastoral ministry we call this, “Monday.”
I’ve already written about the way in which Pastoral Ministry is like coaching football or refereeing basketball – everyone has an opinion they feel qualified to share about the job you’re doing. And at least half of everyone seems to think they could do it better than you. People who have never taken a course in hermeneutics, homiletics or the original languages can all understand, interpret and apply the Bible as well as you can – which makes a person wonder why they bothered with that degree (or degrees) in the first place. People who have never had to look after the well being of a dozen souls, let alone 144 souls, or 1400 souls, seem to intuitively know what you should be doing instead of what you have been doing.
One thing that 35 years of pastoral ministry have convinced me of is that a vital aspect of pastoring is making sure the person driving the bus is the one most qualified to get you where you are going.
I don’t know everything. I don’t know how to do everything.
I’m not supposed to.
And even when I do know a lot of “thing,” I still might not know the best way to do something about it.
Some of my friends in pastoral ministry, especially normal size church pastors, tend to pick up a broad range of skills that range from plumbing to discipleship, sound systems to inner healing. But I am convinced that one of the most important aspects of this vocation of pastoring is making sure the right person is in the right place to get us where God is leading us.
Sometimes that’s me. Often it’s not.
There are people much better with people in our local church than I am. I need to get out of their way, empower them and watch them exercise their own expertise or gifting.
There are people much better with strategic planning in our local church than I am. I need to get of their way, empower them and watch them exercise their own expertise or gifting.
My friend Jason is much better at leading worship, worship teams and pastoring our creatives. My role is to get out of his way, help him thrive and excel and stay in my own lane (to mix a metaphor) while he drives for our worship times.
Now, some of us do this, but we do this in a way that leaves people feeling like puppets on my string or with a hand up their backside.
I ask you to lead the group tonight and then I show up and tell you what to say to them, what the agenda is, how to wrap things up…it’s still ME leading this meeting, I’ve just stuck my hand up your backside and made you my puppet.
And that’s not cool. And it doesn’t help people grow up. It takes away their agency and their power.
Or I ask you to lead songs because I suck but now I’m going to tell you exactly what songs to sing, how long to sing them and what you can and can’t do during and in between the verses.
Again, this is the difference between leadership and puppeteering. Leaders need to stop putting their hands up people’s backsides if they want them to grow up.
In the wise words of Elsa, “Let it go!”
You can still have standards.
You can still inspire people with a vision.
You can still come alongside people and work together for the common good.
But we need to relinquish control over outcomes and trust the Spirit to work through the Beloved Community.
I need to have people who are really good with money making decisions about what we do with our money.
I need to have people who are really good with children working with our children’s ministry.
I need to have people who have a passion for worship – for whom it is a vocation – leading our worship – not just singing it but driving the worship bus.
There are people in our local church who are better preachers than I am. I need to regularly get them behind the wheel of the preaching bus.
What this all requires though is one of the most important and yet most difficult things every person involved in pastoral ministry needs to develop or grow or discover – an unshakeable sense of their own self-worth in light of God’s love and approval of who they are.
Otherwise, I will fear letting others behind the wheel because their success – their doing well – threatens my own sense of worth, value and importance. I will fear others as long as my sense of well-being is based on the admiration, adoration and approval of the people with whom I pastor. And pastoral ministry is rampant with men and women who have come to think so little of themselves that they feel motivated to protect whatever bits of “position” and “power” and “authority” the feel being a pastor or a leader or a boss gives them and builds up their sense of self.
A pastoral team (I think a better way to go than a lone individual) works to discern the route our local church is called to take to express the incoming Kingdom of God. The next step is getting the right people in the right places to drive their part of that route – without back seat drivers jumping in and making it harder. They may take a route different from the route I would have chosen but as long as we are getting to the place we started out for, I need to trust that there’s a very good reason they decided on the route they did. They may do a much better job driving their part of the route than I do – everyone might cheer for them and make a fuss about how amazing they are doing.
It does not diminish me to magnifying someone else.
I don’t know everything, and that’s o.k.
I can’t do everything, and that’s o.k.
Some people can do better than me at aspects of what I do, and that’s o.k. But no one is better at being me than me.
Others may be the first leader that people in our local church turn to for help or expert guidance, and that’s o.k. In fact, more than o.k., it’s good and healthy.
When Paul said he was all things to all people, he didn’t mean in his vocation he was the best or the first or the only at anything. Brothers and sisters in pastoral ministry, my friends, don’t be afraid of the gifting and leadership in the flock of God of which you are a part. Take a seat and watch them go.
Flock of God, please don’t make your pastoral ministry leaders afraid of you by insisting they should be experts on everything, know how to be in every situation, never have or disclose their weaknesses, and never rely on you for the gift and ministry God’s put inside of you.